The Fall of the House of Saud

In our previous posts, we have discussed the rise to power of the House of Saud, along with the corruption and internal instability which has arisen along with them.

Saudi Arabia sees itself as caught between the East and West. In the words of Samuel Harrington, the “Clash of Civilizations” has Saudi Arabia caught in between. On one hand, the Saudis desire good relations with America, as their primary support base and protector against other regional competitors. The US has traditionally supplied the Saudi defence forces, supported the Saudi’s politically, and has been a major customer for Saudi oil.
Thus, while hating America when attempting to pander to Islamists, the Saudis need America to survive.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia wishes to establish itself as a legitimate Muslim power in the region. As the keeper of the two holy shrines of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia holds substantial influence in the Muslim world. However, this influence has been severely damaged by accusations, with merit, that the al Saud family are merely American puppets. The failure of Saudi Arabia to confront Israel, and the eagerness of the government to forge ties with America has led many fundamentalist Saudis to see their government as illegitimate.

To the fundamentalists, Saudi Arabia is not only a prize, but it is their divine duty to overthrow what they see as a pro Western and corrupt government. The Prophet was very clear about who should rule in the Arabian peninsula, and it was not a Khafir regime.
Thus, prominant Saudis such as Bin Laden have arisen in opposition to the Royal Family, and have called for attacks upon them. The Saudi counter terrorism strategy has been to historically support such movements outside of the Kingdom. Thus, Saudi money has turned up in the Phillipines, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan, in New York, in Iraq, and latest in Syria. The goal of Saudi Arabia is to attempt to keep radical elements occupied elsewhere, and dependant upon a flow of funds and weapons from the country. In Syria, for example, Saudi Arabia is seeking to both deny Iran a regional ally, to exert influence in the region, and the position themselves as supporters of a popular revolution.

But what is the future of Saudi Arabia? The US support, which has underpinned the majority of the Saudi defence force expenditure, is being slowly withdrawn, as the US found itself stretched thin in two unpopular ground wars in the Middle East and Asia. With the slowdown in the US economy, the country also is beinning to shift its focus from the Middle East to South East Asia to counter Chinese economic expansion.

The US has been working politically for years to develop an alternative to Saudi oil supplies. This alternative seems to have come from increased use of shale gas and oil deposits within the US itself. As Saudi Arabia sees a long term ally start to turn away from them, they have reached out to any aid they can find, including China.

Saudi Arabia is also afraid of terrorist acts within its own borders along with violence caused by Iran in the Shiite minority within the country. During the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia moved quickly to shut down protests both in Saudi Arabia and in Bahrain, which could have spread further amoung a discontented population.

Saudi Arabia is also afraid of regional rivals, including Israel and Iran, which while being mortal enemies, neither have any love for Saudi Arabia. To counter this, Prince Bandar has been tasked by the Family to purchase a number of sophisticated long range missile systems, capable of delivering any warhead up to Nuclear to both Tehran and Tel Aviv. By creating a new version of the MAD system, the Saudis hope that this will deter any threats to the Kingdom.

A greater risk, the author believes, is that of a popular uprising supported by Islamic fundamentalists. Such a movement, if provided with traction, could possibly topple the Royal Family.

In Part IV, we will look at the necessary steps which Saudi Arabia must take in order to survive in the ever changing geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

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A Nuclear House of Saud?

The power structure in the Middle East has changed radically during the last two years. During this time, political leaders in numerous countries; Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen fell from power or fled to avoid the fate of their comrades in Egypt or Libya. President Assad in Syria, rather than face trial by his people for human rights abuses has determined to fight for his position, leading to what can be only described as a de facto state of civil war in the country. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, even Israel have seen their own protests and uprisings, however leaders in all countries have managed to hold onto power.

While Neo Conservatives in America may have first painted a rosy picture of democracy springing into the Middle East, the actual fact is that the current political systems, and even the future ones, will be very unlike the commonly accepted Western view of democracy. Only a small percentage of Libyan opposition groups have openly accepted democracy as a future political view, with the majority of Libyans rejecting democracy as a political system.

In Egypt, the most popular political party is the Muslim Brotherhood, who is steadfastly anti democratic. Indeed, the Brotherhood has come a long way from its past, when it was the umbrella group for the majority of extremist and terrorist groups, including many of the earlier members of Al Qaeda. While the Brotherhood may have technically forsaken violent action for political process, it does not mean for a moment that the group has become pro American and pro Democratic.

 

The Arab Spring

While the Middle East was once composed of many pro American governments, including those of Mubarak, it now has taken a strongly anti American turn. Even anti American governments such as Libya were a known entity. America knew how to handle Kaddafi. But the old known systems have now been replaced with an uncertain system which has not yet shown its true colours. The lines between friend and enemy are now broken, and American interests in the Middle East are now threatened.

