The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the west, primarily the United States, has always been a critical component of the Saudi political policy. However, the recent changes to the strategy undertaken by Washington and its various European allies to resolve both the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear program have forced Riyadh to amend its foreign policy priorities and to alter any further co-operation with the western countries.
These policy changes that Washington and its main ally, London, have undertaken in the Middle East are being called no less than a “betrayal and a deceitful attitude towards Riyadh” by representatives of the Saudi Arabian royal family. Such claims were particularly applied toThe Telegraph newspaper by the Saudi ambassador in London, prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin AbdulAziz Al Saud and it has been stated that from now on, Riyadh “will not be idly standing by”. His advisor Nawaf Obaid has, meanwhile, accused America and the west of “being dishonest with Saudi Arabia” and announced that the Saudis will be adopting a new “defence doctrine” to accomplish their foreign policy goals and that “our strategic posture is moving from reactive to proactive”, that is, they will be taking an active position in terms of their foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia’s refusal to strategically partner with the United States was also voiced to a host of foreign media at the end of 2013 by the head of the Saudi Intelligence Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who claimed that a “decisive shift” was occurring in Saudi Arabian foreign policy. He has stated that the Saudi monarchy will now cease to focus on Washington, who has been “ignoring Riyadh interests”.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy has certainly never been public. This is primarily because the leaders of this kingdom have never had to be accountable before their own people with regards to their plans and policies. This is why Riyadh’s plans on the foreign arena were always hidden behind a veil of secrecy and only in certain circumstances did well-known foreign players become privy to this knowledge through “confidential talks” with Saudi diplomats. Even then, this information was less of a “revelation” and was instead clearly well-placed information that was disseminated in a skilled manner through the “confidential talks” to reinforce certain Saudi manoeuvres or to implement certain secret monarchy plans. This is why the information pertaining to Riyadh’s shifting political focus that “accidentally” ended up in the hands of a host of western news agencies, primarily The Wall Street Journal,The Telegraph, Reuters, The New York Times and others at the end of last year was really an expertly-executed informational campaign aimed at warning Washington and London that they their risk losing their main ally in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia. It’s not hard to guess that Prince Bandar bin Sultan could have been the one behind this campaign, as he is in charge of not only the national intelligence but virtually all of the kingdom’s foreign policy.
This “informational leak” was quickly followed by Riyadh’s “demonstration of strength” in the form of financial flirting with various Arab countries as well as those in the Middle Eastern region (in particular Lebanon, Egypt and others) and their readiness to fully replace the United States as a source of funding for their military and technical modernization programs as well as a source of foreign weapons, a task that would instead be relegated to a “trusted Saudi Arabian ally”. This political game undertaken by Riyadh began to actively attract leaders of other nations, those who also felt “offended by Washington”. Or, simply put, those who, like Saudi Arabia, have become outcasts within the new American policies. In this environment, the Saudi’s first choice fell to the French president François Hollande, who was eager to play along to the Riyadh tune during a time when his ratings were falling catastrophically low among the French population.
This led to François Hollande visiting Riyadh at the end of 2013 where the Saudi Arabian king allocated a $3 billion grant to fund the Lebanese Army on the condition that weapons will be purchased in France. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia also stated that it is ready to spend over $50 billion on the further foreign policy rapprochement with France, which is based on their common views with respect to the situation in Syria and Iran.
This led to a severely negative reaction in the United States, where this grant approval was seen as a public insult of the American position on Iran and Syria, a position that is contrary to the Saudi policies surrounding these countries. The United States believes that Riyadh intends to create a new axis with Paris after having met the rather soft, from the Saudi point of view, platform undertaken by Washington with respect to their Middle Eastern policies. The foundation of this new axis will be involving Paris in billion dollar operations relating to the regions’ weapons and military equipment, something France cannot refuse. At the forefront of the French-Saudi political alliance is the Saudi oil money which has caught the interest of the deeply troubled French economy. The French have already signed a $1.5 billion contract agreeing to modernize the Saudi navy, which has led François Hollande to undertake three additional visits to Saudi Arabia.
Although the French and Saudi Arabian foreign policy is fairly close on issues surrounding Syria, Lebanon and Iran, there are serious disagreements regarding Egypt with respect to the role that the Muslim Brotherhood should have in the country and in the region as a whole. These disagreements could undermine the burgeoning “axis of good” in the future, however, Riyadh can presently count on their “valuable ally, uncompromising with respect to Assad” on Syrian issues.
Washington is not only worried about losing Saudi Arabia as the sole client for American weapons, but is also concerned about the hit to the United States’ reputation as the provider of aid to Lebanon to help strengthen their military power. After all, the financial support being provided to Lebanon seems to be a lot more generous from Saudi Arabia than it is from the U.S.
The United States’ foreign policy image with respect to Syria is also suffering due to France’s growing activity in establishing contacts with the Syrian opposition with the aid of the Saudis. While François Hollande was having talks with Riyadh’s protégé and head of the national coalition for Syrian opposition Ahmad Dzharba, Washington’s highest politicians did not once attempt to make these types of contact themselves.
France’s growing efforts to anchor in the Persian Gulf and the Saudi attempts to define partners who would help resolve pressing regional issues (Syria, Iran and others) without involving the United States has led to serious concerns in Washington. The American plan to control the process of transforming the gulf monarchies (Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf) into an economic, military and political bloc are now under serious threat. This could also mean that various U.S. projects would grind to a halt, such as the creation of the unified integrated ABM system in the Persian Gulf, the launching of the new co-ordination mechanism – a Council of the Defence Ministers of the U.S. and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, and even the creation of a unified military and political bloc of the gulf monarchies.
This has forced the hand of U.S. State Secretary John Kerry, who travelled to Saudi Arabia with a short visit at the beginning of January of this year. Although the main topic of conversation was the issue of reconciling the Middle East, behind closed doors there were also talks of other issues that have cast a shadow over Saudi-American relations (military-technical co-operation and their disagreements on Iranian and Syrian policies). The Saudis once again linked resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with how the situation will be developing with regards to the regional problems that are central to Saudi interests.
Within these circumstances, the United States’ position on these issues will be a defining characteristic that will determine the further particulars of the Saudi co-operation with the Americans. Experts also note that Saudi Arabia will not be able to agree that the Arab countries should recognize the Jewish character of the Israeli state, a point which is being advanced by the Americans and John Kerry himself.
In a word, the “boiling Middle East” is a fitting name for the region as the intrigues here seem to be perpetually growing. They are followed by new informational provocation, which in turn prepares a foothold for the possible upcoming deterioration of the military-political situation in the region. One example of this is the new recent claim by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper regarding the possibility that Syria has the manufacturing capabilities to produce not just chemical, but biological weapons which will, once again, give the U.S. a reason to send a military operation to Damascus, something of particular interest to Riyadh who is ready to pay any amount of their oil money to achieve their goals.
However, let’s not forget that the times are changing and the world is changing with them. New calls for military action, even those that are financed well and generously funded by the Wahhabi monarchy, will not only fail to generate an income for the puppeteers in Washington and Riyadh, but will instead hasten their political downfall.
Vladimir Odintsov is a political commentator exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.