Has Saudi Arabia’s brinkmanship and heavy-handed policies of intervention in the Middle East come back to haunt the desert kingdom?
After decades of playing the role of middle man between foreign states and establishing itself as a regional power, Saudi Arabia’s policies of meddling in the affairs of neighbor states and support for terror appear to have finally exacerbated issues in the country which could threaten to plunge it into chaos. Growing anger over attempted austerity cutbacks, economic issues due to the fluctuating price of oil and tell tale signs of royal disagreement over the successor to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud mean that Saudi adventures abroad are preparing a perfect storm for civil conflict which could lead to further instability in the Middle East. The disruption comes as other states such as Iran and Turkey are positioning themselves as potential competitors to the de facto leader of the Arab world.
I. Saudi Arabia Is Experiencing Increasing Signs Of Instability
Saudi Arabia has experienced a number of issues which contribute to internal destabilization. In April 2017, Bloomberg reported that King Salman was forced to restore bonuses and allowances for state employees, reversing attempts to reform Saudi Arabia’s generous austerity programs.
The Saudi government insisted that the move was due to “higher than expected revenue” despite the fact that observers were noting in March that Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves were plunging as one third of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait have seen their credit ratings slashed and have increasingly disagreed on common foreign policy towards Iran.
The kingdom’s increasing financial problems are due in part to the falling price of oil.
In January 2016, The Independent noted that the dropping value of oil would put Saudi Arabia’s man spending programs in jeopardy and that a third of 15 to 24-year-olds in the country are out of work.
Trump came to the rescue in May 2017. By the way the USA has had a strong and long standing relattionship with KSA since the 1930s through the Bush family.
The Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering estimates that Saudi Arabia will experience a peak in its oil production by 2028, but this may be an incredible underestimation. The Middle East Eye has noted that experts in the United States who state that Saudi Arabia’s net oil exports began to decrease in 2006, continuing to drop annually by 1.4% each year from 2005 to 2015.
Citigroup has estimated that the Kingdom may run out of oil to export entirely by 2030. The end of the Kingdom’s cash cow is likely to cause problems in a nation that The Atlantic has accused of running itself like a “sophisticated criminal enterprise.”
II. Increasing Signs Of Internal Conflict In Saudi Arabia
There are a number of indications that Saudi Arabia’s royal family is also experiencing a significant amount of internal strife. King Salman has caused significant upheaval in the kingdom by taking the controversial step of totally overhauling Saudi Arabia’s line of succession and appointing his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as crown prince. The move is a dangerous one given that it has caused division in the royal family. Foreign Policy has noted that Saudi Arabia’s security forces are not under a single command authority, meaning that the military runs the risk of becoming fractured in the event of an internal conflict.
In 2015, The Independent spoke with a Saudi prince who revealed that eight of Salman’s 11 brothers were dissatisfied with his leadership and were contemplating removing him from office, replacing him with former Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. October 2017 was the Las Vegas incident.
NBC News revealed that the promotion of Salman’s son to the position of crown prince has also angered Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who was previously in line for the throne and is known for his hardline stance towards Iran.
On June 28th, 2017, the New York Times reported that Nayef had been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia and was confined to his palace in Jidda with his guards replaced by others loyal to Mohammed bin Salman.
Nayef rules over Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Region, which is described as one of the provinces most likely to rebel in the event of civil conflict due to the region’s large population of Shi’a Muslims. He is generally believed to be one of the leading advocates for the 2016 execution of Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a move which caused serious anger amongst Iranians. Nayef’s family also has historic ties to insurgent groups used by Saudi Arabia as a foreign policy tool. His father, Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, served as Interior Minister and controlled Saudi Arabia’s internal intelligence services, police, special forces, drug enforcement agency and mujahideen forces.
King Salman has used the war in Yemen to counteract elite dissatisfaction by causing what the Washington Postdescribes as a surge in nationalist sentiment among citizens.
The move also served as an attempt to take proactive steps against Iranian support for Yemeni Houthi rebels and prevent destabilization from the Arab Spring. But while intervention may have provided Saudi Arabia with short term benefits, it has also contributed to further fracturing of the Middle East and allowed neighbor states to take steps to replace Saudi Arabia as the region’s dominant power.
III. Geopolitical Changes Increase The Likelihood Of Conflict
It is not merely Yemen that causes the Saudis concern. Years of meddling now mean that the kingdom is increasingly conducting its foreign affairs with the goal of avoiding internal destabilization and balancing a regional house of cards. Wikileaks releases of diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs show that officials are committed to continuing to destroy the Syrian regime out of fear that Assad’s government might engage in reprisals for the destructive civil war there. Saudi Arabia has helped fuel the war through their support of Islamic terror groups. State Department cables released by Wikileaks show that Saudi Arabia is considered to be the most significant funder of Sunni terror groups internationally. But like foreign intervention, terrorism as a foreign policy tool serves as a means of directing destructive energy at best.
