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Arab Spring Splits Saudi U.S Alliance

Posted on 16 May 2011 by hashimilion

A tectonic shift has occurred in the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Despite significant pressure from the Obama administration to remain on the sidelines, Saudi leaders sent troops into Manama in March to defend Bahrain’s monarchy and quell the unrest that has shaken that country since February. For more than 60 years, Saudi Arabia has been bound by an unwritten bargain: oil for security. Riyadh has often protested but ultimately acquiesced to what it saw as misguided U.S. policies. But American missteps in the region since Sept. 11, an ill-conceived response to the Arab protest movements and an unconscionable refusal to hold Israel accountable for its illegal settlement building have brought this arrangement to an end. As the Saudis recalibrate the partnership, Riyadh intends to pursue a much more assertive foreign policy, at times conflicting with American interests.

The backdrop for this change are the rise of Iranian meddling in the region and the counterproductive policies that the United States has pursued here since Sept. 11. The most significant blunder may have been the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in enormous loss of life and provided Iran an opening to expand its sphere of influence. For years, Iran’s leadership has aimed to foment discord while furthering its geopolitical ambitions. Tehran has long funded Hamas and Hezbollah; recently, its scope of attempted interference has broadened to include the affairs of Arab states from Yemen to Morocco. This month the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Gen. Hasan Firouzabadi, harshly criticized Riyadh over its intervention in Bahrain, claiming this act would spark massive domestic uprisings.

Such remarks are based more on wishful thinking than fact, but Iran’s efforts to destabilize its neighbors are tireless. As Riyadh fights a cold war with Tehran, Washington has shown itself in recent months to be an unwilling and unreliable partner against this threat. The emerging political reality is a Saudi-led Arab world facing off against the aggression of Iran and its non-state proxies.

Saudi Arabia will not allow the political unrest in the region to destabilize the Arab monarchies — the Gulf states, Jordan and Morocco. In Yemen, the Saudis are insisting on an orderly transition of power and a dignified exit for President Ali Abdullah Saleh (a courtesy that was not extended to Hosni Mubarak, despite the former Egyptian president’s many years as a strong U.S. ally). To facilitate this handover, Riyadh is leading a diplomatic effort under the auspices of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council. In Iraq, the Saudi government will continue to pursue a hard-line stance against the Maliki government, which it regards as little more than an Iranian puppet. In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia will act to check the growth of Hezbollah and to ensure that this Iranian proxy does not dominate the country’s political life. Regarding the widespread upheaval in Syria, the Saudis will work to ensure that any potential transition to a post-Assad era is as peaceful and as free of Iranian meddling as possible.

Regarding Israel, Riyadh is adamant that a just settlement, based on King Abdullah’s proposed peace plan, be implemented. This includes a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. The United States has lost all credibility on this issue; after casting the sole vote in the U.N. Security Council against censuring Israel for its illegal settlement building, it can no longer act as an objective mediator. This act was a watershed in U.S.-Saudi relations, guaranteeing that Saudi leaders will not push for further compromise from the Palestinians, despite American pressure.

Saudi Arabia remains strong and stable, lending muscle to its invigorated foreign policy. Spiritually, the kingdom plays a unique role for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims — more than 1 billion of whom are Sunni — as the birthplace of Islam and home of the two holiest cities. Politically, its leaders enjoy broad domestic support, and a growing nationalism has knitted the historically tribal country more closely together. This is largely why widespread protests, much anticipated by Western media in March, never materialized. As the world’s sole energy superpower and the de facto central banker of the global energy markets, Riyadh is the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, representing 25 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the Arab world. The kingdom has amassed more than $550 billion in foreign reserves and is spending more than $150 billion to improve infrastructure, public education, social services and health care.

To counter the threats posed by Iran and transnational terrorist networks, the Saudi leadership is authorizing more than $100 billion of additional military spending to modernize ground forces, upgrade naval capabilities and more. The kingdom is doubling its number of high-quality combat aircraft and adding 60,000 security personnel to the Interior Ministry forces. Plans are underway to create a “Special Forces Command,” based on the U.S. model, to unify the kingdom’s various special forces if needed for rapid deployment abroad.

Saudi Arabia has the will and the means to meet its expanded global responsibilities. In some issues, such as counterterrorism and efforts to fight money laundering, the Saudis will continue to be a strong U.S. partner. In areas in which Saudi national security or strategic interests are at stake, the kingdom will pursue its own agenda. With Iran working tirelessly to dominate the region, the Muslim Brotherhood rising in Egypt and unrest on nearly every border, there is simply too much at stake for the kingdom to rely on a security policy written in Washington, which has backfired more often than not and spread instability. The special relationship may never be the same, but from this transformation a more stable and secure Middle East can be born.

