Saudi Arabia is believed to be making it easy for Sunni jihadists to make it to Syria to join the jihad against dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Nearly 1,000 Saudis have gone to Syria to fight with groups tied to al-Qaida, western officials say, “and they suspect that number will exponentially grow in the coming months,” Jamie Dettmer reported Monday for the Daily Beast. This is raising fears about a terrorist blowback similar to what happened after Saudis flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union during the 1980s.
It is also ratcheting up the sectarian divisions driving much of the violence. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah took the unusual step of naming Saudi Arabia as complicit in the Nov. 19 suicide bombing at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The blast killed 25 people, including the Iranian cultural attache. Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services financed the attack, Nasrallah claimed in the Dec. 3 interview, Al-Monitor reports.
Iran blames Israel for the attack.
Saudi Arabia is reacting to Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, especially the use of Hizballah–its terrorist proxy–to fight alongside Assad’s forces, Al-Monitor reports. Hizballah fighters won back the strategic city Qusair in June after rebel forces had taken control. This was considered a turning point giving Assad’s forces the upper hand in the conflict.
Hizballah officials believe Saudi involvement goes as high as Prince Bandar bin Sultan and is driven by a desire to exact a price for Hizballah’s intervention in Syria. American officials say Saudi Arabia is looking the other way as an increasing number of jihadists and radical clerics make their way to Syria.
Prince Bandar tells American officials that he shares concerns about letting al-Qaida affiliates in Syria grow in strength, but Dettmer reports Saudi arms and supplies easily wind up in the hands of the Al-Nusrah Front and other jihadists.
While the long-term threats remain to be seen, the maneuvers are viewed as prolonging a conflict that has already claimed 120,000 lives.