Saudi Arabia Poised to Play More Overt, Active Role in Middle East Affairs

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saudi_arabia flag.gif
A friend just leaked to me the teaser for an important article on more robust Saudi national security activism in the Middle East that will appear tomorrow.
Until now, Saudi Arabia has largely been quiet amidst the regional convulsions that are unfolding around it. Saudi “calm” has been a White House request.
That is over. In my view the “watershed” for changing Saudi behavior was the Israel-Lebanon conflict and erupting popularity of Hassan Nasrallah.
Here is the intro for a piece running in the New York Times tomorrow by Hassan Fattah and Michael Slackman:

SAUDI-DIPLO (Jiddah, Saudi Arabia) — With the prospect of three civil wars looming over the Middle East — and Iran poised to gain from them all — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its behind-the-scenes checkbook diplomacy and taken on a central, aggressive role in reshaping the region’s conflicts.
On Tuesday, the kingdom is playing host in Mecca to the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two feuding Palestinian factions, in what both sides claim could lead to a national unity government and reduced bloodshed.

The entire piece should be posted on the Times‘ site some time after midnight.
– Steve Clemons
Update: Here is a bit more of this interesting article:

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has also increased its public involvement in Iraq and its support of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon. The process is shaping up as a counteroffensive to efforts by Iran to establish itself as the regional superpower, according to diplomats, analysts and officials here and throughout the region. Some even say that the recent Saudi commitment to temper the price of oil is aimed at undermining Iran’s economy, although officials here deny that.
“We realized that we have to wake up,” said a high-ranking Saudi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Someone rang the bell, ‘Be careful, something is moving.”‘
The shift is occurring with encouragement from the Bush administration. Its goal is to see an American-backed alliance of Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, along with a Fatah-led Palestine and Israel, opposing Iran, Syria and the radical groups they support.
Yet Riyadh’s goals may not always be in alignment with those of the White House, and could complicate American interests.
The Saudi effort has been taken in collaboration with its traditional Persian Gulf allies and Egypt and Jordan, but it also represents another significant shift in a region undergoing a profound reshuffling. The changes are linked to the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the transfer of power from Sunni Muslims to Shiites in Iraq, analysts said. They also reach back many years to the gradual decline in influence of Cairo and the collapse of a pan-Arab agenda, analysts and diplomats said.
“The Saudis felt that the Iranian role in the region has become influential, especially in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, and that the Iranian role was undermining their role in the region,” said Muhammad al-Sakr, head of the foreign affairs committee in Kuwait’s Parliament. “Usually the Saudis prefer to maneuver behind the scenes,” he said. “Lately they’ve been noticeably active.”
Saudi Arabia has taken public initiatives in the past, including one in 2002, when at an Arab League meeting it proposed a regional peace agreement with Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawing to its 1967 boundaries. But it prefers to work quietly, and has not recently taken such a sustained public posture.
“This is not leadership by choice, it is leadership by necessity,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad, an expert at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “There is a leadership vacuum in the region and they have to step forward, or Iran will.”
The United States, which is pushing the Saudis to take on this role, is alarmed at rising Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon, and with the Palestinian government of Hamas.
But the two countries, though sharing broad goals, have different views of the players in each conflict. For example, while the Bush administration sees the conflict in Iraq as one between allies and terrorists, the Saudis tend to see it as Sunnis versus Shiites — and they favor the Sunnis, while the Americans back the Shiite-led government. And while Saudi Arabia wants to lure Hamas away from Iran’s influence and back into the Arab fold, the United States views Hamas as a terrorist organization.

– Steve Clemons

Comments

25 comments on “Saudi Arabia Poised to Play More Overt, Active Role in Middle East Affairs

