Saudi Arabia has been quietly involved in the Syrian civil war since its beginning.  The Saudis found Hafez al-Assad to be a reasonable man to work with (which is an interesting comment on Saudi Arabia, given that Hafez was a Baathist who ordered the massacre of the entire city of Hama to put down a rebellion), but find his son Bashar to be too inconsistent.

Reportedly, the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, for the Saudis, was the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri by Hezbollah in 2005.  The Saudis had sponsored Hariri, and with Hezbollah being a close partner with Damascus, Bashar al-Assad and his allies were seen as responsible.  Given that Lebanese security was a Syrian responsibility under the Taif Accords of 1989, that also pointed to Assad being at least complicit in the assassination.  As such, early on the Saudis began to support the Free Syrian Army.

The Saudis have a history of keeping a low profile in their international affairs, often acting in partnership with the United States, especially since the 1st Gulf War in 1991.  Most of the royal family are fairly passive, perhaps because of a plethora of health problems.  At first, Saudi support to the FSA largely consisted of sending funds through Qatar, with whom the Saudis had an agreement.  The Qataris did most of the heavy lifting as far as logistics and getting weapons into Syria for the FSA.

The primary focus of Saudi Arabia’s defense is Iran.  From the Britam emails (the legitimate ones, not the fakes inserted to try to implicate Britam and the Saudis in chemical weapons smuggling into Syria), it quickly becomes clear that the focus of the Saudi Armed Forces’ training is a war with Iran.  While Al Arabiya dismisses the Sunni-Shia conflict as the cause, citing instead an Arab-Persian rivalry for regional domination, the sectarian differences cannot be denied.  While the Saudi royal family may be hedonistic and somewhat Westernized, they are entirely aware of the fact that they rule over a country with the majority of its citizens being Wahhabi Sunnis.  The House of Saud has to tread a careful line between the West and their own people in order to stay in power.