Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s plane touches down Wednesday, August 15 at Medina airport. From there, an especially imported fleet of Iranian helicopters will whisk him and his entourage to Mecca for the summit of the 57-member pan-Muslim Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The Iranian president has surely devoted a few moments to recalling the welcome he received from Saudi King Abdullah when he visited Riyadh five years ago, and wondering how he will be greeted this time.
Then, the king was personally on hand at the airport. And when he alighted from the plane, Abdullah extended his right arm to the Iranian president and led him to the VIP room. This royal welcome was filmed from every possible angle as marking a historic turning-point in relations between the two great rivals of the Persian Gulf and Arab world.
Like many other high-powered pieces of theater, this one too was an optical illusion.
King Abdullah finds walking hard because of a bad back and surgical procedures. The octogenarian monarch was not so much escorting the younger Ahmadinejad as leaning on him for support.
From the Saudi perspective it was not a good picture: The Sunni King of Saudi Arabia leaning on the Shiite Iranian ruler?
Since then, the royal court has made sure that King Abdullah no longer comes to the airport to greet heads of state. And when seen in public, he leans on a cane – never on the arm of a foreign ruler.
Saudis consider the war with Iran has begun – in Syria
Ahmadinejad will have learned from Iranian intelligence briefs that he is visiting a country in its fourth week of hectic war preparations for a potentially impending attack by his own country on Saudi oil fields and installations. Some parts of the Saudi army are on a state of alert, which requires royal princes to sleep near their nuclear fallout shelters.
All leaves have been cancelled for officers and soldiers of all ranks and commanders vacationing abroad were ordered to return and report to base without delay.
Saudi and American and French fighter-bombers, secretly located at Saudi air bases, stand on runways ready for takeoff on command.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reveal two causes prompting these exceptional military preparations:
1. Saudi leaders regard the war with Iran as already in spate – not on their doorstep but 1490 kilometers from Riyadh, where Saudi and Iranian undercover agencies duel fiercely over the fate of Bashar Assad.
They consider themselves targeted by malicious Iranian psychological warfare, as a result of which the royal family was forced against its will to publish on Tuesday, Aug. 7, a large photo depicting Prince Bandar bin Sultan, director of Saudi general intelligence, attending a reception given by King Abdullah in Jeddah.
They were compelled to act to refute a rumor hatched and spread by Iranian disinformation experts that the prince had been assassinated in an Iranian-sponsored Shiite bombing attack on Saudi intelligence headquarters in Riyadh on July 26.
Braced for a multi-casualty Iranian terror campaign
The Saudis were too proud to deny the rumor and swore Prince Bandar would not appear to refute it. The Americans came to their aid by reporting to a Washington paper that Western officials had been talking to him by phone. However, when the Iranian campaign of disinformation persisted, the Saudis felt they had no choice but to publish the photo to debunk it once and for all.
That was only one episode in the escalating conflict.
The conviction is gaining ground in Riyadh that Tehran is preparing a large scale terrorist campaign aimed at causing large numbers of casualties and sabotaging the Saudi oil industry’s infrastructure – as payback for Saudi undercover operations in Syria against the Assad regime. They note an upsurge in shooting attacks in the oil-rich Eastern Region by Shiite networks armed with weapons and explosives by Iranian agents.
2. As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in previous issues, the Saudis are utterly convinced of an imminent Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program in the space of 8-10 weeks and are bracing for Tehran’s reprisals – not just against US military facilities but also Saudi Arabia.
They don’t know the exact date of the attack, so to be on the safe side they have already gone on high war alert.
This being the case, it is hardly conceivable that the hopes in various Gulf capitals of a get-together between the Saudi monarch and the Iranian president on Syria and the nuclear issues will be fulfilled.
At best, they will address one other politely while fighting each other tooth and nail outside the conference hall.