  1. Pete Mate says:

    Thats not really new news. See my article “Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki al-Faisal and Iraq” of December 12, 2006 http://spyingbadthings.blogspot.com/2006/12/saudi-arabia-prince-turki-al-faisal.html which says in part:
    “Saudi Arabia may be attempting to counter Iran’s diplomatic moves by creating an anti-Iranian (and generally Sunni) alliance. This loose alliance includes Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, such oil rich Arab neighbours as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates with a quiet intelligence relationship with Israel. Meanwhile Syria may remain relatively neutral.
    Prince Turki al-Faisal and Covert Action
    With the possibility of eventual US witdrawal. Saudi intelligence, Saudi benefactors and “charities” may see potential to influence Iraqi politics through covert action. Regarding Saudi covert action strategy Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to Saudi Embassy Washington, stated in an article in WashPost November 29, 2006 that “…the Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. [Saudi] Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance — funding, arms and logistical support — that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years.” Obaid was later sacked for writing the article. A previous Saudi covert action program was conducted on a large scale in Afghanistan by Saudi intelligence in the 1980s under the close leadership of Prince Turki al-Faisal (then head of Saudi foreign intelligence) in conjunction with the CIA and Pakistani intelligence.
    On December 12, 2006 Prince Turki resigned his post as Saudi Ambassador to Washington. The reasons are inconclusive. If the move is negative it may be that fundamentalist leaders in the Saudi govenment wish to demote him due to his modernist pro-Western leanings. However it is more likely that he will replace the current Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who is in ill health. A further reason for Prince Turki’s return is that if the Saudis want to enhance any covert action program in Iraq they will need the covert action expert (Prince Turki) at home. As Foreign Minister he can still effectively direct such a program.”
    Pete
    (from Australia)
    http://spyingbadthings.blogspot.com

    Reply

  2. Pissed Off American says:

    Cluster bombs: a war’s perilous aftermath
    UN figures estimate that 26 percent of south Lebanon’s cultivatable land is affected by the ordinance.
    By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
    Page 1 of 2
    MAARAKEH, LEBANON – Cease-fires end wars. Or so the Zayoun family thought, when Israel and Hizbullah agreed nearly six months ago to stop battling.
    But instead, this poverty-stricken Lebanese Shiite household found new agony when a remnant of this war was brought into their living room: one Israeli cluster bomblet, out of an estimated 1 million such unexploded munitions that carpet southern Lebanon.
    In the Monitor
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    The US State Department said last week that Israel “likely could have” misused American-supplied cluster bombs by peppering civilian areas from which, Israel says, Hizbullah was operating. Similar Israeli usage in 1982 led to a six-year ban of US sales of the controversial weapon, though analysts do not expect such a sanction of the US ally today.
    But as UN-organized demining teams toil across olive groves and tobacco farms to destroy what they call an “unprecedented” concentration of the controversial cluster bombs here, the casualties continue to mount.
    The Zayoun family alone accounts for three of a postwar Lebanese toll that today stands at 184 wounded and 30 dead.
    Father Mohammed blames himself for picking up the small metal cylinder and putting it in his bag while cutting thyme in a field that had been marked with red and white warning tape.
    Just after nightfall, with the house lit only by a few candles, his 4-year-old daughter Aya Zayoun found the cluster bomb in her father’s bag outside. She took it inside to the living room and handed it to her older sister, Rasha, who thought it was a toy bell.
    Then it exploded.
    “[Mohammed] was ready to kill himself with the guilt,” says mother Alia Salman, who was struck with small pieces of shrapnel during the Jan. 5 incident. Son Qassem was hit, too, and 16-year-old Rasha lost her lower leg.
    “It’s a big shock for [Mohammed] to see his daughter without her leg. Every time he looks at her, his heart is bleeding,” says Mrs. Salman.
    She says Rasha was “like a genie, jumping around, strong and tough.” But now the mother’s tears well when Rasha shows the bandaged stump; and Aya clings to her mother shyly, still smarting from being pointed out as “the little girl who carried [the cluster bomb] inside.”
    ‘Unprecedented’ concentration
    Such human shock waves are no surprise for the 55 demining teams working under a UN umbrella, which have never seen such heavily contaminated terrain.
    “The scope was extensive and unprecedented in any modern use of these types of cluster weapons,” compared to Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003, says Chris Clark, the program manager for the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon, in Tyre.
    UN figures show that 26 percent of southern Lebanon’s cultivatable land has been affected, and that 34 million square meters – or 13 square miles – are contaminated.
    Israeli officials assert that the cluster bombs were used against military targets, in accord with the international laws of war. Hizbullah also used cluster bombs, though on a much small scale. Human Rights Watch documented two Chinese-made rockets that contained 39 pellet-filled bomblets each, while Israeli police say Hizbullah fired 113 cluster rockets, among the nearly 4,000 Katyushas that rained down on northern Israel.
    “From what I saw here during the war, there were daily firings of Katyushas and other missiles from Hizbullah,” says Mr. Clark, a 17-yearveteran of the British military’s royal engineers. “The Israelis spent four weeks trying to neutralize that threat with single-unit bombing – either iron bombs or artillery. Clearly they failed to do that. So a switch to a [broader]area-type weapon– which is what a cluster bomb is – would make some form of military logic.”
    continues at……
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0207/p01s01-wome.html

