The front page of the Washington Post announced the news: “Kerry: Saudis Support a Strike”, which elicited an instinctual response from me of “Is this good news?” I suppose that for a Secretary of State stumbling to find any international support for the course of action he has led the president towards, any kind of Arab support will qualify as a victory. But having the support of Saudi Arabia raises far more questions than it answers. While President Obama has gone to lengths to describes his military plans as being unintended to draw America into Syria’s civil war, Saudi Arabia has been an active supplier of arms and has been a key part of a plan that has CIA operatives actively training and supplying Syrian rebels. While Kerry sees Saudi support as a good sign, I see it as a sign that this proposed attack is about much more than just chemical weapons and that it is very much tied to an increasingly active intervention by the United States into the heart of the Syrian civil war. This perspective has been more fully developed by Adam Entous of The Wall Street Journal. Entous was interviewed this past Friday on Democracy Now! Here is an excerpt from that eye-opening discussion.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, your article provides enormous detail—for instance, the role of Jordan and the training, not only by the CIA, but by Saudi forces. Could you talk about Jordan’s role now in the training of the rebels?
ADAM ENTOUS: Right. So, what happened was, is, initially, the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey and, to a certain extent, the CIA in more of an observatory capacity, had set up their operations for arming the rebels out of Turkey. And about a year ago, a little over a year ago, you know, the Saudis were watching as these arms were flowing in, and were concerned that they were going to what the Saudis and what the Americans would consider to be the wrong rebels, and this would include Islamist groups, Muslim Brotherhood-connected groups. And so they decided to pull out of Turkey and move to Jordan.
They convinced the king of Jordan, who was a little—a little bit reticent initially to accept this being done in their territory, because they were worried about reprisals, where, for example, there are large refugee camps for Palestinians just north of the Jordan-Syria border, inside Syria, and the fear for the Jordanians was that the Syrians would literally push those refugees into Jordan and further destabilize the kingdom. What we found in our reporting is, is that Bandar spent many hours with the king and with his military chiefs, reassuring them that the Saudis would support the Jordanians through this. And then CIA Director David Petraeus was involved, as well, in helping assure the Jordanians that the U.S. would have Jordan’s back.
And last summer they created this operation center. And what would happen—what is happening now is you have actually more CIA officers now there at that base than there are Saudi personnel. They fly weapons in. The Saudis are the ones who are doing the bulk of this. They buy the weapons in—largely in places like Eastern Europe, to a certain extent Libya, and they bring them to this base, which has a landing strip and storehouses for the weapons to be stored. The Saudis and the Jordanians draw on defectors, largely, from the Syrian military, which already have a good degree of military training. And they’re brought to this base, where different intel agencies train them. And the Americans are there. The Brits are there. The French are there. The Saudis, UAE is there. And they train them, and then they send them into the fight. And this—but very, very slowly, this process has been built up over the last couple months.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you report, as well, again in a replay of Afghanistan, that the CIA is not only training some of these rebels, but actually has put key figures of the Free Syrian Army on the payroll.
ADAM ENTOUS: Right. It’s a very interesting development, which we learned of as part of the reporting, which is, you know, we are—you know, the United States is not at war with Syria, so this is obviously being done covertly with the CIA. The Saudis were instrumental in getting the CIA to agree to pay these salaries. And the idea is, if these—if these FSA commanders receive American money, the U.S. is building loyalty and building relationships that would last into the future. And that’s the main rationale with these payments that are being made.
And it’s part of, generally, an effort by the Saudis to gradually increase the extent of the U.S. investment in the war in Syria. And it’s been slow-going, as far as the Saudis are concerned, because the CIA is—remains, you know, divided and skeptical about whether or not this is—this has a chance of succeeding. And that’s why you see, for example, the number of CIA-trained rebels entering Syria is incredibly small, given the number of months that this has been going on. For example, Congressman—excuse me, Senators McCain and Graham were told on Monday by Obama that an initial group of 50 rebels trained by the CIA were getting ready to enter, and this is after months of work at this base in Jordan, and the number is incredibly small.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar and the chemical weapons story?
ADAM ENTOUS: Right. So, you know, as you know, the U.S. right now is poised for military action in response to a very large alleged case of chemical weapons use on August 21st. You know, over the course of the last year, there have been these scattered reports of chemical weapons being used in much smaller quantities. Generally speaking, the U.S. intelligence community has been skeptical initially of those. The Saudis played an early and important role in trying to bring evidence of chemical weapon use to the West for analysis. And we were told, as part of the research for the story, that the Saudis had a—were brought by members of the Free Syrian Army, which is the Western-backed rebel group, a Syrian who had been exposed to an agent, a chemical agent. The Saudis arranged for that Syrian to be flown to Britain for treatment and to be tested. What the British found when they did the testing was that this Syrian was exposed to sarin gas, which the U.S. and British and French intelligence believe is only in the possession of the Syrian regime. That was sort of the first case that was—offered credible evidence that chemical weapons had been used.
And what you saw in the months that followed was, first, Saudi intelligence, so Bandar’s intelligence agency, concluded that chemical weapons were being used on a small scale by the regime. Followed by that, the Brits and the French were convinced of the same conclusion. It took U.S. intelligence agencies really until—until June to reach that conclusion. And that’s what led the Obama administration, at least publicly—it was cited by the Obama administration as the trigger for Obama’s decision to instruct the CIA and authorize the CIA to start arming the rebels at this Jordan base.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you write not only about the role of Prince Bandar, but also the current Saudi ambassador to the United States and his close connections to Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham and also to the Obama administration. Could you elaborate?
ADAM ENTOUS: Sure. So, Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir replaced Bandar as the ambassador here, and he is—you know, has the kind of access to the circles of power in Washington that few, if any, ambassadors have. He gets meetings with the president. He meets constantly with the top White House advisers, as well as members of Congress. And he sort of used the Saudi playbook from the 1980s in Afghanistan…Well, in the case of Syria, the Saudis identified the core group as being Senators McCain, Senator Graham and former—former Senator Lieberman. That was the core group. And then Adel al-Jubeir, the ambassador—
AMY GOODMAN: We have about five seconds, Adam.
ADAM ENTOUS: —worked to expand—sure—worked to expand that out to bring more people in, and in the end built a great deal more support within Congress for arming the rebels.