The purpose of Riyadh’s champion wheeler dealer, Saudi spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s unscheduled trip to Moscow on July 31 has begun to emerge. It was leaked by American sources after President Barack Obama cancelled his September meeting with Vladimir Putin after the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.
According to those sources, in his four hours of conversation with Putin, Prince Bandar laid out a profitable proposition for Moscow that included economic perks on two conditions: that Russia scaled back its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and stopped using its veto to block UN Security Council resolutions on the Syrian question.
The Saudi offer entailed a major arms deal worth $15 billion and a pledge not to challenge Russia’s position as Europe’s primary gas supplier.
US sources parted with this information after the Saudi prince resisted some heavy White House arm-twisting to pay a visit to Washington too, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and Washington sources add.
The White House was keen for Arab rulers to see that the Saudi prince, after his long talk with the Russian president, needed to touch base with Obama as well.
And there was another reason: It was important to the Americans for Egypt’s strongman Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to see his staunchest ally putting in an appearance at the White House in Washington after the wild goose chase in Cairo led by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham in their attempt to mediate Egypt’s political stalemate.
Syria hangs between a US operation and a $15bn Saudi-Russian deal
Prince Bandar’s leisurely response to the US invitation ties in with the article we ran in last week’s DEBKA Weekly issue (Obama’s Nod to US Military Intervention in Syria Is Held Back over Dispute with Saudis and Emirates).
If the American sources are right about the deal the Saudis offered Putin, it is no wonder that the prince is treading water before accepting a visit to Washington, while also delaying US-Arab military moves in Syria that were approved by President Obama.
Riyadh is waiting for Putin’s answer to its proposition before committing Saudi cooperation to the US military plan for a combined campaign against the Assad regime.
That campaign is therefore holding fire, although, meanwhile, our sources report, its commander, Gen. John Wright, who at 57 has seen action in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, has set up his headquarters in Amman, Jordan.
From Jerusalem, the Obama administration is being urged to get the campaign underway as quickly as possible. This has become Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s overriding priority.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and military sources report that Washington has been facing a barrage of blunt Israeli calls for urgent US intervention to stave off the coming Syrian army and Hizballah assault on Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. A rebel defeat there would award Bashar Assad and Iran decisive victory in the Syrian civil war, they explain. It would also vindicate Iran’s position as the dominant and most effective military power in the region.
Netanyahu pushes hard for US military intervention
US officials tried remonstrating with the help of up-to-date aerial imagery that no Syrian or Hizballah troop concentrations were to be seen around Aleppo, and so, they asked, why rush into decisions before a careful examination of all the options?
Their Israeli interlocutors replied that Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah were smart enough to keep large concentrations around Aleppo well out of sight, so as not impress Obama with the urgency of stepping into the fray.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Washington disclose that the Netanyahu government is pursuing its goal through three channels:
1. Jewish-American leaders close to Obama and his key presidential advisers are trying to convince them of the extreme importance of a decision to save Aleppo from falling to the Syrian-Hizballah armies. It is the first time Netanyahu has enlisted these groups to lobby the White House on Syria. Up until now, they were reserved for pressing Israel’s case on a nuclear Iran.
2. Israeli officials are calling on members of the US Senate and House and offering them updated briefings on the countdown to the decisive contest in Aleppo.
3. This week, saw the most intense discourse on Syria between US and Israeli intelligence and military officials. A senior Israeli intelligence source explained: “We are trying to impress on the Americans that the clock for Aleppo’s fate is ticking fast and if the US doesn’t act quickly, it will be too late.”
When asked about Iran, the source pointed out that on Tuesday Aug. 6, at his inaugural press conference, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani shunted aside possible direct talks with the US on its nuclear program. Whichever of the two initiatives pans out, the Syrian civil war stands at a fateful crossroads, with major ramifications for the Middle East and the interplay between world powers.