Saudi King Abdullah landed a surprise on the Gulf Cooperation Council summit convened in Riyadh Tuesday, May 10: He proposed inviting two Arab monarchs, Morocco's King Mohammed V and Jordan's King Abdullah II to join the GCC with full membership privileges. Neither kingdom is situated in the Persian Gulf geographic region which is represented by the GCC; nor do they have oil or gas and their economies are weak and dependent on American aid. Morocco and Jordan are furthermore not in Iran's cross-hairs, the threat of which is uppermost in the minds of Gulf rulers (along with the crisis in Yemen: See our last issue No. 492 of May 13: Saudi Prince Butts Heads with Iranian General in Syria).
Nonetheless both sides stand to gain from the partnership.
Although they have not yet officially answered the invitation, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Gulf sources do not doubt it will be taken up willingly by the monarchs of Rabat and Amman. Their entry into the Gulf alliance would bring their armies into the mutual defense system known as Gulf Shield. It would qualify them for a military role in the ongoing Saudi-led GCC operation for propping up the Bahraini throne but, as full members, they would also enjoy the benefits of the Gulf's common market and be able to trim down their dependence on American economic and military aid.
GCC seeks extra leverage to fight Obama's Muslim vision
The affluent and powerful Arab Gulf grouping, for its part, would gain extra leverage for pursuing its main goals. Attaching Jordan and Morocco would downgrade the Egyptian-dominated Arab League and bypass its decisions which must be unanimous to be binding.
The expanded GCC would also be divorced from post-Mubarak Egyptian influence.
(See separate item in this issue on the US and Egypt)
Saudi Arabia, one of the Arab League's seven founding members in 1945, is now bent on expanding the Sunni Arab royalist alignment to replace the League as the most powerful inter-Arab vehicle for challenging the two emergent Muslim forces seeking Middle East domination.
One is the mixed Shiite-Sunni grouping of radicals – Iran, Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Damascus-based extremists.
The second is the Sunni bloc President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan are in the process of creating.
The US president conceives this alignment as America's Muslim bridge to the moderate Sunni Muslims at large as well as reaching out to Shiite Iran for the sake of tempering its radical polices at the end of the road.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 490 of April 29: A US-Turkey Axis Overrides the Arab Revolt)
The special US-Saudi relations are history
Because of this plan, King Abdullah embarked on the phased separation of the kingdom's foreign and security policies from the US, starting with his acrimonious telephone conversation with Obama which took place on Feb. 9 when he was recuperating from back surgery in Morocco.
Since then, the Saudi king has made no bones about letting the US president know that, for him, the oil-for-security formula which governed relations between the world’s leading superpower and its biggest oil superpower for 60 years is history.
This means in practice that Saudi Arabia no longer depends on an American defense umbrella for its security and America can no longer rely on Riyadh to regulate its oil supply policy – and therefore its financial activities on world markets – for meeting US political, military and economic interests.
Obama initially sent two senior officials to Riyadh – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on April 6 and by US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on April 12 – to try and bring the Saudis back into the fold. Abdullah was not to be talked around.
Riyadh's policy reorientation is now anchored in six major changes, outlined here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly:
Under Saudi consensus, intelligence functions redistributed
1. The king has created the Saudi version of a unity government by pulling together the three main royal factions on the basis of a consensus. Abdullah's own faction and the two headed by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal, and Saudi Interior Minister and designated crown prince, the Sudairi Prince Nayef, all agree that the kingdom has come to a parting of the ways in its historic alliance with the United States. Saudi Arabia is strong enough and rich enough to look after its security and interests without America and is at liberty to turn to other world powers for help, such as China and Russia.
2. The functions of Saudi intelligence have been rearranged to reflect the new coalition: Up until now, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz ruled supreme over Saudi intelligence agencies. In recent weeks, some of his functions were transferred to the National Security Council Director, the Sudairi Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources describe the division of labor as follows:
Muqrin deals with the intelligence matters relating to Iran, Iraq, Persian Gulf states and outside the Middle East in such areas as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bandar is in charge of intelligence and undercover operations in the Arab countries which are in the throes of popular uprisings. Formerly a long-serving Saudi ambassador to Washington, he has also been taxed with dealing with issues arising from the dismantling of the working alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The decision by Riyadh to shop for ballistic missiles in China instead of America fell within his remit along with the negotiations for concluding the transaction.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 489 from April 15: Saudis Buy Advanced Nuclear-Capable Missiles in China)
Bandar leads Saudi operations against Assad and US Muslim policies
Bandar is running Saudi intervention against Assad in the Syrian popular uprising. When he needed the help of Saudi clandestine networks in Iraq for his Syrian project, he turned to Muqrin and they worked it out together.
In another facet of the division of labor, Bandar handles Saudi day-to-day activities for spiking America's Middle East policies, whereas Muqrin is in charge of the high-level policy interchanges between the Saudi and US intelligence services.
3. For Riyadh, there is no contradiction between the two functions: King Abdullah does not seek to sever all Saudi ties with the US. Indeed, however it may look, Riyadh attaches great importance to those ties, such as they are, provided only that they do not amount to a special relationship in the old format.
4. Neither is Saudi Arabia cutting its economy off from the US dollar although this is advocated by many in Riyadh and the Gulf emirates.
5. However, they part company on at least one fundamental issue: The Saudis and their GCC allies are single-minded about their determination to fight Iran's Islamic regime tooth and nail wherever its footprint is encountered in any Persian Gulf, Middle East or Arab country – even if this drive brings them into collision with Washington and sabotages President Obama’s policy objectives.
6. The Saudi leadership does not trust Barack Obama’s approach to Iran, the Arab Revolt, or the Muslim world.
Obama denounces military intervention in Bahrain
To make this point clear to the American public ahead of President Obama’s speech Thursday, a prominent Saudi academic close to the royal circle published an article in the Washington Post laying out Riyadh's current posture. The writer was Nawaf Obaid, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies, an institute headed by Prince Turki Al-Faisal.
Turki is a former Saudi intelligence director and ambassador to the US and Britain. Today, he is a key member of the new Saudi governing coalition and has the king's ear.
In Washington, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report, the penny finally dropped: Riyadh wanted no part of the Obama administration's strategies for Iran and the Arab Revolt and the special bonds between Washington and Riyadh were no more.
Obaid used plain language to make sure the American public got the message:
His article opened with the words, “A tectonic shift has occurred in the US-Saudi relationship. Despite significant pressure from the Obama administration…” and ended by saying: “Saudi Arabia has the will and the means to meet its expanded global responsibilities. In some issues, such as counterterrorism and efforts to fight money laundering, the Saudis will continue to be a strong US partner. In areas in which Saudi national security or strategic interests are at stake, the kingdom will pursue its own agenda.
"With Iran working tirelessly to dominate the region, the Muslim Brotherhood rising in Egypt and unrest on nearly every border, there is simply too much at stake for the kingdom to rely on a security policy written in Washington, which has backfired more often than not and spread instability. The special relationship may never be the same…”
And indeed, in his speech Thursday, May 19, Obama did not mention Saudi Arabia but condemned its "repressive military action" in Bahrain. This was the first time a US President has ever denounced a Saudi military operation.
Since the beginning of the year, DEBKA-Net-Weekly has exclusively followed the widening rift between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Word has now come virtually from the horse's mouth.