Saudi Arabia has proposed that the Gulf Cooperation Council move to become a more perfect union. Despite Oman’s reluctance to take that step because it believes that its own multicultural status would be deprecated, the urge is there.
The proposal comes on the heels of — and as a response to — US moves toward calming tensions with Iran. The Gulf States, and particularly Saudi Arabia, believe the US to be naive on the issue, ready to give away security for a few minutes of favorable press coverage.
The smaller states are concerned that simple demographics would make them lesser partners to a dominant Saudi Arabia. And while Gulf Arab cultures are similar, there are extremely important differences that they do not wish to see submerged in a sea of conservatism.
Nor do all Gulf States have the same sort of relationship with Iran. All do have tensions, but some, like Oman and the UAE, have warmer trade and political relations than others.
Unification may be a step that will be taken, but the timing does not look right.
People of the Gulf, unite!
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
The Arab world is now open to all options and the accelerating developments entail a myriad of dangers. Today, the Gulf States have an opportunity, coupled with risks. As they say, “during times of crises there are chances for new beginnings.” The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are facing major challenges that call upon their leaders to realize their responsibilities while taking decisive decision.
In politics, taking decisions proactively is preferable to making them under the exigencies of circumstances and necessity.
Gulf citizens live in enormous wealth, their countries having a huge gross domestic product (GDP) and political stability that makes them, in light of the anarchy that has swept across the region, an oasis of security and stability.
Writing at Harvard University’s “Iran Matters” website, Saudi analyst and government advisor Nawaf Obaid offers his take on the recent deal reached between Iran and the “5+1 group. In sum, while the Kingdom is always interested in international agreements that tend toward peaceful resolution of issues, it is wary about Iran’s expansionist foreign policy and the likelihood of its acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Iran deal: a view from Saudi Arabia
The fundamentals of Saudi foreign policy stem from its role as the cradle of Islam, the world’s central banker of energy and the Middle East’s economic and financial engine. As the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and the location of the religion’s two holiest sites, the Saudi Kingdom is in a unique standing vis-a-vis the more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. This situation makes it incumbent on the Kingdom to remain extremely conservative at its core and outlook. This reality is enhanced by the Kingdom’s role as the world’s largest crude exporter. This has made Saudi Arabia the largest economy by far in the Middle East-North Africa region and the world’s third largest holder of foreign exchange reserves and is giving it the firepower to expend formidable financial and economic resources in assisting other nations in dire straits to maintain stability. The Kingdom’s enhanced role has generated an ever expanding foreign policy assertiveness that is being transformed from a primarily reactive based doctrine to a proactive one. The implications are that the Saudis will amalgamate political and financial incentives with an ever-growing military capability to sustain a forceful diplomacy to pursue vital national security imperatives.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed offers commentary on the current idea that Saudi Arabia will obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan if Iran produces its own.
He notes that Iran cannot claim self-defense as a motive for nuclear weapons acquisition, but Saudi Arabia most certainly can. Iranian weapons directly threaten the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia will either have to obtain its own or have treaties with partners whom it can trust to reply to a nuclear attack on the Kingdom. Given that Saudi Arabia does not trust the US to act in the Saudi interest these days, that strongly implies that Saudi Arabia will acquire its own bombs.
Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb
There has been recent talk of Saudi Arabia’s supposed determination to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan. Firstly, is this even possible in light of the international agreements signed by both countries forbidding the owner of a nuclear weapon to transfer or sell it? This question is especially pertinent as Saudi Arabia is not allowed to manufacture such a weapon for military purposes. Secondly, would such nuclear weapon add any value to Saudi Arabia’s defense systems?
After buying Chinese missiles and after news of the secret deal was leaked, it was said that Saudi Arabia might use these missiles to carry nuclear warheads. However, in 1988 the kingdom signed a treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Saudi Arabia now abides to that treaty, along with 190 other countries. There have always been stories and skeptical media campaigns stating that Saudi Arabia intends to become a nuclear power. Such stories were supported by claims made by an employee who defected from the Saudi embassy in New York. He said that Saudi Arabia is building a nuclear bomb to support Iraq. Before that, a U.S. intelligence analyst had said that Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan’s nuclear project with an investment of $2 billion.
