BEIRUT – Middle Eastern nations that desperately want to rid the region of Syrian President Bashar Assad have been notably muted as the United States pushes forward with plans for military action against the Syrian government.
Despite throwing their own weight behind efforts to oust Assad — including by arming the Syrian rebels — key regional players such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have held back from publicly endorsing any U.S. strike.
The silence reflects concern over a possible public backlash from open support for U.S. intervention. But given Washington’s relatively passive policy toward the Syrian conflict until now, U.S. allies in the region are also deeply skeptical that airstrikes will have any meaningful impact, analysts say.
“After 2½ years of American administration hesitation with only verbal support and all talk, you can see the reservations in coming publicly and supporting American action when there is so much ambiguity over what that might be,” said Mustafa Alani, head of defense and security at the Gulf Research Center.
Regional support became all the more important after a British U-turn Thursday on participation in the strikes. The loss of London’s support has made the absence of strong backing from Middle Eastern nations even more pronounced.
After an emergency meeting Tuesday, the Arab League released a statement that condemned last month’s suspected chemical weapons attack as a “heinous crime” and pointed the finger at the Syrian government. But it stopped short of backing military action in response.
The absence of a strong endorsement was unsurprising given the disparate opinions among the 22 members of the organization. But it was still a setback for an administration that has pledged to rebuild ties in the Islamic world by, among other things, working in concert with international institutions.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said last week that the “situation calls for a firm and serious attitude” to put an end to the civil war. But as one of the most stalwart supporters of the rebels, Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, is likely to be pushing for more than what the U.S. has described as “limited and tailored” airstrikes, analysts said.
Among Syria’s immediate neighbors, that leaves just Turkey and Israel backing intervention.
“The U.S. haven’t had a long term plan for Syria or the Middle East in general,” said Salman Shaikh, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Center. “Their chickens are coming home to roost.”