Persian Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are moving to strengthen their military support for Syrian rebels and develop policy options independent from the United States after what they see as a failure of U.S. leadership following President Barack Obama's decision not to launch airstrikes against Syria, the Washington Post reported Saturday, citing unnamed gulf officials.
Although the Saudis and others in the region have been supplying weapons to the rebels since the fighting in Syria began more than two years ago and have cooperated with a slow-starting CIA operation to train and arm the opposition, officials said they have largely given up on the United States as the leader and coordinator of their efforts.
Instead, the Saudis plan to expand training facilities they operate in Jordan and increase the firepower of arms sent to rebel groups that are fighting extremist elements among them even as they battle the Syrian government, according to gulf officials who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to preserve comity with the United States.
What officials described as a parallel operation independent of U.S. efforts is being discussed by the Saudis with other countries in the region, according to officials from several governments that have been involved in the talks.
Unhappiness over Syria, officials said, is only one element of the disenchantment with the administration's Middle East policy, including its nuclear negotiations with Iran and criticism of Egypt's new government.
Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Saudi Arabia today on a hastily arranged visit to smooth frayed U.S. relations with the kingdom. Kerry will also stop in the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Israel, all of which have expressed concerned at what they see as a weakened U.S. posture in the region. The 11-day trip also includes visits to the West Bank, Poland, Algeria and Morocco.
Egyptian state media reported Friday that Kerry will begin his trip with a brief stop today in Egypt, his first visit there since the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi this summer.
Officials in several countries that had pledged to support a U.S. strike on Syrian targets after confirmation that President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons described their stunned reaction to Obama's abrupt decision in late August to cancel the operation just days before its planned launch so he could ask for congressional agreement.
But any major attempt at outside intervention in Syria on behalf of the opposition would be limited without the participation of U.S. equipment, personnel, and command and control. The United States' partners in Europe have long expressed reluctance to intervene in Syria without a mandate from the United Nations or NATO.