14 May 2003
The War on America Is Not Over
A conversation with Saudi watcher Dore Gold
A Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Dore Gold, former Israeli representative to the United Nations, is author of Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism. He spoke to NRO last night about the attacks in Riyadh earlier this week.
NRO: Why do you think the attacks this week were in Saudi Arabia?
Dore Gold: There has been mounting evidence that Saudi Arabia has become one of the main areas of refuge for al Qaeda, along with the Pakistani-Afghani border, and the Iraqi-Iranian border, since the American victory against the Taliban. Through the first half of 2002, Saudi Arabian officials denied that there were any al Qaeda cells. Saudi security efforts against al Qaeda were minimal, in comparison with the efforts made in the West and in some Arab states, like Jordan and Morocco. Moreover during 2002, al Qaeda suspects wanted by U.S. and German authorities sought sanctuary in Saudi Arabia.
NRO: What was the message of the Monday attacks and who was sending it?
Gold: The al Qaeda message, with the latest attacks, was that the war on America is not over even after Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announced the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi soil, after the threat from Saddam's Iraq was removed. The U.S. withdrawal announcement threatened al Qaeda's support base in the Arab world, by removing the primary grievance against America articulated by Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. But if the U.S. completes its withdrawal while its troops are under fire, then in the mind of al Qaeda leaders, that will create a situation like the U.S. pullout from Somalia (where bin Laden was active) or from Lebanon, and can be viewed as a great al Qaeda victory, that will broaden the organization's popularity in the Middle East with potential recruits.
NRO: Do you think the Saudi government had a role to play in the attacks this week, direct or indirect?
Gold: After the King Fahd's 1995 stroke, there has been a struggle for power and succession in Saudi Arabia between Crown Prince Abdullah and his half brother Defense Minister Prince Sultan (as well as his full Sudairi brothers). Neither side can afford to alienate the powerful Wahhabi ulema (religious leadership) which has shared power with the Saudi royal family since the kingdom was founded. The ulema were also instrumental in succession crises in the past. Many of the ulema are sympathetic with the worldwide jihad of al Qaeda against the West. Many have leading positions in Saudi Arabia's huge global charities, like the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) or al-Haramain, that have funneled millions of dollars to al Qaeda in the past. The royal family regularly makes contributions to these charities, using them as a conduit to bin Laden. By failing to crack down on terrorist financing, despite its pronouncements, Saudi Arabia shares responsibility for attacks of this sort.
It is imperative that the U.S. and its Western allies focus on the Saudi problem. Saudi support for terrorism is global. Its IIRO charity has moved money to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and to al Qaeda in East Africa. Israel has an IIRO document showing how $280,000 was distributed to 14 Hamas charities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Indian authorities arrested an IIRO worker who was planning to attack U.S. diplomatic posts there. IIRO has been active in Chechnya and in the Balkans, as well. Al-Haramain was the main conduit for funding al Qaeda in Southeast Asia as late as 2002.
NRO: What do you think of the roadmap and its chances?
Gold: Secretary Powell has made the Quartet Roadmap the centerpiece of his Middle East policy. Yet the roadmap specifically demands that all Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, halt any support for Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups during its first phase of implementation (Crown Prince Abdullah hosted one of the heads of Hamas as late as October 2002 in Riyadh; yet the Saudi spokesman Adel Jubeir flatly stated on CNN's Crossfire that the Saudis had nothing to do with Hamas several months earlier in a broadcast during the previous August). It would be untenable to have Israel pull back from positions around Palestinian cities, while the Saudis write checks to Hamas so that it replenishes its stocks of weaponry and renews attacks on Israel at a later date. Even granting the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) the benefit of the doubt, it is important to point out that the Quartet roadmap is starting out with a huge handicap and falls short of President Bush's June 24, 2002, vision for the Mideast; the majority of Abu Mazen's cabinet owe their loyalty to Yasser Arafat - and not to Abu Mazen - while at least eight Palestinian security services are still under Arafat's direct command. Arafat can stop any campaign against Hamas, while the Saudis finance its restoration.
Clearly, given the Hamas experience, the U.S. can no longer take Saudi statements of stopping terrorist financing at face value. Washington needs to devise a reliable verification mechanism to make sure that the Saudis have changed their ways. That mechanism could even be part of the roadmap. Halting Saudi funding of terrorism would not only serve peacemaking, it would also enhance American security as well.
NRO: Ultimately, how should the U.S. deal with the Saudis?
Gold: In a diplomatic context, Saudi Arabia needs to be dealt with far more aggressively, if Middle Eastern security is to be protected. The Saudis have funded Islamic militants in Egypt and Algeria as well - including groups like the deadly Groupe Islamique Arme. Understandably, the Bush administration had other priorities in its war on terrorism, particularly its build-up against Saddam Hussein, so that it could not focus on the Saudi problem. It had hoped to obtain widespread access to Saudi airbases (beyond Prince Sultan Airbase) so that real pressure on Riyadh could have been counterproductive for other American interests. After the U.S. victory against Iraq, these considerations no longer exist.
NRO: Why such soft-pedaling with the Kingdom?
Gold: Saudi Arabia has been soft-pedaled because it has succeeded in its p.r. efforts in Washington (but not with the wider American public). Crown Prince Abdullah succeeded in diverting attention away from the Saudi role in 9/11 by introducing a peace initiative in 2002, that contained no new concessions; he even dropped his reported idea of "normalization" with Israel. Moreover, Saudi Arabia hired top Washington p.r. firms and utilized its "old boys" network well, particularly with the American media. Even many of the op-ed writers of the New York Times, who don't even write on foreign affairs, like Maureen Dowd, were hosted by the Saudis in the last year. The New Yorker did a puff piece on Prince Bandar, more recently. The Saudis have tried to peddle the line that terrorism in the Middle East emanates from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to cover their own central role in inciting and funding the global jihad of al Qaeda, which is directed against the West and for which Israel only has a minor role. It is doubtful that President Bush, who has made the war on terrorism one of the main themes of his presidency, will not address the Saudi role in terrorism, at some point.