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Saudi Arabia has problems too

Bert

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THE STRATFOR WEEKLY
18 June 2004

Saudi Arabia: Al Qaeda's Strategic Goals

By James Eldridge

Summary

Al Qaeda has launched a multiphase war in Saudi Arabia. The militant group
has mid-term operational goals and long-term strategic goals, with an endgame
focused on ultimate control over one of the world's top oil producers.

Analysis

Stratfor accurately predicted in October 2002 that a war in Saudi Arabia
would erupt between al Qaeda and the ruling House of Saud. That war is under
way. Al Qaeda's tactics have become all too clear, with killings and
kidnappings of Westerners having become a common event.

Al Qaeda's strategic goals are, however, more obscure. Saudi Arabia is the
golden egg. Economically, politically, religiously and socially, it is a
perfect fit for al Qaeda's orientation and ambitions. The kingdom is rich
beyond belief -- capable of influencing global oil supplies and, by
extension, global politics; it is religiously and socially Wahhabi, fiercely
and independently tribal. It is the spiritual heartland of al Qaeda itself.

Al Qaeda's endgame is simple: complete control of the oil-rich kingdom. It
hopes to establish a transnational empire. At the heart of this pan-Islamic
Ummah (nation) would be Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam's two holiest cities,
Mecca and Medina, and the world's top oil exporter. This pan-Islamic state --
with the Arabian Peninsula as the seat of sovereign authority -- would serve
as both the political and the religious leader of the Islamic world.

Based in what is now called Saudi Arabia and with the ability to influence
global energy supplies, al Qaeda would have the tools to shape the political
and security environments of dozens of other states. It would also have a
sanctuary where it could establish and train conventional armed forces while
maintaining its cadres of militants.

The United States would never permit an al Qaeda government to come to power
in the kingdom. The militant leadership knows this and is not likely to put
forward its own government -- at least not directly. Instead, it will look to
position leaders among the kingdom's tribal sheikhs, business elite and
senior military officers -- as well as some members of the ruling House of
Saud -- who are sympathetic to al Qaeda's worldview and willing to support al
Qaeda's long-term goal.

The Fight for Legitimacy

To achieve this end, al Qaeda must first weaken its opponents in the
government. There are several shorter-term goals for undercutting the House
of Saud.

* Severing the link between the United States and the House of Saud.

* Undermining the House of Saud's political authority.

* Destroying the royal family's religious credentials.

Severing the link with Washington will restrict the Saudi government's
foreign policy options, reducing its ability to resist outside interference
from nations like Israel or Iran, as well as nonstate actors. When Washington
loses confidence in the Saudi government, it will ratchet up its already
intense pressure on Riyadh to cooperate in the war against terrorism. The
hundreds of concessions and special privileges Saudis enjoy in the United
States would come to a grinding halt.

A loss of Saudi political prerogatives -- both at home and abroad -- would be
a humiliating loss of face for the royal tribe and would resonate throughout
the kingdom, in turn reducing Saudi citizens' confidence in and support for
the royal family. Loss of confidence in the royal family's ability and right
to rule directly challenges its legitimacy. Al Qaeda has openly criticized
the regime's political and religious credentials, labeling it corrupt and
hypocritical.

There is an emerging concern about the royal family's ability to rule. The
current political turmoil, fueled by the constant attacks on Westerners and
bombings of residential compounds, raises fears of political chaos. Islamic
political thought traditionally emphasizes that a bad ruler is preferable to
fitna (political chaos). Al Qaeda is now perhaps hoping to create just enough
political chaos to show that a bad ruler cannot prevent fitna.

A second attack on the regime's credentials centers around its religious
legitimacy. Osama bin Laden enjoys broad support inside the kingdom,
especially among the deeply pious. Many of his followers are thought to be
from Qassim, the base of many prominent Wahhabi clerics. The country's most
senior religious leader, Grand Mufti Abdel Aziz Al Al-Sheikh, recently was
forced to defend religious rulings against accusations of excessive political
influence from the government.