    Reply

  3. della Rovere says:

    oh great. the saudis are coming, the saudis are coming. bringing enlightenment and humanism wherever saudi royalty touches the ground.

    Reply

  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yeah, Wimpie? Well tell me, how much money is Egypt getting this year in Bush’s new budget?
    And did Eygpt carpet it’s nieghbor’s landscape with a few hundred thousands cluster munitions recently?

    Reply

  5. Winnipeger says:

    Screw Egypt. This money should be going to New Orleans. Or for port security. Or for direly needed repairs to our failing infrastructure. Or to the vets that have been maimed by this lying sack of shit Bush. Or to the New Yorkers that are dying because the EPA, at Bush’s behest, lied about the air quality post 9/11. Or to a myriad of other things. Egypt doesn’t deserve our God damned tax dollars, and THIS pissed off American is sick and tired of financing Egypts’s human rights abuses. Why are we giving them more military aid when their corrupt dictatorship uses that military to viciously silence all political dissent?
    http://tinyurl.com/92fsn
    Aid is central to Washington’s relationship with Cairo. The US has provided Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid since 1979, and an average of $815 million a year in economic assistance. All told, Egypt has received over $50 billion in US largesse since 1975. The money is seen as bolstering Egypt’s stability, support for US policies in the region, US access to the Suez Canal, and peace with Israel. But some critics question the aid’s effectiveness in spurring economic and democratic development in the Arab world’s most populous country – a higher US priority after Sept. 11, 2001.
    “Aid offers an easy way out for Egypt to avoid reform,” says Edward Walker, the US ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1998. “They use the money to support antiquated programs and to resist reforms.”
    Egypt’s economy is deeply troubled. Unemployment has climbed to 25 percent, foreign investment last year dropped to a 20-year low, and until recently the currency was losing value on a weekly basis. Rather than helping, American aid is “depressing the need for reform,” according to former Ambassador Walker.

    Reply

  6. Pissed Off American says:

    Screw Israel. This money should be going to New Orleans. Or for port security. Or for direly needed repairs to our failing infrastructure. Or to the vets that have been maimed by this lying sack of shit Bush. Or to the New Yorkers that are dying because the EPA, at Bush’s behest, lied about the air quality post 9/11. Or to a myriad of other things. Israel doesn’t deserve our God damned tax dollars, and THIS pissed off American is sick and tired of financing Israel’s human rights abuses. Why are we giving them more military aid right on the heels of them carpeting Lebanon with cluster bombs, in direct VIOLATION of the contractual terms through which they acquired those cluster bombs from us?
    http://www.aipac.org/130.asp#2547
    President Requests $2.4 Billion in Aid for Israel
    President Bush requested $2.4 billion in military aid to Israel as part his 2008 fiscal year budget submitted to Congress on Monday. The proposed aid for Israel represents the last year of a 10-year plan between Israel and the United States to phase out economic aid to Israel while gradually increasing the amount of military aid. During the past decade, Israel’s total aid package has decreased from $3 billion — $1.8 billion in military aid and $1.2 in economic assistance — to $2.4 billion in military assistance. The 2008 budget request also includes $40 million in assistance to help Israel absorb refugees from the former Soviet Union and other countries. Presidents and lawmakers of both parties have backed aid to Israel for decades as a means to ensure that America’s closest ally in the Middle East has the means to defend itself against regional threats.

