The bitter rancor marring Saudi relations with the Obama administration was sharply manifested Thursday, Oct. 10, in Riyadh’s brush-off of a White House offer to send over a high-ranking US official to clarify President Barack Obama’s intentions towards Iran to King Abdullah and his government. This gesture was intended to cool Saudi fury over Obama’s Mid East policies.
However, the royal court refused brusquely to receive the US emissary. We have an ambassador in Washington, they said. Talk to him.
On Tuesday October 8, Zahren Alloush, chief of the Liwa al-Islam, a Syrian rebel Salafi militia which claims to have enlisted thousands of fighters against the Assad regime, launched an attack on Al Safira, home to a Syrian army military industrial complex and a big chemical and biological weapons depot.
Alloush was acting on orders from his bankrollers in Riyadh
Neither was under any illusions about the rebel brigade’s ability to overpower the Syrian defenders of the base or seize control. But that was not the purpose of the offensive, say DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources. The Saudi goal was to turn the Al Safira area into a blazing battlefield and make it inaccessible to the UN OPCW inspectors assigned with dismantling the big chemical and biological stocks housed there in line with the understanding reached between Washington and Moscow.
Ultimately, Riyadh is willing to resort to any shift to torpedo the US-Russian deal.
Syria retains a secret list of chemical stocks to be saved
The Saudis are motivated by four pressing considerations:
1. They don’t believe in the integrity of the accord for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, especially since it became apparent this week that the task of dismantling the production equipment had been relegated to Syrian soldiers and the international inspectors would merely supervise the work.
Information has reached Saudi intelligence that the Syrian servicemen assigned with the task were handed by their commanders a “List B” which is quite different from the document in the hands of the inspectors.
List B includes the chemical weapons destined for destruction, but also a counter-list of items to be preserved and third list of 30 chemical weapons sites to which the saved weapons should be secretly transferred. Those sites are inaccessible to the inspectors.
2. Saudi backs were further put up by the commendations doled out by US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Vladimir Putin for the efficiency and cooperation displayed by Syrian President Bashar Assad in honoring his commitment to dismantle his chemical weapons.
Riyadh read into their words a calculated gesture to impart the Syrian ruler with legitimacy and airbrush his image from butcher of hundreds of thousands of his own people to a leader dedicated to ending the war in his country.
Hints circulated by US and Russian sources about Assad’s indecision over whether to run for reelection in 2014 are seen by the Saudis as preparing the ground for his re-election.
Syrian machinations as precursor for Iran
3. Like other quarters in the Middle East, the Saudis perceive the deceit and playacting surrounding the crisis in Syria as an alarming precursor for the machinations ahead over Iran’s nuclear program. They have no doubt that just as the Syrian chemical weapons will never be completely eliminated, so too Iran will not be completely divested of its capacity to make nuclear weapons.
4. Sunni Saudi Arabia condemns President Obama for fickleness in his choices of allies. Today, he appears determined to side with the Shiite camp against the Sunnis in the Muslim world.
Riyadh find sufficient evidence to support their mistrust in the Obama administration’s current confrontation with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an erstwhile Sunni ally, and the way Washington-Cairo relations have descended to the pits after long years of friendship and cooperation between Washington and Cairo.
They are not taking this quietly. Saudi agents are working against American interests in both of its cast-off allies.
Riyadh watched with glee Turkey’s NATO allies’ efforts to draw Ankara away from its preference for a Chinese firm as partner in the co-production of a Turkey missile defense system.
This transaction was quietly brokered by the Saudis. If it goes through, Turkey will become the first NATO member to purchase weapons systems outside the US or any Western country.
Solid Saudi backing for Gen. El-Sisi versus Washington
In Cairo, the Saudis are spending vast political and financial resources on backing the Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Fattah El-Sisi versus Washington.
This week, the White House contradicted itself twice on the suspension of military aid to Egypt.
On Oct. 8, officials announced that US aid would be suspended “in the coming days.” That announcement was dismissed a few hours later as “unfounded rumors.”
But the next day, the State Department said $260 million of the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt would be frozen, most of it in military assistance, to pressure the military regime to restore democracy as quickly as possible. The suspension would include fighter jets, Apache copters and tanks.
These zigzags connected with the visit Egyptian President Adly Mansour paid to Saudi Arabia Monday, Oct. 7. In his parting statement from Riyadh, Mansour had in his pocket a Saudi pledge to transfer another two billion dollars to Egypt’s account to cover the cutback in US aid.