Being accused of allowing political matters to have influence over religious
matters is a damning charge. Most Islamic political thought -- including
Wahhabi thought -- argues that politics is and should be subservient to
religion. In fact, most Islamic political thought makes no distinction
between political and religious rule.

The Wahhabis take this position to a radical level, seeing politics as the
rightful domain of the religious leadership and other pious elites. By
challenging the credibility of the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia,
the opposition challenges the legitimacy not only of the government but also
the senior religious leadership.

Money, Money, Money

Al Qaeda control of the kingdom does not necessarily mean either the
overthrow of the House of Saud -- at least at this stage -- or the more
immediate destruction of the country's oil infrastructure or disruption of
oil exports. The kingdom is infinitely more valuable with its oil sector
intact. Al Qaeda will concentrate on weakening the regime and driving
Westerners from the Arabian Peninsula for the foreseeable future.

Al Qaeda does not want to trigger a U.S. invasion or any other serious
political backlash like a full-scale revolution or a fracturing of the
country that would restrict Riyadh's political reach. If it can find a
cooperative branch or a support base within the royal family, then the
"regime" could persist -- at least in name -- even as Riyadh's political
orientation shifts.

There could be short-term reasons for not completely displacing the House of
Saud. The most immediate is money. Al Qaeda has long relied on financing from
the kingdom. There are persistent rumors that some members of the royal
family back the militants financially and politically. The U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency reports that al Qaeda has spent around $30 million
annually to finance operations. The U.S. commission looking into the events
of Sept. 11 concluded that most of those funds came from "witting and
unwitting donors, primarily in Persian Gulf countries, especially Saudi
Arabia." Some of the money is believed to have passed through charities.

The Saudi government claims it is going after the charities as a way of
cutting off the financing. It has assumed control over the Al-Haramain
Foundation, a Saudi-based international charity that the U.S. government has
linked to al Qaeda. Significantly, no key personnel, including the charity's
founder and chairman Aqeel al-Aqeel, have been arrested.

Al Qaeda needs to keep the money flowing, and that means not endangering
either its allies in the kingdom or the primary sources of revenue -- like
oil exports. If the regime moves aggressively to shut down its sources of
financing, al Qaeda's calculus could change. It could accelerate the timing
for targeting the regime directly. But at this stage, one charity less will
not prevent al Qaeda's operations inside or beyond Saudi Arabia.

The Oil Weapon

The current phase of the war in Saudi Arabia is focused on getting Westerners
out of the kingdom. The withdrawal of the foreigners accomplishes the goal of
weakening U.S.-Saudi ties and leaving the energy industry fully in Saudi
hands. Driving the Western infidels out of the kingdom would also serve as a
powerful recruiting tool for al Qaeda.

Ousting Westerners also opens thousands of positions in the energy and
defense industries, positions al Qaeda will hope to see filled with Saudis or
other Muslims sympathetic to its worldview. Taking control of the energy
industry would give al Qaeda global leverage. Running the energy industry
without the Western brain trust would be a challenge and could lead to a
serious decline in Saudi output capacity. But with the resources available to
Aramco and other Saudi energy firms, a smaller but steady output still would
give al Qaeda enormous political leverage abroad.

It is not in al Qaeda's interest at this phase in the war to strike at the
Saudi oil infrastructure. Doing so would endanger a key source of its
financing, would be highly unpopular with the Saudi people -- who view the
oil as their God-given inheritance -- and would not further the movement's
military objectives.

The Second Ikhwan Uprising

The next phase of the war is less certain, although it might imitate the last
great rebellion in the kingdom.

