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5). Saudi Arabia's Ambivalence about US Retaliation Plans.(10/21/01)

[Update (8/3/02): Sudairy faction now said to have turned against the US.]

The US press was slow to report the important AP story, available from Spanish, pro-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian sources, that Saudi officials announced they would not permit the US to use the important Prince Sultan Air Base, south of Riyadh, or US retaliatory attacks against any Muslim country. I first read of this story on 9/21. It does not seem to have reached the US press until 9/23, when Colin Powell commented in a way that did not really deny it.

The original account of Saudi Arabia's unexpected refusal to supply bases for retaliation against bin Laden has now been corroborated in an important report from the usually reliable private intelligence website Stratfor.

According to the Stratfor analysis, the Saudi royal family is divided [as it has been since the 1960s] between two factions of half-brothers: 1) the al-Sudairy faction (all full brothers) led by King Fahd and Defense Minister Sultan, who all favor, and profit and gain power from, the Saudi alliance with the United States; and 2) the religious coalition of half-brothers led by the aging Crown Prince Abdullah, whose piety is backed by alliances with Wahhabi religious leaders.

Tensions between the two factions, usually leading to compromises, underlie recent developments in the bin Laden story. In late August, shortly before the WTC attack, Prince Turki al-Faisal (with links to the religious faction) was dismissed from his post as head of Saudi intelligence. Unquestionably Prince Turki had from the Afghan campaign developed close relations with Osama bin Laden, and was later charged by the Saudi family with negotiating for bin Laden's surrender by the Taliban (Rashid, Taliban, 131, 137-39). But his replacement and uncle, Nawwaf, is also allegedly a member of the religious faction.

In the wake of the 9/11 WTC attacks, Crown Prince Abdullah, with the aging King Fahd in a Swiss hospital, surprised the US by denying the use of the Prince Sultan Air Base for retaliatory attacks against any Muslim country. But three days later, on September 26, The Foreign Minister Prince Saud announced that Saudi Arabia was breaking relations with the Taliban, accusing it of contradicting Islam and harboring terrorists.

[I strongly recommend the website http://www.stratfor.com/home/0109262300.htm (Stratfor), despite its interventionist bias, and although (as you will see) not all of its posted stories are free.]

However the Stratfor analysis ignores the relevance of Saudi family divisions to the highly contested manoeuvres over an Afghan pipeline. Splits in the Saudi royal family have led to support by different Saudi princes for each of the two competing multi-billion dollar proposals to build a gas pipeline across Afghanistan. As narrated below, Prince Turki was allied with the Argentine company Bridas, while Prince Abdullah was close to the Saudi company Delta Oil, part of the US-backed consortium headed up by Unocal.

There is much speculation in Europe whether the sudden dismissal of Turki by Abdullah in late August was a factor in precipitating the 9/11 attacks a few days later. An article by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reports that NSA intercepts have demonstrated to Washington analysts "that by 1996 Saudi money was supporting Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Central Asia, and throughout the Persian Gulf region." Hersh also writes that it was hard for these analysts to impress their discoveries on senior officials of the Clinton and Bush administrations, a fact to be considered in the light of the enormous Arab petrodollar investments in the political system of this country (see above under BCCI).

The theme of Saudi royal family responsibility for Al-Qaeda is carried even further by David Wurmser of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, a backer of the so-called "Wolfowitz cabal," demands that the US invade Iraq. Wurmser argues that "al Qaeda must be dealt with not only in Afghanistan, but also at its source--in the strategic triangle of Syria, Iraq, and the Wahhabi/Abdallah alliance whose interests it serves and whose structures and politics brought it to life." I have posted Wurmser's argument, not because I agree with it, but because it may have to be understood and responded to intelligently if we are not soon to see an expansion of the Bush response into yet another country.

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