    Reply

  7. cica says:

    Last December all state and territory attorneys-general, together with federal Labor’s new shadow attorney-general, Kelvin Thomson, started paving a bolder way by formally responding to Hicks’ plight with the Fremantle Declaration. This document has received strong support from members of the legal profession. It affirms commitment to fundamental norms of the Australian legal system, which are also protected at international law, including the right to a fair trial, the principle of habeas corpus, the prohibition on indefinite detention without trial, the prohibition on torture and access to rights under the Geneva Convention. And last November the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights joined other groups in requesting the German federal prosecutor to investigate criminal responsibility for high-ranking US officials — including former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and current Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales —
    for authorising war crimes in relation to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
    Germany was the chosen legal theatre because it can prosecute foreign violations of international law under its 2002 universal jurisdiction law. And also presumably for punchy symbolic effect, as Germany is the home of Nuremberg in more ways than one.
    You don’t need to be a warrior intellectual or even a lawyer to join those dots in Australia’s domestic context. Where there’s a will there’s a way. As Ruddock well knows.
    Natasha Cica is director of the management and communications consultancy Periwinkle Projects.

    Reply

  8. Homer says:

    paul: Saudi Arabia has always been their primary target.
    Wrong, I opine that is totally incorrect and goes without proof witin the widely avaible documentation.
    Primary targets = Iraq-Iran-Syria
    Saudi Arabia has been given a pass despite their helping of the Sunnis in Iraq who are the primary assailers of US forces.
    Off topic:
    In direct response to the horrific attacks of 9/11, the Bush admin inadvertently and unknowingly forced the reins of power into the bloodied hands of Al-Da’wa party which claimed responsibilty for bombging the US Embassy in Kuwait…
    See
    1) U.S. military: Iraqi lawmaker is U.S. Embassy bomber
    http://www.cnn.com
    • Iraqi Parliament member convicted of bombing U.S., French embassies in ’83
    • Jamal Jafaar Mohammed’s position gives him prosecutorial immunity
    • He supports Shiite insurgents and acts as an Iranian agent in Iraq, D.C. says
    • Mohammed is also accused of attempting to kill a Kuwaiti prince
    2) Beirut Bombers Seen Front for Iranian-Supported Shiite Faction, The Washington Post, January 4, 1984
    The terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. Marine compound and the French military headquarters here may be a front for an exiled Iraqi Shiite opposition party based in Iran, in the view of a number of Arab and western diplomatic sources.
    Authorities in Kuwait say their questioning of suspects in the recent bombing there of the U.S. and French embassies indicates a clear link between Islamic Jihad, a shadowy group that says it carried out the Beirut attacks, and Al Dawa Islamiyah, the main source of resistance to the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
    Al Dawa (The Call) has been outlawed in Iraq, where it wants to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state to replace the secular Baath Socialist government of Saddam Hussein, who is a Sunni Moslem.
    It draws its strength from the large Shiite population in southern Iraq. Thousands of its most militant members were expelled to Iran in 1980 before the outbreak of the Iranian-Iraqi war and joined Al Dawa there. But it also has a large following in Lebanon among Iraqi exiles and sympathetic Lebanese Shiites.
    While Al Dawa operates out of Tehran, it is not clear whether its activities abroad are under direct Iranian control or merely have Iran’s tacit acceptance.
    3) Large Turnout Reported For 1st Iraqi Vote Since ’58 The Washington Post, June 21, 1980
    In another development today, Al Dawa, a clandestine Iraqi fundamentalist Moslem organization, claimed responsibility for yesterday’s grenade attack on the British Embassy here in which three gunmen reportedly were killed.
    An Al Dawa spokesman told Agence France-Presse by phone that the attack was a “punitive operation against a center of British and American plotters.”
    [Keywords: Iraq, Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalism, Shiite fundamentalists, Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, Al Dawa, Death Squads]

    Reply

  9. TheBigHunt says:

    Hey Steve, it’s off topic, but I wonder if you care to comment on Jeff Gedmin’s new job:
    Jeffrey Gedmin to leave Aspen Institute Berlin.
    Aspen Director named President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio
    Liberty in Prague
    Berlin, February 5, 2007
    Aspen Institute Berlin Director Jeffrey Gedmin has been appointed
    President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Gedmin
    will assume leadership this spring of the renowned organization,
    whose radio, television and internet programs are broadcast in more
    than two dozen languages to 18 countries, including Russia, the Black
    Sea region, the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.
    “Jeffrey Gedmin is one of the key voices on democracy and transatlantic relations today.
    He has considerable international experience and will make a great President of RFE/RL.
    We are sorry to lose him, but appreciate deeply what he has done for the Aspen Institute
    Berlin,” said Leonhard Fischer, chairman of the Aspen Berlin board. Ronald Lauder,
    vice chairman of the board, added that “Gedmin has done a wonderful job in leading the institute.
    It is remarkable how effective he has been in bolstering US-German and US-European ties.
    A number of countries have benefited from his leadership”
    Gedmin said about his decision to leave: “the Aspen Institute Berlin
    is a wonderful institution, which has afforded me remarkable
    opportunities. It is not easy to leave, but I look forward to the
    challenges ahead.”

