The omission from the Bush Middle East policy speech of the slightest reference to Saudi Arabia, or Crown Prince Abdullah’s Palestinian-Israel peace plan, was certainly not lost on Riyadh.
The key to the president’s change of face on Saudi Arabia, as on the Palestinian Authority, comes from a series of US intelligence reports recently laid before the US President.
One refers to a private conversation Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf held with the Saudi crown prince in the course of his Gulf tour on June 18-19.
Officially on a mission to explain his country’s position on the Kashmir dispute with India, Musharraf was actually chasing emergency funds to underwrite the cost of maintaining Pakistani forces on the front line facing the Indian army. Islamabad is also short of money to pay for its latest arms purchases in preparation for war and its crash drive to turn out as many nuclear warheads as possible in time for a full-blown eruption of hostilities.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Musharraf successfully pitched prominent Pakistani millionaires and business executives based in the Gulf, getting them to put up about $55 million for their country’s war effort.
The Gulf emirs he put the touch on pledged another $75 million – although their record of making good on pledges is patchy. But the Pakistani president was pleasantly surprised when the de facto Saudi ruler agreed to underwrite about 60 percent of the cost of keeping Pakistani troops war-ready on the confrontation line with India, although the price tag was steep:
A. Abdullah demanded a guarantee of Pakistan military muscle for defending the oil kingdom. If Saudi Arabia comes under threat, Islamabad must make military forces available for its defense – armored corps officers, pilots, naval personnel and missile crews and technicians.
B. He insisted that Pakistan’s military, security and intelligence services conceal from the United States any information on Saudi citizens in Pakistan and refrain from helping American forces hunt them down. Any Saudi nationals captured in the course of Pakistani crackdowns against Islamic extremists must be handed over to Saudi intelligence personnel at the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, who will arrange for their repatriation.
C. The Musharraf government must make sure there is no hitch in the flow of moneys from Saudi Islamic charities and welfare societies to the thousands of Muslim madressas, or religious schools in Pakistan which they support.
The Pakistani ruler agreed. He even promised to freely permit Saudi Islamists associated with al-Qaeda or backing the network, to continue operating in his country.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and counter-terrorism sources point to this action as the first ever taken by Crown Prince Abdullah, almost openly, to assure Saudi al Qaeda partisans the freedom to pursue their activities overseas without fear of official harassment.
The Saudi ruler had no illusions his pact with Musharraf would stay secret for long. Our intelligence sources report that Washington was soon tipped off from Israel, Russia and other countries, the incoming data supplementing the dossier US agencies had already compiled for the president.
The Saudi cash pledge for Pakistan’s anti-India war effort caused a stir in Washington and the White House. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Gulf sources add that the crown prince’s gesture fits in with his two-tier strategy for turning the kingdom into a major player in the Gulf and the Middle East and a challenge to US influence. Saudi meddling in the India-Pakistan conflict gave rise to deep concern in the US administration. Fearing Musharraf would henceforth balk at seriously counteracting Islamic extremists in his country, including al Qaeda, Washington dispatched General Tommy Franks, head of the US central command and commander of the Afghan campaign, post haste to Islamabad this week. His mission was billed as a United States-Pakistan conference on continued military cooperation between the Pakistani army and US special forces in the ongoing action against al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan. But Franks lost no time in demanding that the Pakistani president stand by his undertakings to Washington to crack down on Islamic militants, whether holed up in the country or making trouble in Kashmir.
Musharraf’s reply was to send a Pakistani unit to raid an al Qaeda hideout in Waziristan in the east on Tuesday, June 25. The result was a failed operation in which ten Pakistan soldiers were killed and a severe setback to the collaborative effort to flush the al Qaeda terrorists out of their Pakistani and Afghan lairs
Abdullah also has his eye on the roughly 5,000 American servicemen left in the oil kingdom.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say he is sparing no effort to drive out the US military advisers attached to his own National Guard and to the army bases under defense minister Prince Sultan’s command. He also wants to see the back of military personnel belonging to nations regarded friendly to Washington, such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
US and British intelligence operatives in Saudi Arabia report Saudis security forces are deliberately turning a blind eye to local al Qaeda cells’ attempts these last weeks to assassinate undesirable foreigners. Earlier this month, an Australian military adviser was attacked outside the big northern military city of Tobuk near the Jordanian border; this week a car bomb killed a British banker in Riyadh. The Saudi communique alleged the Briton was connected with an alcohol smuggling ring and was murdered by a feuding gang member. But intelligence information reaching Washington and London showed his killers to have been a local al Qaeda cell that keeps watch on foreigners in the Saudi capital.
Everything happening in recent weeks indicates that Saudi security forces and Saudi intelligence have let al Qaeda operatives and backers well off the leash and assured their freedom of movement inside the oil kingdom and, through verbal arrangements with local rulers such as Musharraf, over a broad swath of territory – taking in Pakistan in the north, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states in the east and Syria and Lebanon in the north and west.
The Saudis are moreover helping to further the economic interests of the countries playing ball in this endeavor, pumping investment cash into industrial development in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and opening up their borders to the free passage of goods.
This too facilitates the cross-border traffic of terrorists.
Recently, Saudi Arabia and Iraq agreed to reopen their border crossing points, closed since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, thereby providing their goods an alternative route to the one traversing Jordan. Saudi money has been sunk into several new industrial plants in the suburbs of Baghdad, another example of the ways in which Riyadh is irritating Washington and sabotaging its efforts to keep Saddam’s Iraq isolated.
US-Saudi relations have sunk to their lowest ebb ever, to the point that administration officials have been heard to remark that America cannot afford to avoid striking at the heart of the oil kingdom once the offensive against Iraq and terrorist bases in Syria and Iran is underway. As DEBKA-Net-Weekly revealed on March 12, Cheney explicitly warned Abdullah that the kingdom’s territorial integrity might be forfeit if he left it to the United States to purge the terrorist bases flourishing on Saudi soil. Under that scenario, the vice president stressed, the oil fields would not be left in the hands of a regime harboring al Qaeda’s logistical infrastructure. Washington, he said, would have to favor the opponents of the House of Saud who covet its oil resources.
That was the first intimation by a senior American official of Washington’s willingness to dissever the Saudi kingdom and redraw the Gulf region’s state boundaries.
Since then, the Abdullah-Musharraf agreement and Bush’s thundering omission of any mention of Saudi Arabia in his Middle East policy speech – effectively denying it any role in the future of the Palestinian people – have pushed Riyadh and Washington further along the path of confrontation.