Where Will They Land?

If it can be carried off to completion, the US-backed Saudi-Egyptian offensive against Iran could turn out to be the first major feat of Barack Obama's presidency.

However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources raise a number of obstacles, particularly if three facts are taken into account:

1. The prime movers are both wily statesmen, but also octogenarians: Saudi King Abdullah is 86 or 87 while Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is 83. They have undertaken a complicated ploy demanding high energy, agility and the ability to draw fast to meet the sort of unforeseen events that tend to rush up on politicians in the Middle East.

A good example is the Israel government's sudden change of course this week in rejecting a long-term truce in Gaza after accepting one in previous months.

The two elderly rulers may well be overwhelmed by the hot pace of events in the region and drop their project in mid-course.

2. Just over a year go, another US-backed Saudi-Egyptian initiative relating to Iran foundered.

In Dec. 2007, Abdullah and Mubarak agreed to lead a confrontation with Tehran with backing from President George W. Bush. They lasted the course for three months before the Saudis backed out in the middle

However, this time, the basic proposition is different. The Bush administration sought Saudi and Egyptian help for building a bridge between Iran and the Arab world, thereby fulfilling a historic Iranian dream in return for waiving its nuclear weapon aspirations.

Now, a combined Arab drive is afoot to marginalize Iran in the region and disabuse Tehran of the conviction which took root after the Israel-Hizballah tie in 2066 that it is the leading Middle East power.

The Obama administration did not start out by trying to force Iran to give up its nuclear program or uranium enrichment, but has indicated that it may retain its program as long as it waives its operational military option. The thinking in Washington today is that if the US helps Egypt and Saudi Arabia develop their own nuclear programs, they can use this new capability combined with their economic and financial stability to overtake the nearly-bankrupt Islamic Republic.

Since this process is still nascent, it will take years to find out if the Obama stratagem is any more durable than the one pursued by Bush.

3. Saudi rulers have never had the lasting power for bringing any of their plans, other than oil and financial issues, to fruition. They tend to fade halfway through – whether because of internal strife, apathy or waning energy.

Royal circles insist that the year 2009 will be different because for the first time a relatively younger generations of princes is leading the way, spearheaded by the head of Saudi intelligence services, Prince Moqrin bin Abdul Aziz, who is “only” 64.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Saudi experts counter that in 2007 too, Moqrin was the wire-puller behind the Bush exercise along with the king's national security adviser Prince Bandar, aged 60.

Yet the enterprise was short-lived.

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