The Sunni-Shi'a War
UAE to Join the Party in Syria?

A few days after Saudi Arabia announced it was open to sending ground troops to Syria, the United Arab Emirates may be joining the party. Reuters reports:

Asked whether the UAE could be expected to send ground troops to Syria, and if so under what circumstances, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said:

“I think that this has been our position throughout … that a real campaign against Daesh has to include ground elements,” he said, referring to Islamic State’s name using the Arabic acronym.[..]

Gargash said that any potential supply of troops would not be particularly large.

The Emiratis have several motives here. Firstly, they will back the Saudis’ play, should Riyadh choose to make one, because a close relationship with the Saudis is a pillar of the current Emirati foreign policy. Like the Saudis, the Emirati leadership hates and fears the Iranians and their regional aggression. If Emirati advisors, spotters, and planes (the UAE air force is excellent) can help with a serious coalition effort in Syria, then the UAE will probably see that as a core interest worth pursuing.

But the missing piece is the United States—which has been conspicuously absent in Syria. “Of course an American leadership in this effort is a pre-requisite,” the Emirati Foreign Minister declared. As there’s precious little chance of that before the next election, the Emirati remarks may be seen in some ways as laying down a marker: Any future Administration will be have to face the reality that this Sunni Arab ally is prepared to enter the fight only if the U.S. assumes a leadership role.

But that’s a year off—and in the meantime, the Iranians and Syrians are making it clear they want no outsiders in their butcher’s shop. LA Times:

At a news conference in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem declared that any foreign forces intervening against the government would not come out alive.

“Those who launch an aggression against Syria will return in wooden boxes, be they Saudis or Turks or anyone,” Moallem told reporters.[..]

In Tehran, the head of the Revolutionary Guard mocked Riyadh, saying the kingdom lacked the resolve to fight in Syria.

And if Iran were to get involved in a conflict with the Saudis and Emiratis as well, would the Assad regime’s other ally, Russia, get drawn in too? And, if so, what would Washington do if two of its most prominent allies were to wind up in a shooting war with the Russians? What if Turkey, a NATO member and co-sponsor with Riyadh of the Sunni resistance forces, becomes embroiled as well? American foreign policy has been activist for decades in the Middle East not for the fun of administering local quarrels, but precisely to avoid this sort of scenario where a security vacuum brings more and more powers into conflict. Alas, it appears that lesson may have to be relearned—let’s just hope the cost of doing so is manageable.

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