From Foreign Policy magazine, a piece discussing how Saudi Arabia — finding that the US is not a useful partner at the moment — is looking for their own solutions to what they consider serious international problems.
Saudi Arabia’s Shadow War
The Kingdom is turning to Pakistan to train Syria’s rebels. It’s a partnership that once went very wrong in Afghanistan. Will history repeat itself?
BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia, having largely abandoned hope that the United States will spearhead international efforts to topple the Assad regime, is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces. And according to three sources with knowledge of the program, Riyadh has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to do it.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, along with the CIA, also supported the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed government during the 1980s. That collaboration contains a cautionary note for the current day: The fractured Afghan rebels were unable to govern after the old regime fell, paving the way for chaos and the rise of the Taliban. Some of the insurgents, meanwhile, transformed into al Qaeda and eventually turned their weapons against their former patrons.
While the risk of blowback has been discussed in Riyadh, Saudis with knowledge of the training program describe it as an antidote to extremism, not a potential cause of it. They have described the kingdom’s effort as having two goals — toppling the Assad regime, and weakening al Qaeda-linked groups in the country. Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream opposition must be strengthened so that it could protect itself “these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with Denise Spellberg, author of the new book Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: Islam and the Founders. The book takes a look at how the founders of the American republic viewed Islam and how those views colored the writing of the US Constitution and state laws.
The author notes that 18th C. Americans generally shared the negative attitudes of their European contemporaries, but that exception men were far-seeing in certain regards, though seemingly blind in others.
The book certainly looks interesting.
Islam at the Birth of America
Mohammad Ali Salih
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Denise A. Spellberg is an American scholar of Islamic history. She is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas and holds a PhD from Columbia University. She is also the author of Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past, which looks at the portrayal of Aisha in Islamic tradition.
Spellberg is perhaps best known in the media for the controversy that surrounded the Sherry Jones novel, The Jewel of Medina. Spellberg sharply criticized the novel from a historical perspective, informing publisher Random House that the book might result in violence by radical Muslims.
In her latest book, she looks at the impact that Islam, in particular a copy of the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson, had on the birth of the US Constitution and the concept of religious freedom during the infancy of the United States of America.
Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders is published by Knopf Publishing Group and was released in October 2013.
Writing at pan-Arab Al-Hayat (here translated by Al Arabiya TV) Abdullah Hamidaddin goes after the ultra-facile ‘analysis’ of CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, in my view, gets some things right in his global analyses. At other times, he gets them very wrong. His latest piece on Saudi Arabia and US-Saudi relations, alas, falls in the latter camp and Hamidaddin calls him on it.
Ranting or analyzing? Fareed Zakaria and Saudi foreign policy
Fareed Zakaria is a very influential media figure, but his understanding of the region is somewhat limited, and his approach to foreign policy analysis is quite immature. Both qualities featured in his recent Time Magazine article: “Zakaria: The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! Why we shouldn’t care that the world’s most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S.”
Criticizing the foreign policies of any State is absolutely necessary. The one who benefits most is the target of the critique. But it is one thing to offer political critique and another to offer political ranting; which is what Zakaria did in his article. But the problem is not his rant, rather, the problem is that it would be taken as a serious political analysis. Saudi Arabia is stereotyped. And as a result people are allowed to think about it in certain ways, regardless of the facts. Worse still, people are allowed to analyze it nonsensically and still be taken seriously. This is a fundamental problem. If the logic which Zakaria used in his article was applied in an analysis of German or Russian foreign policy, it would become a laughing matter. But applying that logic to Saudi Arabia made it a political analysis.
He starts by saying: “America’s Middle East policies are failing, we are told, and the best evidence is that Saudi Arabia is furious.” And then he sarcastically says: “Surely the last measure of American foreign policy should be how it is received by the House of Saud.”
Over the last decade — and increasingly — there have been suppositions that, push come to shove, Saudi Arabia would be able to request nuclear weapons from Pakistan. The reasoning usually starts with the idea that Saudi Arabia provided much of the funding for Pakistan’s nuclear program. The fact that Saudi Arabia has publicly stated that it is not going to accept a nuclear Iran with equanimity adds to the equation.