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Former Terrorist Says Al-Qaeda Lacks Financing

Posted on 11 May 2011 by hashimilion

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIYADH 001166

SIPDIS

NSC FOR BROWN, TREASURY FOR GLASER, DHS FOR WARRICK,
CENTCOM FOR POLAD GFOELLER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER KTFN EFIN SA PK
SUBJECT: FORMER TERRORIST SAYS AL-QAEDA LACKS FINANCING
REF: A. RIYADH 1110 B. RIYADH 1121 C. RIYADH 1151

Classified By: CDA Ambassador Richard Erdman for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D )

SUMMARY
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¶1. (C) In a September 6 interview with liberal daily Al-Watan, former Al-Qaeda fighter Fawaz Al-Otaibi, whose surrender to Saudi authorities was announced on September 2, said that Al-Qaeda was in a “”catastrophic financial situation”” — thanks in part to strict measures aimed at cutting off the flow of terrorist financing — and was now directing its efforts towards recruiting Arab youths to perform suicide operations in their home countries. Commenting on Otaibi and the concept of Jihad in general, Al-Watan editor and former Osama bin Laden confidant, Jamal Kashoggi, told us the concept of jihadism is a key tenet of Islam; it will not go away, but we should work to channel the concept into a state context, where decisions concerning the duty to wage jihad must rest with the state rather than the individual. In related news, the Ministry of Social Affairs announced plans to institute quarterly reviews of charities to prevent “”financial misconduct,”” including direction of charitable fund to terrorist activities. END SUMMARY.

AL-OTAIBI’S SURRENDER MADE PUBLIC
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¶2. (U) On September 2, the MOI announced that Fawaz Al-Otaibi, a Saudi on the 85 most wanted list, had surrendered to authorities. The announcement came less than a week after the failed suicide attack on Assistant Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif (reftels), and gave no indication of how long Otaibi had been in custody. The report said he had been reunited with his family and allowed to perform Umrah. Prior to his surrender, Al-Otaibi reportedly called his parents and told them he wanted to return to Saudi Arabia and hand himself in. He had left the Kingdom approximately 1 year ago for the UAE, and his last known location prior to surrendering was reportedly Iran.

¶3. (U) In a Saudi Gazette interview published September 6, Otaibi’s mother claimed her son had been dreaming of Jihad since his teens. He told his family he was being transferred to a national guard post in Tabuk, said farewell, and later called his brothers, telling them “”he was in Pakistan for Jihad,”” she added. She claimed to have noticed no change in his behavior; that he had finished secondary school and married; and that prior to his sudden departure she had assumed he led “”a normal life.”” In his final phone calls to family members prior to his surrender, he said he “”regretted leaving the Kingdom”” and “”didn’t find the jihad he had hoped for.”” Otaibi surrendered to the Saudi Embassy in Pakistan and has been held at the Al-Haier prison in Riyadh since his capture.

AL-QAEDA FRUSTRATED, LACKS FUNDS
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¶4. (U) On September 6, Otaibi spoke out about his experiences in an interview with influential daily Al-Watan. The main points of the interview follow:

¶5. (U) FINANCIAL RESOURCES DRYING UP: Measures aimed at cutting off the flow of money to Al-Qaeda, including efforts to control money channeled through suspicious charitable organizations, had forced Al-Qaeda into a “”catastrophic financial situation.”” As a result, Al-Qaeda was reducing its fighters abroad and relying on experienced local veterans. Individual cell leaders were beginning to turn interested recruits away, citing insufficient resources.

¶6. (U) REHABILITATION PROGRAMS IRK AL-QAEDA: The Al-Qaeda camp in Waziristan, which Otaibi joined in September of last year, had been populated by many frustrated young Arabs– especially Saudis, Egyptians, Libyans and Yemenis. However, many decided to return to their home countries when they endorsed policies that invited them to return and repent. Otaibi suggested Al-Qaeda was annoyed by countries that adopted these policies successfully, most notably Saudi Arabia.
RIYADH 00001166 002 OF 002

¶7. (U) TARGETED RECRUITING FOR HOME COUNTRY OPERATIONS: Otaibi said the recruitment process targeted very few people, for both psychological and moral reasons. Some Afghan fighters believe fighting beside Arabs gives them God’s blessing, but Al-Qaeda leaders preferred to limit the numbers of Arab fighters. Current efforts were focused on recruiting youths to carry out terrorist operations in their home countries. In fact, newly recruited foreign fighters were not allowed to participate on the front in Afghanistan, but were instead asked to join suicide bombing groups targeting Saudi Arabia, other GCC countries, and elsewhere.

AL-WATAN’S EDITOR ON AL-OTAIBI, EXTREMISM
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¶8. (C) Jamal Kashoggi, editor of the influential daily Al-Watan, told Charge at a September 3 Iftar dinner that he had had an opportunity to interview Al-Otaibi in his home before the arranged time for turning himself in. The interview, he said, had been relatively short and he was hoping to have another opportunity to meet with Otaibi for a longer interview. Kashoggi, self-described as coming from a very fundamentalist family once but no longer associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was a friend of Osama bin Laden in his younger days, as he was beginning his ideological journey into violent jihadism. (Kashoggi is frequently quoted in “”The Looming Tower”” as a source on Osama bin Laden, his character, and personality.) At the September 3 dinner, Kashoggi said we needed to come to grips with the fact that jihadism IS part and parcel of Islam. Pretending that it isn’t is a delusion. The way to reconcile this reality with the need for a peaceful social order and stability was to make clear to the Muslim community that the decision to wage jihad resided not with individuals, but with the leader of the State– in this case, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

NEW QUARTERLY REVIEWS OF SAUDI CHARITIES
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¶9. (U) In related news, Deputy Minister of Social Affairs Abdullah Al-Yousef announced on September 4 plans to conduct quarterly reviews of the financial accounts of charities across the Kingdom. Auditors will be expected to inform the ministry of any financial misconduct, and “”the ministry will act according to the violation of charity regulations.”” These new measures indicate, in part, continuing Saudi efforts to stem the flow of terrorist financing.

ERDMAN “

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