In 1902, Abdel-Aziz bin Abdel-Rahman bin Faisal al-Saud, the founder of
modern-day Saudi Arabia, returned from exile in Kuwait and seized Riyadh and
much of the surrounding central Najd territory. Al-Saud -- who is better
known as Ibn Saud -- cobbled together an army known as the Ikhwan from
several of Arabia's nomadic and seminomadic tribes (bedouin) to conquer Hail,
the Hijaz and other parts of what now makes up the kingdom. By 1913 his
forces had taken the oil-rich al-Ahsa or Eastern Province. In 1917, with the
help of the Ikhwan bedouins, Ibn Saud inched his way toward Hail, the
headquarters of the rival al Rashid tribe in northern Arabia, eventually
capturing it.

By 1926, he had ousted the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Ibn Ali, and taken the
Arabian Peninsula's western flank, known as the Hijaz. Ibn Saud's territorial
ambitions were halted soon thereafter. Britain had placed sons of the Sharif
on the thrones in Iraq and Transjordan, and cut a deal with Riyadh to limit
raids into these territories.

After the territorial expansion reached its limits, Ibn Saud moved to disband
the Ikhwan army and settle the bedouin. The bedouin, however, expected
massive booty from the Hijaz and Hail victories and wanted to keep raiding
into Iraq rather than settle down.

Two of the Ikhwan leaders -- who had expected but did not receive cushy
government appointments -- turned on Ibn Saud and began challenging Riyadh.
Ibn Bijad, the top Ikhwan leader, had expected to be appointed military chief
after the kingdom's consolidation, but he was dismissed instead. It is
thought that Ibn Saud feared Bijad, and Faisal al Duwish, the Ikhwan's other
commander, posed a threat. In 1929, the Ikhwan rose in unsuccessful rebellion
against the regime.

There are a number of parallels between the current al Qaeda offensive and
the 1929 Ikhwan rebellion.

Like Ibn Bijad, Osama bin Laden thought he would be rewarded with a
high-ranking military position upon his return from Afghanistan after the
defeat of the Soviets. Instead, he was ignored and then denied permission to
form an army to fight against an invasion after Saddam Hussein's forces took
Kuwait in August 1990.

The Ikhwan accused Ibn Saud of dealing with the infidels, referring to
Riyadh's relationship with Britain. Al Qaeda has condemned the Saudi
government for dealing with the infidels, Americans and Westerners in
general.

A critical divergence, however, is in targeting. Although the idea of a Saudi
nationality did not exist back then, the underlying tribal alliance system
prevailed and the Ikhwan deliberately attacked tribes loyal to Ibn Saud.

Conclusion: The Second Phase

Al Qaeda has not taken this road -- at least not yet. But after cleansing the
holy lands of infidels, the movement will have thousands of radical and eager
militants expecting action. Al Qaeda also has repeatedly and blatantly
accused the Saudi regime of corruption and hypocrisy and is not likely simply
to close up shop just because all the Americans have been routed. In fact,
the militants have already struck at Saudi intelligence officials and
headquarters.

The war is a guerrilla conflict with militant attacks focused on Westerners.
The next phase, however, will see a shift. The militants will reorient the
conflict to directly targeting Saudi authorities. They will also move to
establish themselves as a legitimate and viable political alternative.

Al Qaeda is also laying the foundation for a new regime. In a taped speech
that was aired in January 2004, a speaker -- believed to be bin Laden --
calls for the establishment of a legitimate and righteous political
leadership to replace the corrupt Arab governments now in power. He says:
"The honest people who are concerned about this situation, such as the ulema,
leaders who are obeyed among their people, dignitaries, notables and
merchants should get together and meet in a safe place away from the shadow
of these suppressive regimes and form a council for Ahl al-Hall wa al-Aqd
[literally 'those who loose and bind,' a reference to honest, wise and
righteous people who can appoint or remove a ruler in Islamic tradition] to
fill the vacuum caused by the religious invalidation of these regimes and
their mental deficiency." The implication is pointed: Riyadh is corrupt and a
new leadership must arise to replace it.

Stratfor sources inside the kingdom all agree: The anti-Western guerrilla war
is only the initial phase. The countdown to a confrontation between the
mujahideen and the Saudi government is certain. It is only a matter of time.

