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 The US support, which has underpinned the majority of the Saudi defence force expenditure, is being slowly withdrawn, as the US found itself stretched thin in two unpopular ground wars in the Middle East and Asia.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

The Saudi Royal Family

To understand the Saudi Royal family, who has ruled the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since its inception, is to attempt to understand a family torn by internal power struggles, beset on all sides by enemies and rivals, and who have also been cursed with all the disadvantages of extreme wealth. The House of Saud can be traced back to Muhammad ibn Saud, with the ruling party fathered by King Abdul Aziz.

Unlike most Western style monarchies, the line of succession is not passed down from Father to Son, but rather to brothers of the sons of King Abdul Aziz. While all close members of the family, including grandchildren, have received important government posts, the surviving sons of King Abdul Aziz are seen as being in the line of succession. With the incapatation of King Fahd due to a stroke in 1995, Crown Prince Abdullah took over the governing of the affairs of the kingdom until the death in 2005 of King Fahd, when Abdullah was crowned king.

Next in line to the throne was Crown Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz. However, on June 16, 2012, the Crown Prince passed away at the age of 80, leaving the title to Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. Salman is now the last significant member of Abdul Aziz’s direct sons, and the last major member of the so called “Sudeiri Seven”.

Prince Naif had been no friend of the West, and especially not of America. After the September 11 attacks, Naif did everything possible to prevent American investigations into Saudi Arabian suspects, and openly attacked the American government as being an enemy of Muslims everywhere.

Crown Prince Na’if

However, while Na’if may have paid lip service to the radicals, and personally hated America, even he was concerned about the activities of radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2003 Na’if stated that he believed that Saudi Arabia had given too much support to radical elements, and that these elements themselves could become an enemy to Saudi Arabia.

With the election of Salman to the position of Crown Prince now, the Saudis face a dilemma. All the full blooded sons of Abdul Aziz are now over 60 years old, with King Abdullah 90 years old and in poor health. Salman was born in 1936, and is also in poor health. Indeed, the youngest son, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, was born in 1945.

Even the grandsons of Abdulaziz, who would be potentially eligible for consideration with appropriate support, are all over 50 years old.

Thus, a third generation of princes will begin to slowly fill important civil ranks in the government, and will move upwards to replace the First and Second generations as they pass away. The Third generation, however, are far less experienced than their grandfathers and even their fathers.

Saudi Arabia is entering one of the most important milestones in its history at the moment, with the rise of Iran to the east, the Arab Spring surrounding the country, insurgencies in Yemen, a hostile Israel to the north, and internal discord and division both against the Saudi Royal family and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

However, the younger generations especially have shown themselves poor leadership material. It can be said that the House of Saud was blessed with power, but cursed with wealth. The extreme wealth into which the second and third generation princes were born into has corrupted the family to the point at which the old Roman aristocracy comes to mind.

The family of al Saud now numbers almost 15,000 members. While only a few possess political power, a majority of the family members receive allowances, which become more and more substantial the closer to the direct bloodline one gets. In a cable to Washington in 1996, the US Ambassador stated that monthly stipends ranged from $800 a month for the most distant princes up to a sum of $270,000 a month USD for the sons of Abdul Aziz.

In addition, payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars are handed out upon completion of tasks such as getting married or building a new palace.

The princes, particularly those with power, have found new and innovative ways to raise money above that which they received from a stipend. These include defrauding businesses, theft of state property, arms sales, oil deals, bribes, and outright theft. Saudi Royals will borrow money from banks without paying it back, seize land and businesses from their owners, and demand substantial bribes from foreign companies doing business in Saudi Arabia.

The billions of dollars controlled by these princes helps to fund an extremely lavish lifestyle, the decadence and debauchery of which is legendary. King Fahd’s youngest son, Abd al Aziz, built himself a massive theme park in Mecca, costing $4.6 billion, after seizing the land to build the park on. Abd al has also built lavish personal estates for himself and his mother.

The entire house of Saud spends along these lines however. When the family goes shopping in Marbella, they spend on average $5 million a day. In the 1970s, Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East, and almost exclusively catered to Rich Saudi royals, with brothels, nightclubs, and high class restaurants. The Lebanese underworld also saw an opportunity inside Saudi Arabia and began a brisk slave trade into the Kingdom, bringing in women to work as prostitutes for the Royal family. When Saudis wish to leave the Kingdom, the more lowly princes head for London, France, or Monte Carlo, and enjoy the pleasures and sins of the West including women, gambling, alcohol, and lots and lots of money. For the higher born Saudis, each prince has a private estate along the Mediterranean coast, which are exclusively for entertaining women and for holding lavish events. The new playground for the Saudis is Morocco, where the Saudi princes can retreat to secluded palaces in the Tangier mountains and hold even more wild and debauched parties than in Europe or Saudi Arabia. In return, Saudi Arabia has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into Morocco in exchange for their silence on their activities.

 

Saudi Royal Yacht

The Saudi Royal attitude towards these decadent pursuits is strictly hypocritical. While the royal family may engage in any activity they see fit to, the common people live in one of the most repressive countries in the world. Especially to women, Saudi Arabia is a closed society, with women only recently receiving the right to drive, vote, and even shop by themselves (only in exclusively women staffed shops).

The Saudi society is a three tiered layer, with the Royals on top, a business class underneath who owe their patronage to the Royals, and the common class on the bottom.

However, while the Saudi Royal family has spent billions whoring, drinking, spending, and stealing for decades, they have become extremely out of touch with their own people. Radical elements in Saudi Arabia have found eager recruits from the oppressed population, who hate their ruling family and their ways. Iran is seeking to create Sectarian strife in the country, and the winds of the Arab Spring have even ruffled the feathers of the Royals.

Now, more than ever, Saudi Arabia must make a decision to either acknowledge the challenges it faces, or to accept the fact that it will fall. It is unknown yet what Crown Prince Salman will do, or even how long he will hold this position.

In our next instalment, we will analyse the future direction of the monarchy and detail the coming fall of the Royal family, if they refuse to act now.

 

 

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