After a long spring and summer filled with bombings, beheadings and clashes between Saudi security forces and al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia has enjoyed a quite period, marked by minor events such as arrests and roundups of suspected terrorists. Today the relative calm has ended. The American consulate in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah was attacked by terrorists, who breached the primary security ring by ramming the gates with a suicide bomb, then attempted to enter the main compound. All attackers were killed or captured, along with four Saudi guards and several non-American consular employees.
As discussed in With friends like Saudis last May, Saudi Arabia has walked a fine line fighting to rid itself of al Qaeda and cooperating with the United States in the Global War on Terror, and turning a blind eye to Wahhabi influences within the Kingdom and the dangers of exporting this violent ideology, which are shared by al Qaeda and other Islamofascist terror groups. The Saudi royals have become a victim of the monster they have bred for all these years. Their efforts to redirect the problems of their society outward by encouraging the Wahhabis to export jihad abroad were so successful they have taken root at home. Al Qaeda now looks to overthrow Saudi government, which they perceive as weak and corrupt.
Earlier this year, Al Qaeda targeted the Saudi government by attacking government installations, U.S. embassies, the oil industry and foreigners working to support it. Oil is the Kingdom’s main source of revenue (approaching 40% of GDP), and the spread out nature of the oil industry (various oil fields, refineries, thousands of miles of pipeline) and the dependence on foreign workers to man the industry, the Kingdom’s oil infrastructure is a difficult resource to defend. Saudi Arabia has recently upped their commitment to defend its oil industry.
In late April 2004, Aramco’s Chief Executive, Abdullah Jumah, said that “there is nowhere in the world that oil facilities are protected as well as in Saudi Arabia.” According to Jumah, Aramco employs 5,000 security guards to protect oil facilities. In addition, the Saudi National Guard, regular Saudi military forces, and Interior Ministry officers are tasked with protecting oilfields, pipelines (the country has around 10,000 miles), ports (Ras Tanura, Al Juaymah, Yanbu), refineries, and other oil facilities (gathering centers, gas-oil separation plants, etc.). In May 2004, Nawaf Obaid, an advisor to the Saudi royal family, said that the Saudi government had added $750 million to its security budget over the past two years to beef up security in the oil sector. According to Obaid, the Saudis spent $5.5 billion in 2003 on oil security. In addition to direct security, Saudi Arabia is known to maintain “redundancy” (i.e., multiple options for transportation and export) in its oil system, in part as a form of indirect security against any one facility being disabled.
Stability is desired in Saudi Arabia as it is a major oil exporter and site atop the world’s largest proven oil reserve. The Asian tigers, China, Japan, South Korea, import over 40% of Saudi oil, and the United States imports 18%. The abundance of Saudi oil coupled with the inexpensive extraction methods makes Saudi Arabia of strategic economic importance to the entire world, not just the United States. And Saudi Arabia sits astride three of the worlds most important oil transit choke points: the Bab el-Mandab, the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal. Instability in Saudi Arabia can threaten any of these oil choke points and prevent or delay the shipment of oil from neighboring countries.
Osama bin Laden has used American presence in the Saudi Kingdom, the Land of the Two Mosques, as an underlying reason to declare jihad on the United States. After the ouster of Saddam from Iraq, the United States removed its forces from the Saudi Kingdom, thus removing itself as a potential stabilizing force in Saudi Arabia. The United States has not abandoned the Arabian Peninsula, however.
American military forces remain arrayed throughout the Middle East, and upon closer inspection of the map, it can be seen that the United States has ringed Saudi Arabia with a series of bases. Significant military facilities exist in Oman, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, and in the Gulf Kingdoms of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. This is a new and different form of containment, a subtle and yet at the same time obvious military encirclement.
The rulers of the House of Saud understand the internal threat they are facing as they are primarily the cause of its creation. They also can read a map and understand the potential external threat arrayed against them.
The internal threat of al Qaeda, the political pressure from the potential of democracy in the north in Iraq, and America’s pervasive presence in and around the Arabian Peninsula gives the royals reasons to consider changing to a more inclusive form of government and crack down on the extremists within their midst. Due to the economic significance of Saudi oil to the world’s major powers, the Saudis know that the United States and other global heavyweights will not allow the cessation of the flow of Saudi oil. The seeds of encirclement have been planted. If the Saudis fall to internal Islamists, the United States has the infrastructure available to respond with force. And if the Saudi government, due to inaction or willful collusion, is the nexus of a major terrorist attack on the West, the capability to remove the government also is in place.
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