A Saudi Prince's Threat to the Obama Administration
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
[FPM title: "Royal Grumble"]
His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal is a leading Saudi powerbroker.
These credentials help gauge the import of the remarkable op-ed Turki published on Jan. 23 in London's Financial Times, "Saudi Arabia's patience is running out." He begins it by recalling his own efforts over the decades to promote Arab-Israeli peace and especially the Abdullah Plan of 2002. "But after Israel launched its bloody attack on Gaza," he writes, "these pleas for optimism and co-operation now seem a distant memory." Then comes a threat: "Unless the new US administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the US-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk."
He goes on to whack George W. Bush in a way not exactly usual for a former Saudi ambassador: "Not only has the Bush administration left a sickening legacy in the region, but it has also, through an arrogant attitude about the butchery in Gaza, contributed to the slaughter of innocents." Then comes the threat again, restated more directly: "If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact - especially its 'special relationship' with Saudi Arabia - it will have to revise drastically its policies vis-à-vis Israel and Palestine."
Turki goes on to instruct in detail the new administration what to do:
Finally Turki notes that Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on "Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel [that] would, if pursued, create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed." He soothingly notes that, "So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls," but then reiterates his threat a third time: "every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain. … Eventually, the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel."
Comments: What to make of this extraordinary threat? Not much.
(1) As a Financial Times article on Turki's op-ed notes, "The prince's article recalls the letters that King Abdullah, as crown prince, sent to George W. Bush in 2001, warning that the kingdom would review relations with the US unless the administration adopted a forceful push for Middle East peace. The letters rang alarm bells in Washington but were soon overshadowed by the September 11 attacks, which involved a group of Saudis. It was only after Riyadh launched its own campaign against terrorism two years later and started addressing the root causes of radicalism that ties with the US improved again." In other words, we've experienced such a threat before, to little effect.
(2) For all his years at the apex of the Saudi establishment, Turki left his final position ignominiously in 2006. Here is a contemporary account of his exit, from the Washington Post:
(3) Turki has a history of Islamist radicalism and hot-headedness vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. In a speech earlier this month at a forum on relations between the Persian Gulf region and the United States, he addressed Obama:
"Seek martyrdom"? Sounds like the revolutionary Iranian regime, not the staid Saudi monarchy.
(4) Turki's threats could conceivably sway the Obama administration, but the new president's comments about the recent Gaza hostilities suggest he is going in a decidedly different direction, having laid down three markers that Hamas must fulfill before it can be accepted as a diplomatic partner ("recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements"). In the words of a Washington Post analysis, thus far, "Obama appears to have hewed closely to the line held by the Bush administration."
Jan. 27, 2009 update: For more by and about this prince, see my weblog entry, "Turki al-Faisal, Leading Saudi Prince, Opines."
Reader comments (841) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes