Wealthy Saudis and the Saudi government have been arming Syrian rebel groups, GlobalPost reported in March 2013. Based on a month of reporting in the region and in Washington, more than one dozen sources confirmed that hundreds of young Saudis were joining the rebels, although the government denies any sponsoring role, Reese Erlich reports. The Saudi fighters understand their cause as Jihad, or holy war, against Assad’s government.
The Saudi fighters are part of an influx of Sunni from Libya, Tunisia, and Jordan joining the vicious civil war, partly in hopes of weakening Iran, a Shia theocracy, which supports Assad.
Saudi support for anti-Assad forces places the nation on delicate terms with its US ally. According to the Washington Institute’s Aaron Zelin, “To avoid US ire, they can have individuals fund al-Nusra while the government funds groups vetted by the US… The Saudis are outsourcing the fight.”
At the time of Erlich’s report, the Obama administration had officially offered political support to Syrian rebels and was seeking to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of extremist groups like al-Nusra. But as the GlobalPost report and others since have documented, the CIA has facilitated covert military aid to anti-Assad forces since at least mid-2012.
Source: Reese Erlich, “Saudi Youth Fighting Against Assad Regime in Syria,” GlobalPost, March 13, 2013, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/saudi-arabia/130312/saudi-youth-fighting-assad-regime-syria.
Student Researcher: Olivia Moir (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Elaine Wellin (Sonoma State University)