During the visit president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt paid King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Jan. 15 (see DEBKA-Net-Weekly 380 of Jan. 16: The Qatari Emir Wants to Invite Ahmadinejad), he received a promise that Riyadh would back Cairo against the radical Iran-Syria-Qatar-Hamas bloc at the Arab summit in Kuwait four days hence – and thereafter.
When he returned home, Mubarak received confirmation that the Saudis would stick to their guns in the form of a tough ultimatum they posted to Hamas. The Palestinian extremists must decide where their loyalty belonged – to the Saudi throne, which was offering funds for the reconstruction of the war-damaged Gaza Strip, or to “Al Jazeera.” This was a broad hint at the Arab-language TV station's owners, the Qatari emir Sheikh Khalifa al Thani.
The Egyptian president informed the Barack Obama team preparing for the new president's inauguration: The Saudis are with us.
He was referring to the combined Egyptian-US-Saudi-Israeli diplomatic ploy aimed at restoring Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen and his Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip and transforming Hamas from an armed militia to a political entity at some point in the process.
But when the summit opened last Monday, Mubarak received an unpleasant surprise: Instead of a no-nonsense speech denigrating the Syrian-Qatar bloc (the Iranian president was not invited to this strictly Arab summit), the Saudi monarch called for reconciliation in the Arab camp. He referred sarcastically to Israel's military operation in Gaza as distorting the old adage of eye for an eye to “all eyes in Gaza for one Israeli eye.” Aside from that remark, he called on Mubarak to join hands in peace with Syrian president Bashar Assad and the Qatari emir.
Burying the hatchet for a momentary photo op
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf sources describe the smiling group of rulers as no more than a meaningless photo-op which left the animosity in place.
The next day, Jan. 20, Mubarak showed his displeasure by taking off for home without waiting for the conference to end.
He was not the only protester. Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal was also missing from the Arab rulers' discussion of a closing resolution on the Gaza crisis. He too boarded his plane and flew home, as irate as Mubarak over the Saudi king's turnabout in favor of appeasing the Iranian-led radicals.
In their absence, the Arab summit failed to agree on a resolution regarding Hamas and Gaza and broke up ignorant of where the Saudis stood on the question.
Our Middle East sources affirm the view in Washington and Cairo that Riyadh is bouncing about aimlessly because of the king's failing faculties. At 86 or 87, Abdullah's ability to make clear decisions is fading. In some Arab capitals, it is said that his decisions are influenced by the last person he sees, or those especially close to him.
They report that Prince Muqrin, head of General Intelligence Service, leads the camp calling for the rift in the Arab world to be healed by Saudi-Syrian-Qatari reconciliation. His chief antagonists are foreign minister Prince Saud and national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Hamas rift reflects Arab divisions
According to some sources, Muqrin has adopted this stance because he believes that President Obama will go for rapprochement with Iran and Syria and wants to get on his right side.
Meanwhile, the division in the Saudi royal house has driven a large wedge in the Hamas leadership between the Gazan faction headed by prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, and the Damascus leadership ruled by Khaled Meshaal.
Never a fan of the Hamas military leadership, Haniyeh is striving to navigate his organization behind the Egyptian drive for a power-sharing deal between Hamas-Gaza and Abu Mazen's Fatah. A Palestinian national unity government would provide an address for the funds allocated by the Arab world to rebuild the Gaza Strip.
Meshaal is not only against settling Hamas' feud with Abu Mazen but any contact with him at all.
King Abdullah's present position strengthens the Meshaal line in Hamas. His reversion to the Egyptian approach would confirm Haniyeh as victor in the Palestinian Islamists' internal controversy.
President Obama phoned Abu Mazen before any other Middle East leader on his first day of business in the White House because Prince Bandar had stressed the importance of showing Hamas that the new White House lined up with the anti-Iranian Arab camp.
The phone call was important, but not the final word.