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 The US support, which has underpinned the majority of the Saudi defence force expenditure, is being slowly withdrawn, as the US found itself stretched thin in two unpopular ground wars in the Middle East and Asia.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.