It’s Putin vs Bandar Bush on the Syrian chessboard
Everyone remembers the spectacular four-and-a-half hour meeting last August in Moscow between President Putin and Bandar Bush – aka Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s Director of National Intelligence.
Well, there was a remix last week, also in Moscow. And once again in absolute secrecy, until a formidable leak from “a close and reliable source” in Russia reached Lebanese newspaper al-Manar.
Bandar Bush’s first offensive was a disaster; not only did Putin rebuff his attempt to “bribe” Moscow into abandoning Damascus, but subsequently Russia was pivotal in preventing the Obama administration from bombing Syria.
Now Bandar Bush has “offered” softer terms. After all, Saudi Arabia is on board with the Geneva-2 peace conference scheduled for January 22 – although it didn’t used to be. President Bashar Assad may remain in Damascus during this period, but real power should be transferred to an interim government headed by the “opposition” (which opposition is open to speculation; certainly the “rebels” controlled by Riyadh).
Moreover, Bandar Bush expects Russia to pressure Assad not to call for a 2014 presidential election. According to the Syrian constitution, a new constitution should be written and approved during the interim government and only then elections should be called – with Assad excluded. If Moscow abides, Saudi Arabia will be more than willing to “contribute” to the cost of rebuilding Syria (which it helped destroy via financed/weaponized mercenaries).
Leaving aside the mind-boggling spectacle of the House of Saud’s medieval paradise dictating the terms for the future of a third country,
President Putin’s answer can be summarized as a model of restraint.
The “opposition” armed and financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar is on a losing streak. Saudi support for the opposition has nothing to do with democracy; these “rebels” are in fact terrorists.
Neither Damascus nor Moscow needs Saudi funds to rebuild Syria; Russia, Iran and China will do the job. Moreover, Russia and the US reached an understanding that takfiri terrorism is a danger not only to American security, but to Russian and global security. The Europeans – fearful of returnee terrorists – also agree.
As the cherry on the sundae, Putin suggested to Bandar Bush to abandon “sectarian instigations and supporting terrorism, because it is a double edged sword that will rebound inside Saudi Arabia and gather momentum in a manner that you will not be able to control.”
Geneva II: Dead on arrival
Does all of this mean Bandar Bush will desist from his non-stop shadow play and role of enforcer of the House of Saud’s jihad on Syria? Far from it.
A few days after the Putin-Bandar Bush get-together, the supreme commander of the Washington-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), self-described ‘General Doctor Engineer’ Salim Idris, was forced to flee Syria after the Islamic Front - Bandar Bush’s brigades - took over the headquarters and warehouses of Idris’ Supreme Military Council (SMC) at the Bab al-Hawa crossing near the Turkish border. Washington immediately announced it was freezing all “non-lethal aid.”
The Islamic Front is a coalition of Islamist “rebels” that – in theory – do not include the two top al-Qaeda-linked outfits, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Washington believes its own propaganda that the Islamic Front is more “moderate” than the ISIL.
After the debacle at Bab al-Hawa, Idris’ followers started spinning that the General Doctor Engineer himself invited the Saudi-backed Islamic Front to take over the warehouses.
No wonder US Think-Tank-Land was as perplexed as crocodiles in the Hindu Kush; after all, the General Doctor Engineer was their updated version of Ahmad Chalabi, the future of democracy for Syrians and Arabs. How come he fled the scene of his greatest triumph? After Idris fled to Doha, Washington told him to get his act together and go back to Syria. Instead, he relocated to his fancy digs in Turkey.
Arab media has a different take on the whole operation - but it must be taken with a bulldozer of salt, as Arab media is overwhelmingly controlled by Saudi money. The warehouses may not have been taken over at all; they were “handed over” to the Islamic Front, according to an agreement supervised by the cousin of the Doctor Engineer General (“rebel” nepotism, anyone?).
Although Washington (laughably) swears it doesn’t know what was stolen from its “non-lethal aid” package, the content of the warehouses couldn’t be juicier; a weaponizing orgy - M79 Osa rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, 14.5mm heavy machine guns, and even Stinger missiles - generously supplied by Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis, obviously after a green light from Washington.
And by the way - US lethal, semi-lethal, or non-lethal “aid” continues and will continue to flow via Jordan, while Turkey “discreetly” does nothing to prevent ISIL deployments in both Syria and Iraq.
Washington - via the CIA - is in close contact with the Islamic Front; after all, these are Bandar Bush’s goons, and Bandar Bush has access to everyone that counts in Washington. To essentially summarize the “opposition” nebulae in Syria, there are absolutely negligible ideological differences between the FSA of General Doctor Engineer Idris, Bandar Bush’s brigades of the Islamic Front, and ISIL.
So Bandar Bush’s goons/foreign mercenaries - soon to number tens of thousands, and making as much as $2,500 a month - are now weaponized to the max. The Washington narrative that it’s “persuading” such a nasty bunch of Islamists to support Geneva-2 is no more than a joke.
No matter who will remain in control of those weapons - Bandar Bush’s brigades, the al-Qaeda-style International Jihad, or both - what’s certain is that these lethal facts on the ground will make a mockery of anything transpiring out of Geneva-2 next month. Washington knows it, Bandar Bush knows it, and Putin knows it. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.