Below is a link to an article from a security blog, Stratrisks, that explores the issue, based on the BBC’s “Newsnight” program.
Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.
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.
Al Arabiya TV runs an Associated Press report saying the Pres. Obama intends to nominate Joseph Wesphal as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Westphal, currently Under Secretary of the Army, is a consummate Washington insider. He has an academic background as well as a range of experience with both the legislative and executive branches of the US government. He is not, however, a Middle East expert.
The publishing of the announcement suggests that the US government has already received agrément from the Saudis and that, following Senate confirmation, he will be the next ambassador in Riyadh.
Obama picks ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Hungary
Associated Press, Washington
President Barack Obama is nominating a top Defense Department official to become the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
The White House announcement Wednesday comes as tensions mount between the two countries over Obama administration policy toward Syria, Iran and Egypt.
Obama says he intends to nominate Joseph William Westphal to fill the critical Middle Eastern diplomatic post. Westphal has been undersecretary of the Army since 2009.
Writing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman says that the recent flaps concerning US-Saudi relations and Saudi Arabia’s renunciation of a seat on the UNSC are perfectly understandable and should have been expected.
Saudi Arabia, he argues, is acting rationally in the face of manifold threats, both foreign and, given Saudi demographics, internal. It sees itself endangered by discord in many of the countries surrounding it as well as by an aggressive Iranian foreign policy. At the same time, it must deal with the fact that as more young Saudis — female as well as male — enter the job market, there must be jobs.
There is no doubt, however, that the Saudi government sees American reaction to the threats as insufficient, if not utterly naive.
The whole, brief piece is worth reading.
Saudi Arabia and the Arab “Frontline” States
Anthony H Cordesman
The United States needs to rethink its attitudes and polices towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab “frontline” states. The “Arab spring” has not become some sudden window to democratic reform. It has instead unleashed a broad pattern of regional instability in an area already deeply destabilized by extremism and terrorism, growing religious struggles between Sunni and other sects as well as between Sunni extremists and moderates, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its removal as a military counterbalance to Iran, a growing Iranian set of threats at every level, and massive demographic pressures on weak structures of governance and economic development.
The day may come some years in the future where the resulting convulsions in states like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen produce the conditions for effective reform: political parties capable of producing effective leaders and governance, politics based on compromise rather than a history of conspiracy and winner’s take all, elections that produce national rather than ethnic and sectarian tensions, and a rule of law rather than winner takes all and repression. Today, however, upheavals mean political instability and violence, massive new economic problems, power struggles, repression and refugees. The issue is not democracy and the more ideal human rights, it is the most basic set of human rights: security and the ability to lead a safe and secure life.
The Washington Post picks up on a Reuter’s news story about a rift in US-Saudi relations. The Post article notes six factors that serve to push the two countries apart, starting with Egypt, Syria, and Iran, but also including oil markets, Afghanistan, and Iraq (plus two that draw them together). The Saudis see the US as trying to treat the events in Syria and the US seeking rapprochement with Iran as two separate issues where the Saudis believe them to be one and the same: Iran’s extension of its power in the region.
Still, the US and Saudi Arabia have very much the same interest when it comes to terrorism and the fight against it. Both will continue to cooperate, whether in Afghanistan or Yemen, in Syria or the greater Arab world to quash the influence of Al-Qaeda.
Ever since the United States and Saudi Arabia fell into something of an alliance in the late 1970s, the world’s most unlikely partnership has had lots of down moments. Another big one came this weekend, when Saudi intelligence chief Bandar Bin Sultan Al-Saud told European diplomats that his country would step back from cooperating with the United States on Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Bandar said that his country’s recent decision to refuse a seat at the U.N. Security Council was meant as a show of public protest against the U.S.
This very public Saudi jab at the U.S. is the latest in a series of increasingly frequent disputes between the longtime allies. They are probably not on the verge of breaking up, as observers have been predicting since 1990, when the kingdom was roiled by popular outrage against the alliance. But many of the mutual interests that have brought the two countries together seem to be falling apart.
