Over the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia profoundly offended Russia’s president, announced its disapproval of United States foreign policy, and turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council. For a nation with substantial vulnerabilities, the Saudis act as though they can survive their internal and external enemies without any help. (Image: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Wikimedia)
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi inteligence chief, tried to both bribe and threaten Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in August 2013. Bandar offered to purchase billions in Russian goods in return for Putin abandoning the Syrian government (and its chief ally Iran) in its fight against foreign inspired and funded attack on that nation. At the same, meeting, Bandar also threatened terrorist acts against the Russian hosted Sochi Winter Olympics. (AlMonitor, Aug 22)
The less than diplomatic encounter outraged Putin. Russia’s support for the Syrian government continued uninterrupted. There are no indications of a surge in Saudi-Russian trade. As for the Olympics, Bandar needs to review the Russian response to an alleged assault on one of their diplomats by police in the Netherlands. The Saudi’s would do well to make sure that their proxy terrorist groups refrain from any actions that could be linked, even remotely, to the kingdom.
Threatening the Russians was bad enough. Now, the Saudis are openly breaking vital ties with the U.S. The Kingdom plans to limit cooperation on regional surveillance. Saudi diplomats have been told to limit contact with their U.S. counterparts. The Saudis are openly encouraging Syrian rebels to boycott the U.S.-Russia peace talks in November. According to Prince Bandar, this stems from a lack of U.S. enthusiasm in general regarding the Syrian conflict and the specific failure of the U.S. to bomb Syria after the chemical weapons incident..
The Saudis live in constant fear of Iran. The frequently mentioned sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia interpretations of Islam is a less important cause of that fear than the radical differences between the two nations based on politics, culture, and history.
Iran has a rich history over five thousand years. The nation has large cadre of highly educated, hard working people among its sixty million citizens. Iran has demonstrated considerable integrity as a viable nation state under the pressure of harsh trade sanctions over the past forty years, a major war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and a silent war with U.S. and Israeli intelligence organizations.
Saudi Arabia became a nation in 1932 as part of the efforts by the victorious World War I allies to divide the Middle East. The founders were nomadic tribesmen, the House of Saudi. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The nation’s army has never fought another nation on its own since a war with Yemen in 1934. The guardians of the sacred Moslem sites of Mecca and Medina have destroyed 95% of the historic sites in those two cities. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy.
It is little wonder that the better educated among the ruling elite look at Iran as an absolute danger. Iran is a significant nation-state. Saudi Arabia is an oil annuity for several thousand princes.
About 10% of the Kingdom’s 26 million people are Shia Muslims, many living in the oil rich Eastern Province. Twenty percent of the population consists of foreign workers. Both groups are treated badly as a matter of routine, particularly the Shias. (Image: Eastern Province, shaded, home to Saudi Shias)
Saudi Arabia is a nation based entirely on huge oil revenues controlled by an extended family network. About a third of the population consists of badly treated Shite’s and foreign workers. The richest oil fields face hostile neighbors (Iran, Iraq, Syria). All this is defended by unproven, poorly rated military.
Given that reality, wouldn’t you think that the Saudis would want court the U.S., the only world power that’s shown a willingness to defend them. Apparently not.
Watch for an Arab Spring coming to Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province soon.
UPDATE Oct 29: Major change in Saudi policy emerging quickly. See Bandar beat down – Chief Saudi cleric says fighting in Syria wrong