SAUDI PRINCES in a meeting at the Royal Palace in Jeddah.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief and power behind the
Arabian throne, gave a bombshell talk to European diplomats this week, a talk
that should shake the foundations of every foreign minister’s bureau in the
Bandar said plainly that Saudi Arabia was gravely disappointed
with the United States for its malfeasance in not dealing forcefully with Syria
and Iran, and that consequently the kingdom will make a “major shift” and
downgrade its dealings with the US.
Bandar reportedly criticized
Washington for failing to act effectively against Bashar Assad; for failing to
back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed a 2011 Iranian-backed
antigovernment revolt; for failing to back the military overthrow of Mohamed
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt; and most of all, for moving
dangerously toward a thaw in relations with Tehran.
Riyadh “doesn’t want
to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent [on
Saudi Arabia’s former spy chief and ambassador to the United
States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, also hit out at the White House this week for
its embrace of an agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons instead of
carrying out a cruise-missile strike against Assad’s forces.
charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny
if it were not so blatantly perfidious and designed not only to give Mr. Obama
an opportunity to back down but also to help Assad to butcher his people,” said
The Saudi uptake on all this, Bandar said, is a decision to
“limit interaction” with the US, raising questions about future arms purchases
and oil sales. And in an unprecedented move last week, Saudi Arabia rejected its
first offer of a seat on the UN Security Council, a move widely interpreted as a
slap at the US.
In short, the Saudis smell that the Obama administration
is selling them out. In particular, they sense that US President Barack Obama is
cooking up a “grand bargain” with the Iranians that will give Tehran
predominance in the Gulf and beyond, leaving Saudi Arabia at extreme
They smell American debility and betrayal.
astute and unapologetic Saudis always had a good nose for the shifting scents
and odors of this unforgiving region. They never have had a problem distinctly
sniffing out allies and foes. And they never have had difficulty in acting
independently to protect their interests. Now it seems that they are preparing
to shift directions – away from Washington’s weakness.
The titanic Saudi
shift comes as no surprise to anybody whose nostrils have been alert and eyes
have been wide open over the past five years. It can’t possibly be a surprise to
Israeli leaders. In fact, I’m sure it isn’t any surprise at all to Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Note Netanyahu’s remark a few weeks ago about
surprising “converges of interests” that are emerging in the region. I think
that he was hinting at serious Saudi- Israeli talks.
Just like Israel,
the Saudis fear that Obama is preparing for a seismic shift in US alliances in
the region, moving from partnership with the much-weakened princes of Saudi
Arabia and the much-maligned leaders of Israel to a “grand civilizational
bargain” with the powerful and assertive ayatollahs of Iran. As such, the Saudis
are concerned, like Israel, that Obama might quietly acquiesce in Iran’s climb
to near-nuclear status in exchange for understandings with Tehran on division of
power in the region.
In the past I have noted that Obama very clearly
believes that America acts with too much hubris in its foreign and defense
He thinks he can leave the world a better place after eight years
in office by cutting America down to size and allowing other, just-asmoral (in
Obama’s eyes) powers to emerge – such as, perhaps, the powerful Islamic leaders
It appears that the Saudis understand this. They intuit that
Obama actually believes that the humbling of America will bring healing to the
world; that bowing before Ayatollahs Khamenei and Rouhani will make the world a
In this situation, Israel has no choice but to dance
artfully: maintain the strategic alliance with Washington as best as possible,
while waiting for the eight lean years of Obama to end, and then hope that
America will snap back to itself.
In the meantime, Israel must be careful
not to rely exclusively on American guarantees or assurances on key security and
diplomatic matters. Jerusalem must safeguard its national interests – in
coordination with Washington where possible, and independently where necessary.
Even if this means working with the Saudis behind Obama’s back.