With the American withdrawal from Iraq, American attention is now focused further upon Asia and Iran, while the Middle East (with the exclusion of the straits of Hormuz) have become less crucial to American interests.

American allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, have expressed concern regarding this recent shift of focus of American might. With the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, another American ally, the Saudi royals have expressed concern about the future security of their country. The belief is that American forces will not prevent a similar takeover in Saudi Arabia as what occurred in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia at the moment is extremely concerned regarding possible Iranian involvement in creating disturbance in the country through the minority Shiite population. There have already been several attacks against Saudi interests by Shiite terrorists. As the most significant source of oil in the region, and the most reliable as Iranian supply is becoming increasingly unstable, Saudi Arabia  is the major supplier of global oil at the moment. Surrounded by a hostile and an increasingly ambitious Turkey to the north, an uncertain Egypt to the West, a chaotic Yemen to the South, and an openly hostile Iran to the East, Saudi Arabia has found itself in an increasingly bad neighbourhood.

To add to the problems that Saudi Arabia faces, it is widely seen in the Arab world as an American puppet and as a corrupt and secular government, who is more interested in oil profits from the Americans than in assisting Muslims in the region. The Muslim world sees Saudi Arabia as a traitor who has taken American money in exchange for allowing American troops to desecrate the Holy Land by building military bases in the country. In addition, Saudi Arabia is seen as doing nothing to prevent the regional power of Israel from growing. Thus, the Saudi royal family is a top target for groups such as Al Qaeda.

 

With the withdrawal of American troops from the region, and the increasing belief that American protection will not cover the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia has begun to seek defensive capacities from other sources.

While traditionally the House of Saud sought weapons and defensive capacities from the United States, it is recently begun to approach other countries such as China for defensive and offensive weapons.

The deal which alarmed Washington the most was that of the Saudi purchase of Chinese CSS-5 missiles to replace the CSS-2 missiles purchased from China in the 1980s. While these reports are not officially confirmed, they do align with the Saudi intent to develop nuclear capacity in response to Iranian developments. The deal maker for this, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, has been the Saudi go to man for any business of this nature for the last 20 years.

The CSS-5 missile is a 2 stage solid propellant type, launcher based rocket, with a range of over 2,000 km. The missile can carry a HE warhead, or a more lethal chemical payload or a 250 – 500 kT nuclear tipped payload.

With the map below, you can see the radius of the new missiles sought by Saudi Arabia. Once launched, the missile can hit any target with a great degree of accuracy in almost the entire Middle East. Iran is almost totally covered by this radius, as is Israel, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and a good part of Turkey.

 

Range of the CSS V

 

The damage potentially caused by a 250 kT nuclear warhead on either Tehran or Tel Aviv is shown below.

Tehran

Tel Aviv

 

As seen, a large portion of the city would be destroyed, leading to potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties. By contrast, the atomic weapon dropped on Hiroshima was only 16 kT.

Saudi Arabia knows that the deciding factor in the Iran Iraq War was a massive Scud strike upon Tehran by Iraq, which effectively stopped the Iranians from progressing into Iraq. Such a similar strategy of missile war would therefore be attractive in the event that Iran threatened Saudi Arabia with a missile attack.

Iran does have the capacity to strike at Saudi Arabia with it’s Shahab 3 missile with a range of up to 1,800 km. While the Shahab 3 does not have the accuracy or range of the CSS-5, it can hold a nuclear payload of up to 800 kT, far greater than the CSS-5. There are rumours of either a Satellite Launch Weapon or the disputed Shahab 4, with a purported range of up to 3000 km being developed by Iran.

The status of Iran’s nuclear enrichment process is unknown, but wildly speculated. Even if Iran did develop the “bomb”, Saudi Arabia would feel the necessity to develop a nuclear deterrent of its own. To the House of Saud, having both its rivals in the region, Israel and Iran, with nuclear weapons, it would be unacceptable to not have the same capacity.

The most likely source of weapons grade fissionable material by the Saudis would be either a locally produced version or through direct purchase. Saudi Arabia has committed to building over 10 new nuclear reactors in the country in the coming years, which may be for civilian power, but which may easily be turned into military use.

A cheaper and easier alternative may be direct purchase of either nuclear materials or nuclear know how. The Pakistani government and Saudi Arabia have held long ties together, and with the nuclear network of former scientist Dr Khan from Pakistan, it is possible that Saudi Arabia has either already acquired nuclear material from Pakistan or is in the process of doing so. Khan is known to have had dealings with the Kingdom before his arrest. Even if the Saudi’s have not already purchased material, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Islamabad would provide such materials to their ally in the region.

The development of a nuclear armed Saudi Arabia is not a prospect which will generate further peace in the Middle East. The impact of such an action, along with a possible scenario if this occurred will be discussed in a further post.

 

World Missile Fleet