Saudi support of Assad signals to US

Saudi support of Assad signals to US
Image: Reuters

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, once a pariah, presided over last week’s Arab League readmission of Syria, demonstrating to Washington who is in charge in the region.

At the Arab summit, he kissed and hugged President Bashar al-Assad, defying US opposition to Syria’s return to the fold and capping a geopolitical turnabout in the prince’s fortunes.

MbS seeks to reassert Saudi Arabia as a regional power in an oil-dependent world consumed by the Ukraine war.

After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad in 2018, the prince has become a player Washington must deal with on a transactional basis.

Despite Washington’s opposition, MbS is strengthening ties with other global powers and repairing relations with common adversaries.

His confidence on the world stage was not limited to his greeting of Assad. During his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Jeddah, MbS offered to mediate between Kyiv and fellow oil producer Moscow.

Saudi Arabia remains militarily dependent on the United States, which rescued it from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990, monitors Iranian military activity in the Gulf, and supplies the majority of its weapons.

Nonetheless, MbS pursues his own regional policy with less apparent regard for his most powerful ally.

“We’re reshaping and redrawing our relations without you,” Gulf Research Center Chairman Abdulaziz al-Sager said of the summit.

“He is not getting what he wants from the other side,” Sager added, explaining that Saudi Arabia’s alliances with regional adversaries are based on Riyadh’s regional security strategy.

Diplomatic blunder

Western economies turned to Saudi Arabia last year to stabilize an oil market destabilized by the Ukraine war, strengthening MbS’ position. MbS could launch a diplomatic offensive by appearing at high-profile summits.

Despite U.S. intelligence implicating MbS in the Khashoggi killing, Washington’s immunity aided that effort.

Last July, US President Joe Biden returned empty-handed, while the prince reveled in a public demonstration of US commitment to Saudi security.

After years of hostility, China mediated a settlement this year between Riyadh and its archrival Iran, demonstrating Saudi Arabia’s shift away from the US.

Iran’s allies had defeated Saudi forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, where they ruled over the majority of the population.

Nonetheless, Riyadh was able to cut its losses and collaborate with US adversaries and allies to protect its regional interests, such as cooling the Yemen war, in which Saudi forces have been involved since 2015.

According to diplomats and Doha officials, the prince has improved relations with Turkey and lifted his boycott of Qatar, which he considered invading in 2017.

“Over the past three years, the hatchet was buried and relations were repaired,” Saudi columnist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Relationship based on transactions

According to a Gulf official, after the 2011 Arab revolts, Riyadh saw a weaker security umbrella and replaced the oil-for-defense model with a more transactional relationship with the US.

According to a senior State Department official, the relationship is “an important eight-decade one that spans generations, across administrations in our own country and across Saudi leaders.”

“We have a variety of interests with Saudi Arabia…Our policy and engagement will strive to keep our relationship strong and ready to face future challenges.”

Riyadh believed that Washington had abandoned old allies during the revolts and that he might abandon the Al Saud dynasty as well. At the same time, it believed that the United States’ pursuit of a nuclear deal with Tehran had caused Washington to ignore the growing activity of Iranian proxies viewed as a threat by Riyadh.

That impression grew stronger. According to a Saudi source close to the ruling elite, lax Iran sanctions and a drawdown in Syria, where a small US contingent has denied territory to Iran’s allies, are among the reasons.

“As a result, I believe countries in the region will do what is best for them,” he said.

The United States withdrew its support for Saudi operations in Yemen after repeatedly urging Riyadh to take responsibility for its own security, infuriating the kingdom.

According to the source, Riyadh was forced to make a deal with Iran, which irritated Washington. “This was caused by US action,” he explained.

According to the Gulf official, both sides have requests that they will not grant.

Although the US security umbrella has been weakened, Saudi Arabia continues to rely on it. Western nations have remembered that dealing with Riyadh’s de facto ruler and future king is necessary in a volatile oil market.

About News Team

Hi, I'm Alex Perez, an experienced writer with a focus on lifestyle and culture news. From food and fashion to travel and entertainment, I love exploring the latest trends and sharing my insights with readers. I also have a strong interest in world news and business, and enjoy covering breaking stories and events.

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