(c) 2004 Strategic Forecasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

http://www.stratfor.com
 

Infanteer

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By 1926, he had ousted the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Ibn Ali, and taken the
Arabian Peninsula's western flank, known as the Hijaz. Ibn Saud's territorial
ambitions were halted soon thereafter. Britain had placed sons of the Sharif
on the thrones in Iraq and Transjordan, and cut a deal with Riyadh to limit
raids into these territories.

I never knew about this link.   Is the monarchy in Jordan and the one attempting to return to Iraq related to this Sharif?   If so, how as this affected relations with the House of Saud.


As for Saudi Arabia's centrality (as the Al Qaeda see it).   If indeed this civil war moves to more intercine violence of Muslim on Muslim I could see the possibility of serious disaffection within the Middle East.   Considering the Wahhabi sect condemns Shia's as idolaters and puts them on the same level as Jews and Americans (I think they see all three as one and the same), a big Shia Iran and an Iraq with a dominant Shia majority might not sit well with a potty mouth neighbour.

Thoughts?
 

Tebo

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Thank you! Excellent, excellent article.  Very well worth the read.

The immediate counter I perceive is the destruction of Al Qaeda's sought oil based leverage.  Technologically, we easily have the ability to migrate from oil to a methane or, ideally, a hydrogen based economy:  Mobile and remote power generation is provided by fuel cell while the grid is maintained by hydro-electric, nuclear and potentially solar and tidal.  Changing our dependencies now will leave Al Qaeda in control of oil, but not global influence. 

Financially it does not make sense to shift yet unless you can somehow quantify potential violence and death into an economic scale of measurement.  Militarily, politically, environmentally and, in my opinion,  ethically it does.

I find the notion of combat later as opposed to prudent action now repulsive, especially when propped up by the man made science of economics.  Evidentally, I am young enough to be a damned idealist.  O well.

Thoughts?
 

clasper

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Infanteer said:
If indeed this civil war moves to more intercine violence of Muslim on Muslim I could see the possibility of serious disaffection within the Middle East.  

I absolutely agree with you here.   In the first Gulf War, interviews with Iraqi PW's determined that the most effective psy ops pamphlet by far was the one with the message "Arabs should not fight Arabs".   It proved far more effective than arguments against Saddam, promises of comfort in captivity, or promises of grisly death in combat.

On a personal note, Al-Qaeda's intention to get westerners out of Saudi is starting to work.   A friend of mine who worked in Al-Khobar packed up his family and got on a plane last week.   He walked into the company offices in Calgary, told them he wasn't going back to the Middle East, and asked where he was going to be transferred to.   Can't say I blame him at all.
 

Infanteer

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He walked into the company offices in Calgary, told them he wasn't going back to the Middle East, and asked where he was going to be transferred to.  Can't say I blame him at all.

After all the events in the last month, I can't blame him.  Let them have their pile of sand.
 

Kirkhill

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I didn't see this thread before my post on the beheading thread. 

Article says it pretty well. 

As to the point about the Jordanian Monarchy and the Iraqi chap who would be king I believe them both to be the same bloodline.  And I think if you go back further that the Husseins, or Hashemites, despite being Sunni moslems have a claim to Shiite loyalties.  Perhaps somebody could fill me in here but don't they trace their legitimacy by blood to the prophet? And isn't that the same claim as the Sayeds of the Shiite Imams, like Sayed al-Sistani?

By contrast the I understood that the Saudis and the Wahabis have no claim to the blood of the prophet but basically claim to better represent his ideals. 

That schism is at the heart of the Sunni - Shiite troubles.

One other aspect of the troubles in the Middle East is a much older struggle than that between Sunni and Shia or between Muslim and Christian it is between Nomad (Bedouin or Bedu) and townie.  The Saudis are essentially Bedu as I understand it and the Husseinis are more town oriented.

