The problems of Islamic countries have long been high on the agenda of global politics and the international media. The crisis there continues to grow, drawing in new countries and regions. If it reaches Saudi Arabia – the most influential country in the Arab world – what then? Will the United States continue to support its regional ally?
Saudi Arabia has challenged the entire world
Recent information has come to light that terrorists from the Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna have taken responsibility for the attacks late last year in Volgograd. The text of the militants’ statement was posted on several Islamist websites, and a video by the mujahideen from the insurgency group Ansar al-Sunna, led by Emir Umar, was published on YouTube. A video clip posted on the Internet on Jan.19 showed two young men who call themselves Suleiman and Abdurrahman and are holding submachine guns. It claims that these were the bombers.
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry had stated, “We will not retreat, but will continue our unflinching, step-by-step battle against a treacherous enemy that knows no boundaries and can only be stopped if we work together. These criminal incursions in Volgograd, as well as the terrorist attacks in the United States, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and other countries, were all organized using the same template – the same ringleaders were behind them.”
In turn, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi stated in early January, “The same forces are behind the acts of terrorists in Syria, Iraq, and Russia.”
“If one side has billions of dollars at its disposal this does not mean that it can initiate terrorist attacks with impunity wherever it likes,” he added.
Compared to the bloodshed in Syria, Libya, Lebanon, and Iraq, the situation in Saudi Arabia seems relatively stable. But the kingdom is becoming increasingly entrapped in a spreading instability that was generated by the “Arab Spring” and is metastasizing in the region in part thanks to financing from the monarchy. In particular, this can be seen in the raging war between the Shiites and Sunnis. How will Saudi Arabia continue its expansion given an environment of diminishing opportunities and an increasing number of foes?
Today Saudi Arabia is a rich country that takes an active role in international events and tries to exert its influence over them. However, the country’s main tools are financial. The kingdom is attempting to take a stand against its regional and global enemies without a strong army or navy of its own, without nuclear weapons, without a developed defense industry or infrastructure of science, without the ability to independently provide its public with food or manufactured goods …
Despite high oil prices internationally, the economic position of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has recently become somewhat more complicated. In the last 30 years its population has quadrupled – from five to twenty million (according to the 2010 census), and topping out at 28 million once all the foreign workers are counted. Naturally, their needs and demands have also grown. Nowadays the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is no longer a small country with huge income, but instead a large country living on the same income as before.
Oil still commands a high price, but more of it is suddenly being produced around the world. The kingdom now has powerful new competitors, such as Angola, Mexico, and Venezuela. Russia’s output has risen sharply, and the US – now the world’s largest importer of oil – is set to become an exporter. The biggest consumers of Saudi oil are currently China, India, and the countries of Southeast Asia, which fuels the West’s desire to subvert the political situation in the region. The kingdom remains 90% dependent on oil for its income. In the 1990s a great show was made of the efforts to develop the non-oil sector of the economy, but these have not yet proven fruitful. A growing proportion of its oil is consumed domestically.
Under these circumstances, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is no longer as safe as it was. The protracted conflict in Syria has already spilled across that country’s borders and has materialized as a sectarian war in neighboring countries. Iraq has been fundamentally destabilized by the acts of terrorists – as many as 10,000 civilians were killed last year alone. War in Lebanon has flared up. Tensions are growing in Jordan … Saudi Arabia has supported the conflicts in these countries in the past, but is now no longer able to keep them in check. The raging war between the Sunnis and Shiites has sucked in millions of people and increasing quantities of resources.
This active foreign policy is spawning conflicts. Because of the situation in Syria and Egypt, the kingdom has even quarreled with its regional allies: Turkey and Qatar. Relations with other monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula have also deteriorated. During the GCC’s most recent summit in Kuwait, the other five monarchies tabled their previous decision to merge into a confederation.
Today, Saudi Arabia is being drawn into a political storm that encompasses the entire Islamic world. No clear deterioration of the political situation within the kingdom can yet be seen, but there are external factors that Saudi Arabia can no longer abandon to the winds of fate and which could easily upset its political stability.
What has been the cost of America’s “friendship” with Saudi Arabia?
In many ways the future of the kingdom will depend on the position of the United States. The US has a reputation as a country that never forgives an infringement of its interests, much less any attack by a weaker state. Thus it is surprising that the United States has spent decades downplaying the hostile actions of Saudi citizens. Never before has any country in the world caused such damage, with such impunity, to the US as Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Americans were killed – and no reaction.
Specifically, 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 were Saudi nationals. But this fact has led to no consequences for Saudi Arabia itself.
After the assault on the World Trade Center, the loudly proclaimed “war on terror” was oddly employed as a pretext for the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the military strikes launched in the Philippines, Yemen, Somalia, and the Western Sahara. In addition to the 2,977 lives lost in the terrorist attacks, another 6,794 victims (not counting the casualties among private security forces) have been claimed by these wars that have not led to any victory for the US. It is no secret that the United States has lost at least $2 trillion and thousands of lives during this decade of battling terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.
Meanwhile, terrorists have been killing Americans within Saudi Arabia itself. In addition to the explosion in Dhahran in May 2003, suicide bombers killed 35 people in Riyadh on the eve of a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell. In July 2004, three American soldiers were killed. That same week an American engineer was kidnapped and beheaded. In December 2004, an attack took place on the US consulate in Jeddah and five staff members died.
In December 2009 the Wikileaks website revealed to the world that American diplomats are well aware that Saudi Arabia is the “most significant” source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups all over the globe. The publication Global Research recently wrote, “While the United States is close allies with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is well established that the chief financier of extremist militant groups for the past 3 decades, including Al Qaeda, are in fact Saudi Arabia and Qatar … Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money.”
Even if the leaders of Saudi Arabia are not directly responsible for the direct support of anti-American activity, terrorists would be hindered without the influx of cash coming from the kingdom. The 9/11 Commission Report concludes that the terrorist attacks in the United States would have been impossiblewithout external and very generous funding: “The 9/11 plotters eventually spent somewhere between $400,00 and $500,00 to plan and conduct their attack … The hijackers spent more than $270,000 in the United States … The additional expenses included travel to obtain passports and visas, travel to the United States, expenses incurred by the plot leaders and facilitators, and the expenses incurred by the people selected to be hijackers who ultimately did not participate.”
Should it be conclusively proven that the Saudis had a hand in the Volgograd bombings, it would mean one thing – Saudi Arabia would have no chance of survival within its current borders and under the reign of its current dynasty. Unlike some old friends in Damascus, diplomatic protection for the Sauds’ regime is unlikely to be a part of Moscow’s agenda. Riyadh could pay dearly for the unlearned lessons of Stalingrad during World War II.
Source in Russian: Nakanune
Translated by ORIENTAL REVIEW with abridgments.
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