    Reply

  10. Carroll says:

    BTW…the purge needs more members:
    Ten protesters arrested in McCain’s office
    WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Capitol Police arrested 10 anti-war protestors in Sen. John McCain’s Capitol Hill office Monday, police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider tells CNN.
    The protestors, members of the anti-war organization “Code Pink,” said the demonstration was one of more than two dozen similar protests held across the country on Monday. The group said more protests were planned targeting congressional offices in the coming months.
    The demonstrations were held Monday to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the U.N. speech delivered by former Secretary of State Colin Powell outlining the threat Iraq posed to the world because of its weapons of mass destruction programs, according to a press release issued by the organization.
    The demonstration in McCain’s office was peaceful and no one was injured.
    Last week six members from the group were arrested outside Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, D- New York, Capitol Hill office.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Now if 10 thousand or hundreds of thousands of citizens stormed capitol hill we might get somewhere…..there are more of us than there are DC police. Gathering on the “mall” in peaceful protest doesn’t get it…overwhelming numbers flooding their offices would. I am not willing to be arrested for showing up with only six people…I would be willing to be arrested as one of thousands…that would be worthwhile. I admire these ladies for at least doing something but if you want to have an impact you gotta start a bigger shit storm.

    Reply

  11. Freedom says:

    Peace, you say?
    Not if Israel can help it! A catastrophe is in the making RIGHT NOW in the Occupied Territories … and NOBODY in the Western media seems to have picked up on it. I wonder why!
    http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2341

    Reply

  12. Carroll says:

    Looks like the Saudis are aiming for a spin the wheel and let’s make a deal time.
    However if they try to cater to the US neo and Israeli interest in their dealmaking if won’t work…so we will see how well they can walk that highwire.
    Maybe now that the US has fallen on it’s face in the ME they will start thinking about Arab states cooperating with Arab states and coming to their own power sharing arrangements as better insurance than US strongarming.

    Reply

  13. erichwwk says:

    We might do well to re-read David Wallechinsky’s Oct 11, 2001 essay on “Why Do They Hate Us”
    http://www.ucolick.org/~de/WTChit/Wallechinsky.html
    especially with respect to the first Gulf War. As long as we believe the Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush I nonsense about the that war, we can make no progress on the current war. Americans may believe the Hill and Knowlton TV version, but those that live in the Middle east do not.
    David’s less than peer reviewed list of “World’s 10 Worst Dictators”, commissioned by Parade magazine ranking the then Prince Abdullah as a worse dictator than Saddam Hussein is still available online at http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2003/edition_02-16-2003/Dictators
    A reality based view, that covers some of the blatant lies, but not the underlying maneuvers was published by the Christian Science Monitor before the current invasion under the title:
    IN WAR, SOME FACTS LESS FACTUAL
    Some US assertions from the last war on Iraq still appear dubious.
    By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
    MOSCOW � When George H. W. Bush ordered American forces to the Persian Gulf � to reverse Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait � part of the administration case was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia.
    Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated in mid�September that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier.
    But when the St. Petersburg Times in Florida acquired two commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border � just empty desert.
    “It was a pretty serious fib,” says Jean Heller, the Times journalist who broke the story.
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p01s02-wosc.html
    A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation segment of a Heller interview is on youtube at:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/28cdrz
    In 1992 UCLA’s Dr. Kellner book “The Persian Gulf TV Warpublished a more complete and detailed version of what actually happened. The Book is available onlone at his UCLA site (despite being the focus of Daniel Pipe’s effort against professors opposing the war) at:
    http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/papers/gulfwar1.htm
    “Saudi Arabia wants only peace in the region,” al-Faisal said.
    …..That, and continuation the Yalta agreement.

