The UAE said Sunday that it is ready to send ground troops to support an international coalition to fight the “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria, provided it would be led by the US.
“Our stance is fixed … Any serious operation against IS should include ground forces,” UAE Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a press conference.
Last week, Saudi Arabia said it is prepared to participate in a ground operation against IS in Syria led by the US. This was welcomed by the US even though the launch was not decided until now. Bahrain also said that it is also ready to join in such an operation.
Gargash however said that the mission would not involve a huge number of soldiers: “We are not speaking about thousands of soldiers, we are speaking about a ground operation to lead the fight.” The UAE is disappointed by the slow pace of international efforts to fight IS, despite progress in Iraq.
Professor of political science at the UAE University Abd Al-Khaleq Abdullah said this announcement reflects the Gulf’s eagerness to support the Syrian people and to fight terrorism until the last.
“This does not mean that the UAE will send ground troops to Syria but rather that they will offer logistical and intelligence support to ground forces,” Abdullah said. “Despite being involved in Yemen, Gulf countries want to prove that Syria is not an Iranian issue.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said an intervention on the ground would be considered hostile behaviour. “Any ground intervention on Syrian land without governmental authorisation would be considered an aggression … We are sorry to say that any soldiers violating this will return to their country in a wooden coffin,” he said.
Abdullah said however that if the Syrian regime is serious about fighting IS, they should welcome any troops willing to combat the group:“This proves that fighting IS is not a priority for the Syrian regime; they want to use it as a scapegoat to gain international support.”
The Syrian regime’s recent attack near Aleppo ruined the peace talks currently being held in Geneva between the regime and the opposition since the regime backed by Russia is trying to achieve gains on the ground.
The talks were the first trial to reach a political solution in Syria after the UN succeeded in bringing the two sides into proximity talks. However negotiations halted after the opposition refused to continue while Russian air forces are still carrying out operations on the ground. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu estimated that around 15,000 Syrians are entering Turkey.
Moscow insists that its operations in Syria are still limited to fighting terror groups like the IS and Al Nusra Front.
Meanwhile, the regime’s troops are moving towards the Turkish-Syrian border Monday in an attack thought by the opposition to be a significant threat to “the uprising” against the regime. Damascus said it wants to seize the city of Aleppo, which was the largest city in Syria before the crisis.
Syrian national TV said governmental troops captured the city of Ratyan, north of Aleppo. The regime managed to free two Shi’ite towns Wednesday, which had been besieged by opposition forces for years.
Iran’s Tasnim news agency said Revolutionary Guard Corps Brigadier-General Mohsen Ghajarian had been killed in the Aleppo province, in addition to six Iranian volunteer militiamen.
Egypt’s stance toward Syria is to support a political process that maintains the shape of the Syrian state. Political analysts did not take into account any potential impact on Egypt’s national security, or foreign diplomatic relations, from the Gulf countries’ intended move in Syria.
Professor of political science Hassan Nafaa deems the intended decision as pretentious and unpractical since Arab countries feel pressured to declare their stance regarding the Syrian conflict. “It seems that Arab countries are taking the initiative to respond to pressures on their stance regarding Syria but they do not necessarily have to implement this in practice,” he told Daily News Egypt.
Given the US’ announcement that they are against sending troops to Syria, Nafaa said if Arab countries are serious about such a move then they will proceed on their own. Regarding the potential impact of such a decision on Egypt, he said since Egypt has its own agenda of fighting terrorism in Sinai and on the Libyan borders, this should not affect Egypt at all.
“Egypt is focusing on fighting terrorism in Sinai and it might send troops to Libya if needed but not to Syria at all. However it may continue to collaborate strategically with neighbouring countries,” he said.
Managing director of the Arab League’s research centre Ahmed Youssef said there is a difference between Egypt’s strategy towards Syria and that of the Gulf countries but this difference is not causing a dispute or affecting diplomatic relations.
“Saudi Arabia is more impulsive concerning the Syrian conflict, fighting the regime, and supporting armed rebel fighters. Whereas Egypt has its own security considerations related mainly to the situation in Sinai,” he told Daily News Egypt. Egypt and Saudi Arabia might have discussed their stances on Syria but that does not mean Egypt will follow Saudi Arabia’s lead.
“I believe the Gulf’s decision to intervene in Syria will be under the umbrella of an international coalition to fight IS, although things get mixed up in practice,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhi met with his UAE counterpart Hamad Al-Romeithy in Cairo.
The meeting discussed a whole array of topics of common interest between both countries including military cooptation, the fight against terrorism, and retaining regional security, according to an official statement from the Ministry of Defence. Both ministers have affirmed the strong diplomatic ties between Egypt and the UAE to counter terrorism related challenges in the region.