172 Islamic militants were arrested by Saudi Security forces in an advanced stage of readiness to attack energy and high impact targets according to the Saudi Interior Ministry. "They had the personnel, the money and arms". Quick cut to Saudi television, broadcasting images of neatly lined up rapid fire armaments with ammunition clips and orderly stacks of Saudi riyals.
Real life or stage props? Please consider the following:
- In mid December of last year Nawaf Obaid, senior adviser to then Ambassador Prince Turki al Faisal was broadly quoted "... since America came to Iraq uninvited they should not leave uninvited". (No mention, of course, of the 15 Saudi nationals on those planes that smashed into the towers on 9/11 and started this whole miserable chain of events). And went on "If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian backed Shiites from butchering Sunnis... Saudi Arabia has both the means and the responsibility to intervene".
- On April 27 the Senate passed the bill seeking an exit of our troops from Iraq.
- Just a few days later Saudi Security forces, after a year of limited activity, announce the arrest of the 172 "militants". Saudi oil installations were to be their primary targets. The world was immediately and clearly reminded of Saudi Arabia's vulnerability, bringing into full focus the potential for economic havoc. Of course, the price of oil shot up immediately after the announcement.
- Along with the announced arrests, were statements by Saudi analysts linking the militants to events in Iraq "The chaos in Iraq has fueled radical ideology among the region's youth while providing an environment for militants to train" Or, "It is the beginning of jihadi operations leaking out of Iraq".
Is the nexus of Iraqi inspired jihadist operations targeting oil installations in Saudi Arabia and the Congressional vote to exit Iraq a coincidence? Or a well staged reminder to our government as to the degree of chaos into which the Middle East would plunge, with its inevitable disruption of the supply of oil and its dramatic impact on the global economy?
One must remember we are dealing with a relationship between two key sets of players; our administration and the Saudi hierarchy. Here we have an administration so in the thrall of the Saudis, such that were the Saudis to put on a puppet show our administration would be inclined to pass it off as real life drama. Only a few days ago the New York Times could write about Prince Bandar's (Saudi Arabia's former long-time Ambassador to Washington and still a frequent visitor to the Oval Office) influential relationship to the Bush family and the current administration, and I quote, "Prince Bandar whom the president and vice president and others regularly consult on every major Middle East initiative - from the approach to Iran, to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to Iraq".
So how real are the 'arrests', or perhaps better to ask how real are the arrested players. Was this a set up job to instruct our Congress that they may be playing with Saudi fire if they really mean to leave Iraq before it's civil/ sectarian war has been stabilized or until the last American soldier has been sacrificed and the last bit of American treasure has been spent.
To put the issue in context, what is the nature of our relationship and cooperation with the Saudi Government and its Security Services on matters touching on terrorism? Sadly, not very good. Other than soothing lip service, cooperation and verisimilitude are problematical at best. As one example, after the Khobar Towers bombing on June 25, 1996 killing 19 U.S. servicemen, it took till 2001 to bring an indictment against 14 perpetrators, some of whom had time to seek safe haven in Iran. In large measure this was caused by the unwillingness of the Saudi's to permit FBI interrogations of the suspects for several years.
FBI Director Louis Freeh, then at the end of his mandate, officially thanked the Saudi's for their help in bringing about the indictments. On the other hand Kelli Arena, CNN's correspondent to the White House could say on air time "Intelligence sources have told CNN that, while the Saudi government was cooperative, they were cooperative to a point. That there was much more that could have been done to help them come up with more concrete evidence and more suspect names; that they could have completed this task, perhaps, a little earlier. After all it did take five years to come to this point". If faint praise can be damning, here's a sample that deserves a ribbon.
Is the current 'round up' real or theater? I don't know. Perhaps our intelligence services can speak to this issue. But it does raise some very disturbing questions in the realm of realpolitik. Is it realistic for a nation of 22 million Saudis, half of whom are completely disenfranchised as women, vulnerable to the vicissitudes of regional politics and sectarian bloodshed, politically brittle and incapable of viable self defense, to be the guardian of 10 percent of the world's oil production which it doles out to the world's economies at extortionist OPEC structured prices? After all, the resources over which it currently rules and from which it profits limitlessly, is essential to the well being of the world economy particularly the well being of the hundreds of millions in South East Asia be it those in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia not to speak of the East with China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and on. In an earlier posting, ("Saudi Arabia's Oil? Sovereign Responsibility Trumps Sovereign Rights" 1.15.07) this issue was discussed. Perhaps it should be raised again, certainly not by the United States, but by the world community as a whole.