Here’s a partial list of those interests and how they’re changing in ways that could turn the two countries against one another, very roughly ranked from the biggest disagreement to the smallest. The first six are bad news for the relationship, the last two are good news:
Saudi media — presumed to be speaking with notion of Saudi policy makers’ thinking — expresses some dismay over the phone call between US President Obama and Iran’s new Prime Minister, Rowhani. Yes, yes, they agree… peaceful relations are better than hostile ones; that should go without saying. But is Iran actually ready and able to step back from its assertive (not to say aggressive) foreign policy and behaviors? Or is Obama buying a pig in a poke, a promise of nice things that will never actually come about?
Abdulraham Al-Rashed, General Manager of Al-Arabiya TV, thinks that Obama blindsided the Arab political world. The Arabs were expecting him to follow through on his promise to punish Syria — Iran’s surrogate in the Levant. Instead, there are ‘negotiations’ and make-nice talks with Iran. In his view, Iran ends up winning as it will not give anything in return for the US’s reducing economic sanctions on the regime.
The phone call that shook the Middle East
We were waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama to execute his pledge and strike the Syrian regime for the use of sarin gas in the killing of 1,500 people. But Obama struck his allies instead! Obama made a politically flirty phone call to Assad’s ally, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani.
Rowhani thus rushed to declare his victory and was received in Tehran the way conquerors are welcomed.
Many who were waiting for the Tomahawk missiles to be launched to discipline the Syrian regime and to send a message to the Iranian regime, which is developing its nuclear weapon, were shocked when they heard the news of the Obama-Rowhani phone call.
It was the first conversation between an American president and an Iranian president in 34 years. Celebratory statements in Washington and Tehran followed, and they described the phone call as the new “development” towards breaking the ice between the two countries.
Jamal Khashoggi, writing for the Arabic daily Al-Hayat (and translated by Al Arabiya) relies on sarcasm to note ‘how friendly’ Iran is. He, too, expects Iran to do exactly nothing in return for Obama’s overtures. It will talk and talk, but do nothing terribly useful for peace in the region, nor for the globe. Still, as Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.” Since the US administration isn’t willing to use force, we might as well hope that talks lead somewhere useful.
A friendly Iran and its gentle president
Whenever American-Iranian political reconciliation looms on the horizon we panic. This is what is happening these days after Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama crossed paths in the corridors of the United Nations building, but did not meet.
Some of us might go to the extent of thinking a “conspiracy” is being cooked up, others might believe that there is a hidden alliance and cooperation between the two countries and will soon be revealed. An American-Iranian alliance will officially be announced at our expense, us in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. We would then fall from sitting on the lap of the U.S., only to see Iran taking our place there at the expense of our interests and rights.
I believe that we all need psychotherapy sessions and courses in real political science so we can recover our self-confidence and see that we are stronger than we think. I would like to quote here Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former ambassador to U.S. and head of Saudi intelligence, who once stated that “Iran is a tiger made of paper.”
The case of a Saudi princess accused of human trafficking in the US state of California has been dropped. The prosecutor declined to press the case because there was no evidence that a crime had actually been committed. Rather, it appears that the woman making the claims was either ignorant of the factors that constituted the crime or was less than forthcoming to authorities. Contrary to her original testimony, it was discovered that she was indeed free to move about at will and free to communicate with anyone she wishes.
Trafficking case against Saudi princess dismissed
RAQUEL MARIA DILLON — Associated Press
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – A human-trafficking charge against a Saudi princess was abruptly dismissed Friday after prosecutors were unable to support claims by a Kenyan maid who said she had to escape from her employer’s condominium after having her passport taken and being forced to work long hours for meager pay.
The announcement came during what had been expected to be the arraignment of Meshael Alayban, 42, on the felony charge punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the judge that investigators tried to corroborate the allegations but found the evidence did not support the claim.
An attorney had said the maid wanted to make a statement to the court but wasn’t available until Monday. The judge told Rackauckas he could wait for the statement, but the district attorney moved to dismiss the case.
Alayban smiled when her attorney, Paul Meyer, said, “You are free.”
She had been out on $5 million in bail posted by the Saudi Consulate.