Saudis, Gulf Emirs Bitterly Divided over US Iraq War; Mubarak to Stay out

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has decided after much agonizing and consultation to keep Egypt out of the upcoming American campaign against Iraq. This exclusive information reaches debkafile from sources in Cairo and Madrid – Mubarak’s last port of call. He has also decided not to permit the US to use Egyptian military bases for the campaign. The Egyptian ruler thus places himself on the same Middle East square occupied by Saudi crown prince Abdullah since last year.
In the last ten days Mubarak, hard pressed to make up his mind, sought advice from friends and allies in Europe. On July 20, he paid an unannounced call on Saudi king Fahd at his holiday palace on the shores of Lake Geneva, followed by a visit to the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Said Nayanan, who is vacationing nearby. Four days later, Mubarak came calling on French president Jacques Chirac in Paris and, on July 26, he held discussions in Madrid with Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.
According to our sources, the Egyptian ruler solicited support for his decision in all those visits.
Mubarak’s stance has sharpened the divisions in the Arab world and heightened instabilities in at least one capital
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria now lead the opponents of an American military move against Saddam Hussein;
Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar head the proponents.
A. This realignment drops in the middle of a long festering dispute at the top level of the House of Saud. Fresh rumors picked up by debkafile‘s Gulf sources speak of a failed attempt on the life of the ailing king Fahd in Jeddah, on or around July 14, shortly before he departed for his summer vacation in Geneva. This incident added fuel to the running feud between the Sudeiri faction of the royal house, led by Fahd and his full brother, defense minister Prince Sultan (the leading contender for the succession against Abdullah and father of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar), and the group led by their half-brother, the regent Abdullah.
B. Riyadh now shows an angry face to the Gulf Emirates siding with US action against Baghdad. The Saudis have stopped attending Gulf Security Cooperation Council meetings, refusing to sit at the same table as rulers they look down on as American collaborators. Saudi-Qatari ties have been effectively severed, with Qatari notables no longer welcome in the oil kingdom, while Saudi relations with Kuwait have likewise soured.
C. On the flip side of the coin, Jordanian military and businessmen are suddenly welcome in Kuwait for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War when Jordan sided with Iraq. Jordan and Qatar have also struck up a warm friendship.
The report of an attempt to murder King Fahd is the talk of the moment in the Gulf. It is claimed that on July 14, the monarch’s bodyguard fought off a band of 5 to 7 intruders, who gained entry to the palace courtyard in Jeddah through one of the main gates after setting off a large explosive charge. Three of the would be assassins were killed; the rest fled when armed reinforcements poured in from neighboring princely palaces, together with a contingent of the special Saudi counter-terror force. The bodies were identified as Saudi members of al Qaeda who fought in Afghanistan, escaped through Iran and arrived home last January. The identity of one of the dead assailants seriously heated factional tempers in the royal family; he is said to have been a member of the Wahhabist Uteiba tribe, loyal adherents of crown prince Abdullah.
For some months, the Sudeiri princes have warned Abdullah that his permissive policy toward returning al Qaeda fighters – and the lavish living allowances awarded them from religious institutions and charities – would lead to trouble in the kingdom. Some have hired out as bodyguards protecting the princes of Abdullah’s faction, religious leaders and tribal chiefs in the Jeddah district.
Sudeiri prince Salman, governor of the Riyadh region, was fiercest in his criticism. He warned Abdullah that by making Saudi intelligence and security services grant the returning terrorists clearances as bodyguards for official personalities, he was effectively opening the door to al Qaeda’s penetration of the national security agencies.
The nub of the argument, according to debkafile‘s Saudi experts, is that while the Sudeiris perceive Abdullah’s patronage of al Qaeda veterans as a major threat to their own security, the crown prince believes he is taking out insurance for his regime’s survival.
The differences between the two factions appear to be irreconcilable. They have brought King Fahd out of semi-retirement and induced him to return to political life. Visitors at the palace in Geneva report that, while confined to a wheel chair, the king looks brighter and more alert than he has been for a long time.
Among his Arab visitors this week were Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan, both of whom congratulated him on his safe escape. On Saturday, July 27, the Saudi king had two secret visitors from his Sudeiri clan: Prince Salman and deputy defense minister Abdul Rahman, the strongman of the military establishment.
This unfolding showdown in the oil kingdom has not been lost on President George W. Bush in Washington. Confronted with crown prince Abdullah’s flat refusal to participate in the US offensive against Iraq or allow its use of Saudi bases (as reported repeatedly in DEBKA-Net-Weekly in recent issues), the Bush administration has turned back with a will to America’s traditional allies in Riyadh, the Sudeiri princes, favoring them against Abdullah’s sternly Islamist camp. The standoff between the two has yet to be resolved.
It also has a Palestinian offshoot.
Despite the clear anti-American, pro-al Qaeda stance adopted by the Saudi crown prince, some Israeli political circles are echoing the view current in some West European capitals that Abdullah’s peace initiative is still alive and the Saudis are working for a ceasefire with the Palestinian Tanzim, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami. Some European publications have even run an upside down picture of the reality in Riyadh, labeling Abdullah as the leader of the pro-American faction in the Saudi royal family, and Sultan and his brothers as the sponsors of al Qaeda.
To keep the record straight amid a welter of misinformation, debkafile‘s Palestinian sources reiterate that no Saudis are involved in Palestinian issues at the moment – certainly not in any attempts to broker a ceasefire. They are far too busy with the trouble in their own house.

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