    Reply

  14. John says:

    Not a good time to be a Saudi sheikh. The protector of two holy places has had to stand impotently by as Israel trashed the Sunnis around Jerusalem, the United States bludgeoned Sunnis around Baghdad, and Hezbollah showed them that Arabs could actually stand up for themselves. At the same time the Saudis lost control of world oil prices, as their spare production capacity, historically used to stabilize world oil prices, disappeared in a wave of Asian demand. Now the Saudis are staring across the Gulf at an emerging energy superpower that together with Russia will likely establish an OPEC for natural gas. Gone are the good old days when the sheikhs stood astride world energy markets. Their diplomatic awakening is simply a belated attempt to establish some relevance in a world that has moved on without them. To become something of a player again, they will have to thread their way between the insurgencies on one hand and the United States, Israel, and their fellow Arab autocrats on the other. Past experience does not suggest that they will be successful.

    Reply

  15. Tony Foresta says:

    Does this mean the Saudi overt, active role in the horrors and mass murder of 9/11 are back on the table, or are the fascist warmongers and profiteers still cloaking, defending, and colluding with the Bush government “good friends”, but America’s arch enemies in the House of Saud?

    Reply

  16. Dan Kervick says:

    In all the many, many reports that have appeared in the past several weeks about Saudi fears about rising Iranian “influence” or “power”, few of these reporters ever get around to analyzing this question in anything beyond the broadest, vaguest RISK-board terms, or bother to explain precisely *what* it is the Saudis fear – and along with them the Egyptians, and the Jordanians. Rather odd, don’t you think?
    Let’s see now – what could it be? Could it have something to do with the fear of a Middle East country that actually has elections, and the effect that example might have on the expectations of their own populations? Could it have somethinng to do with the control of OPEC and the regional oil industry? Could it have something to do with the fear that Americans might someday get a clue, and decide that their own interests are better served by pursuing an alliance with a huge, emerging and vibrant country rather than an ossified and oversized oil Sheikdom? Could it have something to do with the fact that once Egyptians and Saudis are not free to manipulate the interminable Palestinian issue to their own benefit, they will lose their inside track with Washington?
    Or maybe this is just a last late-midlife fling for the generation of Arab nationalism, before that generation passes from the scene?
    It is interesting that the Saudis would use the time around the Ashura festival to make a display of their role as the Protector of the Two Holy Places.

    Reply

  17. Jerome Gaskins says:

    I don’t think it is wise to invest at all in the rhetoric and propaganda coming from this administration or the state department in it’s current form. These people are fomenting violence and misery for profit. They cannot be ignored, but they must not be treated as authority.

    Reply

  18. Dan Kervick says:

    “The shift is occurring with encouragement from the Bush administration. Its goal is to see an American-backed alliance of Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, along with a Fatah-led Palestine and Israel, opposing Iran, Syria and the radical groups they support.”
    Ah yes, the mighty Palestine-Israel alliance. How could we have missed this?

    Reply

  19. paul says:

    I wonder what this means for the Neo-con playbook. Saudi Arabia has always been their primary target. Now that Iran and Saudi Arabia are pitted against one another (and presumably both too preoccupied to think much about Israel) where does that lead the middle east?
    Both will be strengthened at home and hedged in in the area.
    I would guess at a minimum the new found interest in pursuing a nuclear bomb in Saudi Arabia would pick up steam. In the Iran context would that get Neo-con approval?
    Most certainly it will strengthen the Saudi state against the forces of liberalization (such as they are) and even the Al Qaeda hyper-puritans with a real cold war (if not a hot one) in the neighborhood. Wher does that fit in the Neo-con plan?

