Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

A thought

The King of Saudi Arabia is dead. His successor is rumoured to be suffering from dementia. Saudi’s oil war is reducing revenue to the Kingdom. ISIS has already begun border attacks and there is rumour of fifth column activity in the Kingdom. Yemen is under Iranian backed Shi’te pressure with its capital overrun. In the Eastern province, where the oil is, there is a pro-Iranian Shi’te majority.

At this point the survival of Saudi Arabia in its current form is in some doubt. Certainly ISIS has no reason not to continue to attack. Running the table from Medina to Mecca looks like a stretch but that takes the loyalty of the Saudi Army and Air Force for granted. Are they loyal? And it is no stretch to note that the non-royal Saudis are not over enthusiastic about their lot in life. Less so when cuts to the Saudi welfare state occasioned by the reduction in oil revenues begin to bite.

ISIS is now in a stalemate in Iraq with the Iranian backed militias and the Iraqi army holding a line West of Baghdad. For ISIS to continue it needs to keep its momentum and wheeling south may be the best way to do that. Hitting the sacred territories of Islam could draw recruits and, weirdly, Saudi money from people who will back the perceived strong horse.

The derisory airstrikes of the anti-ISIS coalition have damaged but not destroyed ISIS. The logic of their strategic position combined with the politics of the Caliphate may make Saudi the right target at the right time. Which could make the entire situation radically more dangerous.

It might be time for the West to think more seriously about how and why it is conducting war in the Middle East. Air war is clean, low casualty and somewhat effective;it is not, however, decisive. Does it make sense to put boots on the ground and, if so, whose? Or are there other strategic options. China has a large Army. And buys a heck of a lot more Middle Eastern oil than the US.

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Saudi nukes

While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.

Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.

Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”

Since 2009, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons”, the kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions. bbc news

The Saudis are obviously fed up with the Americans under Obama screwing the pooch on pretty much everything Middle East related. They don’t believe for a minute that the Americans, Russians and Europeans will do SFA about Iran’s nuclear weapons so now they are quite happy to call the marker from Pakistan and get their own bombs.

Now, there is no doubt at all that Israel can selectively hit Iran with tactical nukes. The Pakistani bombs, made 300% better with tritium, would not be as discrete. And the Saudis not only see Iran as a threat, they also see Shi’ites as apostates and really, really hate them.

I don’t want to see any bombs going off in Iran; but if I was Iranian I would much prefer the threat of an Israeli strike on nuclear production facilities than a Saudi eruption against population centers using strategic rather than tactical weapons.

I have little time for the Saudis but their intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, is well aware of the utter dysfunction Obama and Kerry and Clinton and Powers and their like have brought to US Foreign policy. And so, without too much hoo-hoo he is acting for the Kingdom.

It will be interesting if Saudi Arabia turns out to be a better Israeli ally than the US; but that is how it is looking at the moment.

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Thinking about Egypt

For the moment the Egyptian Army has declared war on the Muslim Brotherhood (and, less effectually, vice versa). The great and the good in the West are not happy about this. Largely because they believed that the Arab Spring’s manifestation in Egypt lead to elections not a massacre. Why they believed this is anyone’s guess. Wishful thinking I suspect.

What they did not count on is that the Brotherhood has very little time for the norms of civil society which make elections possible. In particular, the clever people who run the State Department and the EU tried very hard to pretend that the MB was a political rather than religious movement. The Egyptians themselves were under no such misapprehension. And, perhaps more to the point, the Saudis knew damned well that the MB were an essentially Islamofascist outfit.

The West has had very limited leverage in Egypt simply because, all in, the Western aid budget is about 2.5 billion a year. The Egyptians needed 20 billion just to stay afloat. 

The only source which can write that sort of cheque is Saudi and the Gulf states and they were not going to put pen to paper until and unless the Brotherhood was crushed. Which is exactly what is happening. And the money is flowing.

I have little time for the Saudis but in this they are massively more competent than dimwits like John Kerry.

It is a mess. And it is quite likely to get worse before it gets any better. Given the rural base of the Brotherhood the prospects for civil war are significant. And given the hate driven religious ideology of the Brotherhood, the slaughter of the Copts cannot be ruled out.

The tragedy of the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular lies in the fact that Islam in its more vigorous forms is deeply incompatible with civil society.  The very idea of civil society is anathema to an interpretation of Islam which governs all human conduct. 

Unfortunately, that interpretation of Islam powers the Brotherhood. 

(Astute readers will note that a variation on that theme also powers Saudi Arabia – but no one would call Saudi either a democracy or a civil society.)

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