Riyadh Plots Boycott of Iran and Recognition for Hamas at Arab March Summit

With the Middle East at boiling point over far more burning matters, the Palestinian issue ought to have been relegated to the sidelines. But at Riyadh’s insistence, it has been woven into the fabric of the shared US-Saudi agenda on Iran and Iraq – and therefore figured large at the high-powered intelligence conference of the heads of seven Arab secret services US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice chaired in Amman Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The two most vocal and influential attendees were Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser, and Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, head of its General Intelligence Presidency. According to DEBKANet-Weekly‘s sources, they discussed at length the comprehensive program their government planned to put through the forthcoming Arab summit meeting in Riyadh in late March.

Unlike such events in the past, which were commonly marred by bickering and controversy, Riyadh wants the March summit to stand out as a demonstration of the royal Saudi feat in creating a strong Arab bloc to fight off Iran’s expansionist aspirations. It is also programmed to be memorable for the Saudi success in generating a Palestinian formula acceptable enough to Israel for prime minister Ehud Olmert to agree to join practical negotiations for an end to the dispute.

This success is meant to be a sequel to the Mecca Accords for a Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas brokered by Saudi King Abdullah earlier this month.

Princes Bandar and Muqrin tried hard to wheedle Condoleezza Rice into accepting these accords as an eventual key to open the door to Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. They painted the following scenario: After the formation of the Palestinian unity government, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah would be called to the Arab summit and face a concerted demand to accept the Saudi Middle East resolution carried by the 2002 Arab summit.

That resolution offered Israel full normal relations with Arab states for full withdrawal from all the territories captured in the 1967 War and the repatriation of the 1948 Palestinian refugees. This formula would force Hamas to recognize Israel’s existence.


Silent US approval of Riyadh’s Palestinian strategy?


If Hamas and Haniyeh rejected this demand, they would pay the price of exclusion from the Arab consensus – or, as Bandar put it, placed beyond the pale. Hamas would lose the Saudi government’s patronage and be abandoned to non-Arab Iranian protection.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources reveal that the Saudi initiative has thrown the cat among the Hamas pigeons: Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus accuses Haniyeh in Gaza of selling out twice – once at Mecca, which he claims opened the door to peace with Israel and, prospectively again, when he buys the Saudi 2002 peace resolution.

Some Gulf sources confided to DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the Saudis are in fact in tacit accord with the Bush administration. For public consumption, the US secretary of state declares there will be no compromise on the Middle East Quartet’s conditions for recognizing a Palestinian government: an end to violence and acceptance of Israel and past peace agreements. But back stage, say these sources, Rice is in favor of Riyadh’s plan of action.

A similar Saudi ambuscade awaits Syrian president Bashar Assad at the March summit. Our sources reveal a motion compiled by Princes Bandar and Muqrin which sets forth a set of principles and rules governing the Arab states’ cooperation with the United Nations over the international tribunal for trying the murderers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri two years ago.

Riyadh hopes this move will rescue Lebanon’s prime minister Fouad Siniora from the persecution for his ouster he is enduring from Syria and its Lebanese pawns, including Hizballah, and redirect the issue to international paths.

Riyadh’s message to Assad will be same as to Haniyeh: Take the inter-Arab consensus – even if it means high-ranking Syrian officials facing trial – or expect to be struck off, expelled from the Arab fold and left to take your chances in Iran’s tender embrace.

If Assad fails his last chance to make the grade, he will face an all-Arab boycott.

According to our Middle East and intelligence sources, it was word of this projected threat which sent the Syrian president running to Tehran this week.

That he sensed the heat was apparent from his statement in Tehran after two days of talks: “We should cooperate and work to make the public aware of the sinister aims of the United States and the Zionists,” he was quoted by Iran’s state television as saying after talking to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The creation of a rift among Muslims is their latest weapon, which is more dangerous than their previous plans.”


Algeria asked to submit the resolution for ostracizing Iran


However, Riyadh’s planned muscle-flexing came close to backfiring before it was applied.

To forestall the possible loss of their only Arab ally, Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad piled more economic and military aid on Damascus and Assad’s visit ended with Syria aligning itself even more closely with Iran’s strategies for Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

At the same time, although the Syrian ruler was taken aback by Iranian generosity, he was not completely sold on Iran’s real plans for him. His suspicions were alerted by the Iranian supreme ruler’s advice to maintain closer ties with the government in Baghdad.

The ultimate goal of all the moves against Syria and Hamas discussed at the high-level intelligence conference in Amman is to block Iran’s penetration of the Arab world through the Syrian-Iraq-Lebanon track and the Hizballah track for Lebanon and the Palestinians.

The next Arab summit, therefore, will be a historical one in that it is scheduled to pass its first ever resolution calling on Arab governments to wake up and contest the Iranian threat.

This Saudi initiative, if carried by the Arab summit, would be a feather in the caps of President George W. Bush and Secretary Condoleezza Rice, and a public humiliation for the Islamic regime of Tehran.

Iran’s rulers have no trouble selling to their people the specter of an America’s threat hanging over the Muslims. They will find it harder to account for the backlash their nuclear policy and interference in Iraq and the Middle East at large has provoked from a large bloc of Muslim mainstream nations and their decision to ostracize the Islamic Republic.

Because Persian Gulf nations like Kuwait, Oman and the Arab oil emirates are wary of openly challenging their powerful neighbor, the Saudis have turned to North Africa. The two Saudi wire-pullers have been meeting Algerian president Abdelaziz Boutefliqa and his emissaries to coax him into submitting the anti-Iran resolution at the Arab summit in Riyadh next month.

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