Saudi Arabia has reacted with unusual bluntness to US moves at rapprochement
with the kingdom’s enemies in Tehran and Damascus, forcing President Barack
Obama to either alter his stance or risk a breakdown in relations.
Saudis are testing Obama, as they have seen how he tends to waver under pressure
while trying to keep both sides happy.
And quietly, America’s traditional
allies in the region – such as Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Gulf states – are
rooting for the Saudis.
The Saudis observed how Obama was willing to
compromise and settle for a deal with Syria after he had called for President
Bashar Assad’s removal from power two years ago. On Iran, Obama is warming to
the country despite its involvement in terrorism, the fighting in Syria and its
history of deception as it strives towards nuclear weapons.
are starting to push back hard.
Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar
bin Sultan told European diplomats that Riyadh is contemplating a “major shift”
away from the US over Washington’s policies on a host of issues, including
That message reflected the views not just of Prince Bandar, a
noted hawk on Middle East issues and outspoken former ambassador to Washington,
but of King Abdullah and the rest of the Saudi leadership, diplomatic sources in
the Gulf said.
While Saudi Arabia’s frustration with the US was real and
has led it to explore alternatives to its 70-year dependence on their strategic
alliance, nobody seriously thinks Saudi cooperation with Washington will cease,
the sources said.
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for
Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, who previously served as US
deputy assistant secretary of defense and a senior director at the National
Security Council, told The Jerusalem Post that the Saudis are upset that Obama
is unwilling to take a stronger stance against the Iranian-Syrian
“The failure to support the Syrian rebels is a big part of the
story, but the Saudis also see a general tilt in American policy in favor of
Iran and away from the traditional allies of the United States,” said
Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies (BESA), told the Post that the Saudis are not the only ones
bewildered by Obama’s conduct in the Middle East.
with American weakness is clear.
Their fear of Washington striking a
grand bargain with Tehran is evident.
Unfortunately, there is no real
alternative to American involvement and the Saudis as well as others have no
real other choice but to wait until Obama is gone,” said Inbar.
Rapaport, a researcher at the BESA Center and editor-in-chief of Israel Defense
magazine, told the Post that Israel believes the US is demonstrating that it
cannot be counted on as an ally and that other countries in the region, such as
Egypt, are looking elsewhere for support, such as with the
Brandon Friedman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a
researcher at its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies,
told the Post that “there is not much the Saudis can do except demonstrate their
extreme displeasure.” Friedman believes that in the medium-to-long term, the
Saudis will probably try to get nuclear weapons and that it is more likely the
Saudis will turn to China, rather than to Russia, for support.
In January 2012, the Saudis signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China and from 1986-1988, they secretly imported Chinese made intermediate range ballistic missiles, under the nose of the Americans and in order to keep up with the Iranians. While there is a tendency by the media to blow things out of proportion, “the Saudis in the long-term are likely going to move towards some kind of more self-reliant regional security policy."
contributed to this report.