Abdullah Faces Power Play at Home

Our military sources report that the Americans have completed the relocation to Qatar of their biggest Saudi air base at Prince Sultan. With the removal of most of the base’s operational elements, Prince Sultan is no longer a part of the American operational deployment in the Persian Gulf and its preparations for war against Iraq. At the same time, the Saudi rulers have set their own military preparations in train. The Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz floated his Middle East peace initiative in the first place to enhance his standing in American eyes and also win points inside the royal house. As it turned out, his effort bounced back against him. After some snowballing, not a single Arab ruler was ready to adopt the formula, including Yasser Afafat.
Instead of becoming the centerpiece of the Arab League summit in Beirut this week, it became a divisive element even before the summit took off.
Abdullah has come out of his initiative’s test run damaged rather than strengthened. At home, this weakness was instantly seized upon by his foremost rival, his half-brother, the defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz, who got his incapacitated full brother King Fahd bin Abdulaziz to rubber stamp a hasty reshuffle at the top of the military.
On March 21, therefore, Lt.-Gen Sultan bin Adi al-Muteiry, former commander of the Saudi ground forces, was appointed to the newly created post of deputy chief of staff of the armed forces; Maj.-Gen Hussein bin Abdullah al-Qbeel, deputy ground forces commander, was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed ground forces commander; and Rear Admiral Fahd bin Abdullah was appointed commander of the Saudi navy, replacing Vice Admiral Talal ibn Salim al Mufadhy.
Sultan controls the regular armed forces, of which the king is ex officio supreme commander, while Crown Prince Abdullah controls the powerful National Guard.
The reshuffle means that the pro-Western Sudeiri branch to which both Fahd and Sultan belong has made a strong bid to strengthen its grip on the military, pulling against Abdullah who is at odds with US policy on Iraq and Islamic terror.

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