The uprisings sweeping the Arab countries have set up a wave of uncertainty in such globally sensitive areas as the nuclear arms race and the oil industries. The volatility is rippling into unforeseen corners. The diplomats, the generals and the intelligence agencies are all constantly kept guessing about where the havoc will erupt next.
Here are three examples:
Is oil again behind the secret US and Italian talks with Qaddafi?
The Obama administration has not only embarked on secret talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai revealed on Saturday, June 18 and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed the next day. Washington is also secretly engaged with representatives of Muammar Qaddafi.
Hence the bolt from the blue shot from Rome Wednesday June 22 when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had his foreign minister, Franco Frattini, suddenly demand a halt to NATO's war actions in Libya for humanitarian aid to reach distressed Libyans, especially in the Misrata and Tripoli areas.
Realizing the US-Qaddafi talks had reached an advanced stage Prime Minister Berlusconi decided not to be left behind. Therefore, he resolved One – to get Italy out of the Libyan war, and Two – to give NATO fair notice to get used to operating without Italian air bases in its air campaign against Qaddafi.
If they don't get the message, Rome will give the allies a deadline for the use of its bases and, implicitly, for ending the Libyan war.
By easing out of the conflict, Italy is helping along its own peace track with the Libyan ruler, opened as soon as Italian intelligence dropped the penny in Rome that the US and the Libyan ruler were talking.
Berlusconi is counting on his personal friendship with Qaddafi which goes back to 1998. Then he stood out as the only Western leader willing to apologize for a colonial regime and the misery it caused – in this case Italy's occupation of Libya. Qaddafi still respects the Italian prime minister for that.
Berlusconi is determined not to let the Americans beat him to a deal with Qaddafi and leave Italy stumbling in the sands of Libya with Britain and France. He also hopes to beat American oil companies and win contracts for Italian oil and gas firms to rebuild Libyan oil fields.
The Italian prime minister is meanwhile not burning any bridges: If his talks with Muammar Qaddafi run aground, he will forget his threat to block Italian bases to NATO. If they go well, the coalition will have to find alternative bases for the British and French warplanes bombing Libya – not a simple matter. But Berlusconi hasn't forgotten that when they went to war in Libya three months ago, Britain and France's main objective was to gain control of Libyan oil.
Saudi Arabia is perfectly willing to cripple Iran's oil-based economy
On Wednesday, June 8, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who recently took over from his ailing brother, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, as Saudi royal spokesman, told a private gathering of American and British servicemen at the RAF's Molesworth airbase outside London that since the US and Western Europe were not prepared to enforce an oil embargo "with teeth" against Iran, Saudi Arabia would do so.
This, he said, would cripple Iran because half of its revenues derive from oil exports.
But the oil markets would not suffer; Saudi Arabia could easily make up any Iranian export shortfalls caused by sanctions or other measures for stopping its momentum for a nuclear bomb.
To put this in perspective, Saudi Arabia is known to have so much spare production capacity—nearly 4 million barrels per day—that it could replace all of Iran's oil output on the instant.
The Saudi prince also left his audience in no doubt that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, so will Saudi Arabia. The Riyadh government, he said, is also prepared to apply military muscle to blocking the further expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East or Muslim world.
Prince Turki's listeners believed him when he assured them that in pursuit of those goals, Saudi Arabia would not think twice about attacking Iranian targets in the Persian Gulf and inside the country.
Note: DEBKA-Net-Weekly has reported on these Saudi policies at length since March. (See issues 488, 489 and 495).
The main burden of his remarks was that Saudi rulers are no longer standing about waiting for the United States or West Europe to end its involvement in support of the Arab Revolt and turn to Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources add that Turki was also concerned to dispel the impression disseminated by the Obama administration that its involvement in the Arab unrest is somehow coordinated with Riyadh.
This is far from the case.
Our Washington sources report that the Obama administration took notice of Turki's comments and is preparing measures for making up for any Iranian shortfalls and so pre-empt Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis may also strike Syria's oil resources
Western intelligence agencies have been busily engaged since Monday, June 20, picking apart the 7,365 words Syrian President Bashar Assad poured out in his address to the Syrian nation from the University of Damascus.
They counted the number of times he said "conspiracy" or "conspirators", "terrorists," "fundamentalist extremists," and "smuggled weapons." After comparing the text with his last two speeches in the three months of unrest against his regime, they came to the conclusion that the Syrian ruler knows he is in deep trouble and is worried.
President Barack Obama's special assistant Dennis Ross told an audience of Israeli and Jewish (mostly American) leaders in Jerusalem this week that the Obama administration is planning to impose very tough sanctions on Syria – some even harsher than those targeting Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington report the administration has concluded that Assad still has enough money to keep his military and security crackdown on protest running for another three months, i.e., up until the end of September.
At this point there is no sign that the Obama administration intends to clamp down an embargo on Syrian oil exports, which accounts for only a tiny percentage of the world oil market. By selling just 150,000 barrels a day, Damascus nets $7 million a day in revenue.
Although the numbers are quite small, Assad still desperately needs this income to keep his regime alive.
The Saudis tried to persuade the Americans that it was a simple matter for them to block Syrian oil exports and so exert real pressure on the Assad regime and curtail his brutal crackdown on dissent.
But they soon despaired of the Obama administration's policy of restraint on Syria, just as they have given up on American sanctions on Iran.
But that may not be the end of the story: The Syrian oil fields are situated in the eastern Dir al-Azur region whose population is predominantly Shamar tribesmen who wander between Iraq, Syria and Jordan.
Some knowledgeable Middle East intelligence circles say it is only a question of time before the Syrian oil fields and installations are sabotaged by armed groups funded and equipped by Saudi intelligence.