The Saudi bid to prove it is still the Middle East's prime mover hangs on a single interview foreign minister Saud al Faisal held with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Riyadh on Monday, Jan. 4.
This is how it went, according to Saud:
“I asked Khaled Meshaal whether the movement stood with the Arabs or with others,” the prince said, referring to Iran which strongly backs the Palestinian movement ruling Gaza.
“Meshaal insisted that Hamas was an Arab movement and that the Palestinian question was an Arab issue.” The Saudi minister gave this account after his talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh two days later on Jan. 6.
His account hardly represents the true course of that dialogue, as reported to DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources. This is how it really went: On Jan. 4, Meshal was brought before Saudi King Abdullah, for a lecture, the gist of which was this: The Arab bloc which I head (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan) has reached a strategic decision to extract everything we can from President Barack Obama for the negotiations with Israel, and then send Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) armed with these conditions to negotiate with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Are you in? Are you out?
(For more details of the new Arab proposal presented to Obama Friday, see HOT POINTS of Jan. 7)
Abdullah went on to say: If you're in, you must cut off ties with Iran. If you're out, we will decide how to treat you accordingly.
Meshaal knew he was hearing a veiled royal threat about funding. (Hamas' annual budget is estimated at $ 540 million, of which only $60 million is covered by tax collection. The bulk of the remainder comes from Saudi Arabia.) He therefore promptly replied: "We are with you, of course."
Hamas sets up military base in Yemen at Tehran's behest
From Sharm a-Sheikh, Abdullah's foreign minister flew to Damascus Wednesday and put the same question to Syrian president Bashar Assad. He received the same answer as Meshaal's.
The Saudi Foreign Minister saw no point in going on to Ankara with the same question, since Turkey never belonged to any Arab bloc. But he would have done well to round out his tour by meeting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan or president Abdullah Gul, because they would have put him straight on the true loyalties of both Meshaal and Assad. They could have told him that while Syria and Hamas do indeed see themselves as Arab, this has not stopped them joining the part of the Arab world which has jumped aboard the up-and-coming Middle East "Northern Bloc." Its members so far include Iran, Turkey, Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and the radical Palestinian terrorist organizations, Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Front – General Command and Hamas.
This coalition sees itself as the coming Middle East superpower and as having left the moderate Saudi Arabia and Egypt behind in the dust as spent forces.
This discovery would have shocked the Saudi foreign minister, but not surprised him, in view of the latest intelligence report crossing his desk. It reveals the Palestinian Hamas as having deeply involved itself in a non-Palestinian conflict. At Tehran's behest, DEBKA-Net-Weekly Gulf and intelligence sources reveal, Hamas established weapons dumps, ammo depots, instruction teams and training bases in Yemen to prepare the Houthi rebels for their insurgency against the Yemeni government.
Those resources were instrumental in the defeat which caused the Saudi troops aiding the Yemen government to quit Yemen last week.
Aghast at the discovery of Hamas's meddling in the Yemen conflict and its anti-Saudi role in the fighting, the oil kingdom's royal rulers embarked on a fundamental reappraisal of their regional orientation.
Assad breaks pledge to Saudi king, Arab unity a dead letter
They were further stunned to learn from their intelligence services of another Syrian betrayal.
During the three days Iranian defense minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi spent in Damascus from December 9-11, Syria and Iran signed a multilateral mutual defense pact which provided for Hizballah and Hamas to launch missile reprisals for an Israeli attack on Iran. Syria would come to their aid when Israel hit back.
This commitment was in direct violation of Assad's pledge to the Saudi king during the latter's hatchet-burying visit to Damascus in October 2009: The Syrian ruler then promised he would not permit “Syrian entanglement in some Iranian military adventure."
The Saudis are wary of calling Syria out on the matter, still hoping President Assad will help steer Hamas towards its desired role. But Riyadh decided to use the Palestinian radicals to help restore some of its painfully lost face.
Tuesday, Jan. 5, the Saudi newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat carried this comment:
“As for Saudi Arabia, what we understood is that Prince Saud al-Faisal's reception of Meshaal, who requested this meeting… is only one small part of a larger series of Saudi communications with major Arab countries. Riyadh wants to continue what King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz began in Kuwait, when he launched the Arab reconciliation initiative: to reach a phase where the Arab world is not a stage for others, but for Arabs to have an effective role in determining the course and future of the region.”
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources say that Riyadh knows it has lost the race against the Iran-powered drive. Arab unity is a dead letter which has lost its power to bring together a sorely divided Arab world – even around the old never-failing unity flag of a new diplomatic initiative to resolve the Palestinian issue.
The Saudi rulers are blaming the Obama administration for being left in the dust behind the Iran-led Middle East bandwagon. The king and foreign minister buttonhole every Arab and Western head of state on visits to Riyadh with a blast against President Obama. They say his failure to act in time to thwart the formation of the new radical Northern Bloc of Muslim nations gave the new entity is greatest momentum.