    Reply

  20. Easy E says:

    SAUDI ARABIA, IRAN COOPERATING ON CRISES
    “RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Saudi Arabia and Iran are working together to try to calm the crises in Iraq and Lebanon, the Saudi foreign minister said Tuesday, despite Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran and limit its influence in the Middle East. The mediation is an unusual step by two rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, that compete for regional influence. President Bush has rejected calls that the United States win Iran’s help in easing Iraq’s bloodshed and resolve the political crisis in Lebanon that erupted into violence last week. Instead, he has vowed to break what he called Iranian support for militants in both countries.
    Saudi Arabia’s willingness to work with Iran likely indicates the growing alarm in the kingdom’s leadership over the two simultaneous crises, which have inflamed Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East.
    At the same time, Saudi Arabia has given tepid support to a new U.S. strategy in Iraq but has expressed skepticism over whether it will succeed. Besides sending 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, the new strategy takes a tougher stance on Iran.
    Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of largely Sunni Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that Iran had apprached his country to “cooperate in averting strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon.”
    “Saudi Arabia wants only peace in the region,” al-Faisal said.
    A Saudi envoy is in Iran, which is majority Shiite, studying all the efforts being exerted to calm the situation and defuse the crises in Iraq and Lebanon” and “exploring what Iran can contribute,” he said.
    The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah – which Iran is believed to support with money and weapons – has been waging a campaign of street protests for the past two months in an attempt to bring down the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Last week, the protests erupted into clashes between supporters of the two sides that raised fears in Lebanon and across the Middle East that the country could explode into a sectarian civil war between its Shiites and Sunnis.
    Saudi Arabia has close ties to Sunni politicians in the government’s ruling coalition and has strongly backed Saniora.
    Hezbollah has demanded a new national unity government that would give it and its allies more than a third of the Cabinet seats, enabling them to veto major decisions. Weeks of talks between the government and opposition have stalemated.
    In Iraq, Iran is believed to back Shiite militias that have been blamed in killings of Sunni Arabs and it has close ties to Shiite parties that dominate the government. Saudi Arabia has strong tribal links to Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority.”
    http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0107/392854.html
    Evil forces lurk in the bowels of U.S. hegemonic agenda to perpetuate Saudi, Iranian divide.

    Reply

  21. Zathras says:

    Very interesting piece. I can well believe the Saudi government would adopt a more visibly active diplomatic posture only with great reluctance, and also that (for various reasons) Egypt’s regional influence is not what it used to be.
    Traditional Saudi policy has reflected the state’s strengths and weaknesses; its wealth and religious significance often prompted Muslim and especially Arab countries to align themselves with Riyadh where they could, while its limited military capability and concern for internal stability led it to avoid confrontations. The weaknesses have not gone away, and that suggests the limitations of a more active Saudi diplomacy.
    The Saudis can mediate among, cajole and if necessary bribe Palestinian factions to reduce tension in the territories, can help Siniora’s government as it faces pressure from Hezbollah, and can, up to a point, influence Syria’s government. It could certainly curry favor with Jordan by helping with the burden of Iraqi refugees. Acting as the public champion of Sunni Arabs, especially in Iraq, remains a task beyond Riyadh’s strength; the Saudis’ influence still depends on their being able to persuade others to act as the Saudis wish, and Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgency will be interested only in getting Saudi support for what the insurgency wishes. There is a difference between exercising influence and being used.
    It could well be that a somewhat more public Saudi diplomacy might have developed even without the great weakening of American influence in the region produced by the Iraqi quagmire and the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Even under the best of circumstances American mediators are not well-suited to settle some internal Arab quarrels, and there are a lot of those now for reasons unrelated to Iraq. I don’t think there is any question, though, that the Bush administration’s self-inflicted diplomatic paralysis is a factor in Saudi thinking. Riyadh has been able to live with American administrations less hyper-responsive to it than the first Bush administration was, but what the Saudis must see now is a region in flux while Washington stands still, fixated on Iraq and barely responsive to developments elsewhere. A more active policy in the region could get Saudi Arabia into a lot of trouble, but it’s not hard to understand why some Saudis believe their traditional role doesn’t meet their needs now.

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  22. Easy E says:

    JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA
    “What ‘Israel’s right to exist’ means to Palestinians.
    Recognition would imply acceptance that they deserve to be treated as subhumans.
    Since the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel and much of the West have asserted that the principal obstacle to any progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is the refusal of Hamas to “recognize Israel,” or to “recognize Israel’s existence,” or to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
    These three verbal formulations have been used by Israel, the United States, and the European Union as a rationale for collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The phrases are also used by the media, politicians, and even diplomats interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. They do not.
    “Recognizing Israel” or any other state is a formal legal and diplomatic act by one state with respect to another state. It is inappropriate – indeed, nonsensical – to talk about a political party or movement extending diplomatic recognition to a state. To talk of Hamas “recognizing Israel” is simply to use sloppy, confusing, and deceptive shorthand for the real demand being made of the Palestinians.
    “Recognizing Israel’s existence” appears on first impression to involve a relatively straightforward acknowledgment of a fact of life. Yet there are serious practical problems with this language. What Israel, within what borders, is involved? Is it the 55 percent of historical Palestine recommended for a Jewish state by the UN General Assembly in 1947? The 78 percent of historical Palestine occupied by the Zionist movement in 1948 and now viewed by most of the world as “Israel” or “Israel proper”? The 100 percent of historical Palestine occupied by Israel since June 1967 and shown as “Israel” (without any “Green Line”) on maps in Israeli schoolbooks?
    Israel has never defined its own borders, since doing so would necessarily place limits on them. Still, if this were all that was being demanded of Hamas, it might be possible for the ruling political party to acknowledge, as a fact of life, that a state of Israel exists today within some specified borders. Indeed, Hamas leadership has effectively done so in recent weeks.
    “Recognizing Israel’s right to exist,” the actual demand being made of Hamas and Palestinians, is in an entirely different league. This formulation does not address diplomatic formalities or a simple acceptance of present realities. It calls for a moral judgment.
    There is an enormous difference between “recognizing Israel’s existence” and “recognizing Israel’s right to exist.” From a Palestinian perspective, the difference is in the same league as the difference between asking a Jew to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened and asking him to concede that the Holocaust was morally justified. For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba – the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949 – is one thing. For them to publicly concede that it was “right” for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely. For the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, the Holocaust and the Nakba, respectively, represent catastrophes and injustices on an unimaginable scale that can neither be forgotten nor forgiven.
    To demand that Palestinians recognize “Israel’s right to exist” is to demand that a people who have been treated as subhumans unworthy of basic human rights publicly proclaim that they are subhumans. It would imply Palestinians’ acceptance that they deserve what has been done and continues to be done to them. Even 19th-century US governments did not require the surviving native Americans to publicly proclaim the “rightness” of their ethnic cleansing by European colonists as a condition precedent to even discussing what sort of land reservation they might receive. Nor did native Americans have to live under economic blockade and threat of starvation until they shed whatever pride they had left and conceded the point.
    Some believe that Yasser Arafat did concede the point in order to buy his ticket out of the wilderness of demonization and earn the right to be lectured directly by the Americans. But in fact, in his famous 1988 statement in Stockholm, he accepted “Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.” This language, significantly, addresses the conditions of existence of a state which, as a matter of fact, exists. It does not address the existential question of the “rightness” of the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people from their homeland to make way for another people coming from abroad.
    The original conception of the phrase “Israel’s right to exist” and of its use as an excuse for not talking with any Palestinian leaders who still stood up for the rights of their people are attributed to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. It is highly likely that those countries that still employ this phrase do so in full awareness of what it entails, morally and psychologically, for the Palestinian people.
    However, many people of goodwill and decent values may well be taken in by the surface simplicity of the words, “Israel’s right to exist,” and believe that they constitute a reasonable demand. And if the “right to exist” is reasonable, then refusing to accept it must represent perversity, rather than Palestinians’ deeply felt need to cling to their self-respect and dignity as full-fledged human beings. That this need is deeply felt is evidenced by polls showing that the percentage of the Palestinian population that approves of Hamas’s refusal to bow to this demand substantially exceeds the percentage that voted for Hamas in January 2006.
    Those who recognize the critical importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and truly seek a decent future for both peoples must recognize that the demand that Hamas recognize “Israel’s right to exist” is unreasonable, immoral, and impossible to meet. Then, they must insist that this roadblock to peace be removed, the economic siege of the Palestinian territories be lifted, and the pursuit of peace with some measure of justice be resumed with the urgency it deserves.”
    By John V. Whitbeck
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0202/p09s02-coop.htm

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  23. marky says:

    No discussion about KSA’s role in the Middle East would be complete without mentioning Bob Graham’s charge that Saudi intelligence agents were funding two of the 9/11 hijackers. This was in the classified section of the official 9/11 report, according to Graham. Why isn’t the possibility of Saudi meddling at least as worrisome as Iranian?

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