...."the people here do not form a homgeneous political entity.  There is a sharp line of division between the settled population and the Bedouin.  The former wish settled government and protections from the extortions and violence of the latter. The Bedouin prefer anarchy to order as they live from extortions from the peasantry and rapine as well as from their flocks and herds.  You cannot expect them to form a government for their common country." 

Captain C.D.Brunton, British Trans-Jordan Administration circa 1920., Quoted in "A Peace To End All Peace" by David Fromkin

It seems to me that that quote, although it applies to Jordan, pretty much encapsulates the dilemma of the entire middle east. You can see it played out amongst the smugglers and tribes of the south of Iraq currently under British control versus the people of Basra. You can see it in Fallujah, which is a relatively new town that even under Saddam's rule was a no go area for Government authorities.  You can see it in Mosul and Kirkuk where Saddam tried to convince the Bedu (Arabs) to settle down to modern life by giving them green lands to live in (despite the fact that the lands were already occupied by Kurds and Turks). You can see it in Sudan with the struggle currently going on the black farmers and the arab raiders.  You see this throughout the middle east, between ancient port city-states on the Gulf Coast and on the Indian Ocean and the Saudis. 

The people of the desert  have millenia of nomadic, tribal impulses bred into them.  These impulses are at odds with the people of the cities.  They always have been.
The west is a culture of cities. Cities and property.  They represent constraints on the Nomads way of life. The west represents the triumph of the cities and the loss of freedom.

Freedom to live and act as you see fit according to the dictates of your own conscience without having to worry about compromising with others to get along.

This isn't a strictly Arab desire, some militias in the US could probably relate to that desire.

Thing is, if this analysis is correct then some really hard choices face us. 

The struggle is ancient.  We have, and here I include the townies of the Middle East, in the past dealt with these raiders by building walls and moats and armies. By exerting force on the open spaces between the towns.  By engaging in constant, unremitting, low-grade warfare.  Think the 300 year war between Europeans and native Americans.

We in the west, especially Canadians and Americans, have been sheltered from this by distance and the world's biggest moat.  Canada has been further sheltered  by America's, Britain's and France's walls and armies.  Technology has eliminated those defences, there are now no safe harbours.  We now find ourselves transported in a very real sense into the threat environment that the middle east has existed in for millenia.  The environment that created the stories of the Bible, that created the Empires of Ur and Akkad, of Sumeria and Egypt, of Judah and Babylon, of Darius and Alexander.

You want to know what the future looks like?  Read your history. Read the Old testament.

Everything old is new again. :mad: :(



 








 

Bert

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The situation respesents alot of general society everywhere.

For 2.5 million years, humans have been fighting with eachother and history is doomed to repeat itself again and again.
Democracy as applied today is far from perfect but it is the best example of "everyone under the law".  In societies
of change and violence, the law is either discarded, non-existance, or there are those above the law and those under it
and the struggle for change.  In the middle east, the West is widely regarded as the supporters of those above the law
that seeks to hurt those under it.  As mentioned before, many have little use of common laws.  Given Iraq as an
example, the Kurds, Shiites, and the Sunnis radical groups want their own governments and reject "everyone
under the law".  The UN would be hard pressed to find consensus without being shot at.

What is new today is that the violent Al-Quaeda, Iran, Syria, and the groups they support have common interests or
goals if ideaologically they do not agree.  The USA primarily is the target of all.  With the tools available today by Pakistan,
Iran, North Korea, parts available from Russia, arms sales by everyone, the ability of Al-Quaeda  organize actions globally,
and their proven ability to strike at civilian populations (even their own), scares the crap out of everyone. 

The problem is if Al-Quaeda has significant control over Saudi Arabia and works with others, strikes hard at the USA, Isreal,
or Europe, what could the consequences be?l
 

Slim

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Bert said:
The situation respesents alot of general society everywhere.

For 2.5 million years, humans have been fighting with eachother and history is doomed to repeat itself again and again.

"Only the dead have seen the end of war"

Plato

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it...?
 
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