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The Two Faces of the West's Ties to Saudi Arabia

By Dore Gold

Saudi Arabia is clearly emerging as one of the most pivotal allies of the West in the struggle against Iran. For example, the Saudis, along with the UAE, are offering to supply China with oil, in order to replace any Iranian oil that it might lose, should Beijing support new sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council. The Saudis have good reasons to be deeply concerned about a nuclear Iran. They remember that during the 1980's when Riyadh backed Saddam Hussein, Iranian aircraft entered Saudi airspace to attack their oil facilities. In 1996, using Saudi Shiites, the Saudi branch of Hezbollah bombed Khobar Towers near Dhahran. The FBI investigation connected the attack directly to senior Iranian officials and to the Revolutionary Guards. Recently, Saudi Arabia has been waging a proxy war with Iran  in Northern Yemen. Is the Middle East on the eve of a new era in which Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same side and can become partners in containing Iran?

There is another side of Saudi Arabia that hasn't been forgotten in the West. Fifteen of the nineteen terrorists that attacked on 9/11, as well as their commander, Osama bin Laden were in fact Saudis, illustrating the role of Saudis in al-Qaeda and Sunni extremism. From its earliest days the Saudi system has been based on a political alliance between the House of Saud and the Wahhabi religious leadership, whereby the latter legitimized the rule of the former in exchange for enormous amounts of funds. The Wahhabi religious leaders established massive global charities like IIRO, WAMY, and al-Haramain. They exported Wahhabi religious ideology to the Islamic world and beyond. They also funded terrorism. The Israel Defense Forces found in 2002 documents directly linking the IIRO to Hamas, though recently Saudi help to Hamas has dropped and has been replaced by Iranian aid.
Even five years after 9/11, many of these charities have still been involved in terrorist financing. In 2006, the US Department of the Treasury formally stated that two branches of the IIRO were funding al-Qaeda in Indonesia and in the Philippines. Two years later in 2008, the US Treasury pointed to the whole al-Haramain network as an instrument for funding al-Qaeda, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. While Saudi security forces are willing crack down on al-Qaeda inside the kingdom, they were still prepared to support extremist groups outside Saudi Arabia's borders. According US military sources quoted in the Los Angeles Times in July 2007, Saudis were the largest foreign contingent of foreign forces fighting the US in Iraq. IIRO was also moving funds to Falujah when it was under insurgent control. Recently, the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress was reporting in September 2009 that the support of Saudi charities for international terrorist groups still remained a source of concern for the US government.
In short, Saudi Arabia is problematic. It has begun to implement new laws to address US claims, but it still has a long way to go in implementing them. In the past, Saudi Arabia has sought to improve its image by even speaking more openly about peace and proposing what became the Arab Peace Plan. Israel may want to test Saudi intentions in the future, but it should be made aware that the Saudi official who originally pushed the idea was Adel Jubair, the current Saudi ambassador to Washington, who was sent to the US after 9/11 to work on Saudi PR. Israel should seize every opportunity to advance a regional peace in the Middle East, but it should be careful not to be used to clear Saudi Arabia's reputation, if Riyadh still has real ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
True, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have joint interests in seeing that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons, they each have their own reasons in keeping any future relationship between them, that might evolve in the future, completely discreet. The growing concern about Shiite extremism in Iran, should not blind Israel or the West as a whole with the continuing problem of Sunni extremism that Saudi Arabia historically sponsored and unfortunately continues to fund to this day.

Dore Gold is the author of the NY Times best seller Hatred's Kingdom and The Rise of Nuclear Iran.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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