There have long been fears that the method could grow out of hand and create problems for the benefactors of terror. Saudi security forces have routinely had issues with infiltration by terror groups. In 2001, Stratfor noted the royal family’s growing concern over the increase in terror sympathizers amongst the military due to fears that some of the insurgent groups were not friendly towards the kingdom. Terror groups such as ISIS have in the past several years engaged in a number of attacks against Saudi targets, including suicide attacks which targeted the holy Islamic city of Medina and the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Traditionally, power in the Middle East has been split between the Israeli and Saudi governments.
This regional order may be starting to shift however, due to a combination of changing U.S. strategy and attempts by other Middle Eastern states to become more important players in the region.
In March 2016, Julian Assange noted to the New Internationalist that U.S. strategists such as John Brennan increasingly viewed the Israeli-Saudi nexus as getting in the way of broader American strategic interests, especially in regards to Iran.
This political shift is now playing out with the current crisis in Qatar. Qatar has historically positioned itself as a diplomatic center in the Middle East, staying friendly with Iran and providing multiple insurgent groups such as the Taliban with a venue for negotiation.
Emails from John Podesta reveal that Qatar has supported terror groups such as ISIS alongside Saudi Arabia, but does so with the intent of vying for influence with terror groups. Factions in Qatar have also leant support to Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, Hamas and the Taliban. Additionally, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera outlet has also provoked Saudi Arabia by providing hard hitting coverage of previously unacknowledged issues in the Middle East (though critical coverage of Qatari politics has been off limits). NPR has also noted that Qatar openly competed with Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring, when the two sides supported opposing factions in nations such as Egypt. The conflict with Qatar creates a very real risk that hostilities could spill into Saudi Arabia, given both sides’ support of terror groups.
The recent flare up has also revealed the emergence of a new order in the Middle East: states which stand behind the old, Saudi-Israeli nexus and those who wish to redraw the balance of power. Saudi Arabia is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives. Qatar has been supported by Saudi Arabia’s regional opponent Iran and Turkey. Turkey has been steadily increasing its role in the Middle East in recent years, and is seen by the United States as a suitable player to balance Saudi influence in nations like Pakistan. Turkey and Iran now are now actively posturing to challenge Saudi Arabia, as Turkey deploys troops to Qatar and Iran supports the small gulf state with food aid. Should the two states survive the destabilization of coups and terrorism, they are well positioned to benefit from any future reduction in Saudi influence.
IV. Dangers Of A Saudi Civil Conflict
A civil war or internal conflict in Saudi Arabia would quickly become international in nature. Defense contractors are being increasingly courted by Saudi cash as part of an effort to overhaul the military, part of which includes the recent $100 billion arms deal with the United States.
Saudi Arabia has also increasingly used private military corporations such as Blackwater, which currently provides personnel to the Saudi-lead coalition in Yemen.
The specter of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East also raises concerns that weapons could fall into the wrong hands or be used indiscriminately. Julian Assange has repeated 2010 claims from the head of Al-Jazeera that Qatar is in possession of a nuclear weapon. Saudi Arabia itself also is suspected of possessing nuclear arms.
In 2013, BBC News reported that Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons “on order” from Pakistan, whose nuclear program was bankrolled by the Saudis. In 2012, the Saudis also entered into an Atomic Collaboration Deal with China which projects that Riyadh will construct 16 nuclear reactors in the country by no later than 2030.
Arab acquisitions of weapons of mass destruction have created concern among Israeli intelligence officials, who fear that the countries acquiring these weapons systems will not use them effectively.
Should the conflict with Qatar (or any of the multiple regions where Saudi Arabia has intervened) spiral out of control, the potential proliferation of nuclear arms systems pose a serious danger. International conflicts, regional interventions and terror operations all create the risk that these weapons, whether intentionally or inadvertently, might be used. A Saudi civil war also creates risk for the international community, as there would be widespread unrest should the holy cities of Mecca and Medina be damaged during a conflict.
Falling currency reserves, a dwindling supply of oil, conflict within the royal family and the ever present threat that terror networks will cause backlash for their benefactors all indicate that Saudi Arabia is on a crash course for a crisis. With the Qatari conflict continuing to heat up, the real questions should not be about the potential end of terrorism or the ethics of further weapons sales to Arab nations, but what the world hopes that the Middle East will look like once the dust clears.
Israel, the USA, and Saudi Arabia are doing everything to lay the foundations for war against Iran.
That is why Iran and its people must be demonized and dehumanized. The Israeli government has been doing this since the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian people.
In general, all Sunni Muslim countries get along well with Iran, except Saudi Arabia and those Arab regimes that succumb to their financial pressure.
In a flattering interview with the New York Times, the Saudi crown prince and future king, Mohammed bin Salman, called the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, the “new Hitler of the Middle East.” And he continued with a skewed comparison, saying:
“But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
The same rhetoric was used by Netanyahu when he agitated against the nuclear deal with Iran.
