Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in the east of the Euphrates.. tactics or score-settling?

Alan Hasan

During the eight years of the Syrian war, local powers on the ground allied with many regional and international countries to achieve the interests of these countries initially, and to gain some big or small benefits in their battles against their opponents.

The alliances of some countries with the local factions remained fluctuating, perhaps the SDF, and before that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units YPG, are among the most prominent forces that changed their alliances during the war years. From its coordination with the Syrian government at the beginning of the war, to its alliance with the United States of America after the ISIS control of most of the city of Kobanî, to its recent endeavor to give the Gulf countries and Egypt a role in the areas still administered east of the Euphrates, which has been calling for Arab forces to defend any Tuekish attack may target those areas.

The Saudi role in Syria was very prominent during the last eight years, as it had distinguished relations with the Syrian government, as the two countries formed in addition to Egypt an Arab triangle guarantor of Arab issues, and it also maintained a de facto partnership with the Syrian government in Lebanon since its sponsorship of “Al-Taef Agreement” in 1990, which ended 15 years of the Lebanese Civil War, and the Lebanese political situation became subject to the compatibility of Damascus and Riyadh.

When the crisis started in Syria, Saudi Arabia pressured the Syrian government to make concessions to the Syrian opposition, and when it gave up its efforts, it joined the efforts of Qatar and Turkey in their attempts to overthrow the ruling regime in Damascus.

The Gulf crisis that began in 2017 dispersed the interests of its countries in Syria, and thus prevented the existing coordination between Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia from continuing, so Riyadh withdrew its support from its most prominent faction (Jaish al-Islam), which controlled a major part of Damascus countryside, and exited the military field in Syria, especially after its 4 years of break down in Yemen.

The visits of the Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan, during the past two years to the regions of northern and eastern Syria, are a landmark in the path of Riyadh’s relationship with self-administration, as many Arab tribes in East Euphrates have familial extensions in Saudi Arabia, and it is known that the tribes have the largest role in organizing the Arab component in East Euphrates, especially since the area of ​​the American presence in the east of the Euphrates is the oil-rich, and a large part of its population are Arabs, therefore the Gulf role in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, is essential in unifying these tribes, and determining their options for the future of the region in the face of Russia’s returning the full authority of the Syrian government in it, in exchange for a bet by the self-administration on the remain of the American forces, and the establishment of a self-governing region with American sponsorship and Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian support.

The Gulf axis dispute with Turkey is a major factor in the Gulf’s openness to the SDF, as both sides have a common enemy.

Turkish policy in the Middle East depends on the use of political Islam, especially the “Muslim Brotherhood”, and it is one of the most prominent files with disagreement between the two sides. Ankara’s support for Egypt’s “Muslims Brotherhood” (opponents of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE) put Turkey in the category of the opponents of Riyadh. In addition to its interference in Libya and support for “Al-Wefaq” government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj (an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya) in the face of the leader of the “Libyan Army” Khalifa Hafter. Likewise, it stands by the side of Qatar.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is seeking to invest in the east of the Euphrates file to settle its scores with Turkey, which is blackmailing Riyadh in case of the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Saudi Arabia is also trying to counter the Iranian presence in Syria by supporting the Arab tribes in the east of the Euphrates, and its support comes for the demonstrations that are taking place in the city of Deir Al-Zour against the Iranian presence, in this context, and the frequent reports that the Kingdom is seeking to invest oil in “Al-Omar field” in Deir Al-Zour, and even that Riyadh’s call for a number of independent negotiation committee members comes in order to pull the rug from under the feet of Turkey, which is alone in representing the Syrian opposition.

These are attempts to meet the Syrian government and Iran, with direct Russian support, and indirect Turkish support, to return the Syrian state to these areas, while ensuring the dismantling of any Kurdish project in them, and may be forced to accept the curtailment of the growing Iranian role in Syria, in pursuit of a required settlement with the American side in particular, to solve the Syrian crisis in the East Euphrates region in particular, especially after Washington’s decision to keep 600 soldiers in the oil areas east of the Euphrates, a presence that is clearly temporary, and comes within the framework of an attempt to counter Iranian influence in Syria, as well as to remove Turkey from the “Astana” and weaken Qatar, which has become an economic arm for Turkey, especially after the Turkish announcement that Doha was the one who funded the “Spring of Peace” process in October this year.

“SDF” bet on the Saudi-Emirati role in Syria seems very dangerous, as relations between Abu Dhabi and Damascus were not severed during the most severe stages of pressure on the Syrian government, the two sides share their hostility to the “Muslim Brotherhood”, and against the Turkish expansion in the region, and there are points of convergence between them in several files, so they are allies, separated by a certain file, and at the end they may agree.