Besides the silliness of such comparisons, it’s an incredible insult to the highest Shiite authority by a Sunni Muslim, who is going to be the next “King of Saudi Arabia.” The Iranian clerical elite will never forgive and forget. They rebuked this insult elegantly saying:
“No one in the world and the international arena gives credit to him [MBS] because of his immature and weak-minded behavior and remarks.”
As an old deep-rooted people, the Iranians gave bin Salman a good advice:
“Now that he has decided to follow the path of famous regional dictators … he should think about their fate as well.”
A regime that can only survive thanks to the “American and Zionist sword” not to mention their financial tribute in the form of large weapons purchases and mercenary pay for terrorist fighters should have not future.
But there is a sneaky plan behind bin Salman’s slander. It started with Donald Trump‘s silly speech he delivered during his visit to Saudi Arabia in which he called Iran “the top state sponsor of terrorism.” And Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu called Iran “the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.”
Both leaders cooperate very closely in deranging the nuclear deal signed under the Obama administration. Now, Mohammed bin Salman has thrown himself into the fray.
At least for the time being, President Trump is not yet willing, despite his anti-Iranian bias and rhetoric, to go to war with Iran for Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s sake.
To sacrifice American lives for two rogue regimes would be politically very unwise.
That is why an image cultivation of the Saudi regime has already started in the United Kingdom and the US. In the case of Israel, the reporting in the US and the UK are one-sided and incredibly biased. Hence, the Saudis have to catch up.
The Guardian and the leading newspaper of the US Empire, the New York Times, have started to paint the new Saudi strongman, Mohammed bin Salman, as a kind of visionary reformer, although he has been spreading terror and blood since he took office.
That Saudi Arabia has been fighting a brutal war against the people of Yemen, supports the different terror groups in Syria and stirs up tensions against Iran is not of object of concern by Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times. Even bin Salman’s crackdown on large parts of the political and economic elite and his bloody purge against political opponents is portrayed by the NYT as a fight against “corruption.”
Nobody should be surprised that the US and its major media outlets are embracing this brutal strongman because he serves US interests.
While the Guardian was full of praise for bin Salman throughout the year, the NYT reported more cautiously until Thomas L. Friedman took over. In a kind of press release, the Guardian was full of praise for the future Saudi King. He did arrest not only 11 peopled but also sidelined 20 billionaires. That several people died in an organized helicopter crash was not worth reporting by the Guardian.
Friedman didn’t want to be in no way inferior to the Guardian’s uncritical reporting. He even topped it writing:
“The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia.”
All the other Arab Spring movements failed miserably happening from bottom up; the Saudi one is led from the top down by bin Salman. That the Crown Prince wants to reform a degenerated Saudi version of Islam seems worth reporting. Time will tell. Reading all these articles, one can ask who paid for these base flatteries.
Why didn’t Friedman ask bin Salman about his 500 million US-Dollars worth yacht? Or the cost of the last vacation in Morocco, where he and his father’s royal household spent 950 million US-Dollars. So much to combat corruption, Mr. Friedman.
Bin Salman also maintains an unconventional and rough diplomatic contact with other heads of states when they are on a Saudi drip-feed.
When Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Saudi Arabia, he was forced to announce his resignation via Saudi TV. Apparently he feared for his life. For a few days, he stood under house arrest. Due to the speech of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the whole Lebanese leadership rallied behind Nasrallah and called for Hariri’s return to announce either his resignation or to stay in office.
The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, also intervened on behalf of Hariri. Finally, Hariri could leave Saudi Arabia via France from where he returned to Lebanon to celebrate the country’s independence day.
Bin Salman’s farce failed miserably. Almost the same happened to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Saudis ordered him to Riyadh and presented him an outline of the American Israeli “peace plan.” After returning to Ramallah, Abbas rejected the US Zionist document of surrender.
It’s an open secret that Saudi Arabia and Israel are cultivating intensive diplomatic contacts not only on security issues. A rare interview by the head of Israel’s armed forces to a Saudi owned news outlet confirms close links between the two countries.
Despite the denial of the Saudi foreign minister Adel el-Jubeir, these rumors won’t disappear.
“There are no relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” Jubeir said.
Formally, he seems correct, but what about the informal contacts. Hasn’t Mohammed bin Salman visited Israel in camera?
According to Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Israel enjoys “warm relations” with many Arab countries despite the fact that these nations officially refuse to recognize Israel diplomatically.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has been boosting for quite some time about close contacts with several Arab countries.
The Israeli Saudi US American alliance aims at Iran. They want to push back Iran’s influence in Iraq and Syria. For the time being, bin Salman’s plan to assist Israel in waging war against Lebanon to crush Hezbollah has failed. Hariri was not the Saudi stooge bin Salman thought.
What these three rogue states have in common is the destruction of Iran like they did with Iraq, Syria or Libya. Netanyahu has warned President Bashar al-Assad not to allow Iran to build military bases in Syria.
It remains to be seen whether the new (alleged) “Axis of Evil” or the Russian Iranian Turkish alliance will prevail in the Middle East.
So far, the US-Israel-Saudi “alliance” have brought devastation to the region.