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Confronting The Saudi Arms Deal

August 19th 2007

Contributors / Staff - Waliid Phares headshot
Walid Phares

The U.S. is considering a new gigantic arms sale to Saudi Arabia of up to $20 billion. The proposed package includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels as a U.S. strategy to contain the rising military expansion of Iran in the region. The titanic arms deal is seen as a major Saudi spending to shield itself from a Khomeinist menace looming at the horizons: an Iranian nuclear bomb, a future Pasdaran control of Iraq, and a Hezbollah offensive in Lebanon.

In reality, the Iranian threat against the Saudis materializes as follows: A) If the U.S.-led coalition leaves abruptly, the Iranian forces - via the help of their militias in Iraq - will be at the borders with Saudi Arabia. Throughout the Gulf, Iran’s mullahs will be eyeing the Hijaz on the one hand and the oil-rich provinces on the other hand. B)Hezbollah threatens the Lebanese government, which is friendly to the Saudis. Hezbollah, already training for subversion in Iraq, will become the main trainer of Shiite radicals in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. C) Finally, across Iraq’s borders, Syria and Iran can send all sorts of jihadis, including Sunnis.

With such hydra advancing, the Wahhabi monarchy is hurrying to arm itself with all the military technology it can get from Uncle Sam. Riyadh believes that with improved F-16s, fast boats, electronics and smarter bombs it can withstand the forthcoming onslaught. I believe it won’t. For as the Iraq-Iran war has proved, the ideologically rooted brutality of the Iranian regime has no boundaries. If the U.S. withdraws from the region without a strong pro-Western Iraq in the neighborhood and absent of a war of ideas making progress against fundamentalism as a whole, the Saudis won’t stand a chance for survival. For the Iranians will apply their pressures directly and unleash more radical forces among the neo-Wahhabis against Saudi Arabia. The Shiite mullahs will adroitly manipulate radical Sunnis, as they have in Iraq and Lebanon. So what should the U.S. advise the Saudis to do instead of spending hugely on arms?

First, if no serious political change is performed in Arabia, the $20 billion worth of weapons would most likely end up in the hands of an al-Qaida ruling over Riyadh, Mecca and Medina. That package, at this point of spasms in the region, is simply too risky strategically. But there are better ways to spend these gigantic sums in the global confrontation with Iranian threat and in defense of stability. It needs a newer vision for the region. Here are alternative plans to use the $20 billion wisely but efficiently; but let’s not count on the far-reaching mainstream of Western analysis at this point:

1. Dedicate $3 billion to support the Iranian opposition, both inside the country and overseas. Establish a powerful broadcast in Farsi, Kurdish, Arabic, Azeri and in other ethnic languages directed at the Iranian population. That alone will open a Pandora’s box inside Iran. Realists may find it hard to believe, but supporting the Iranian opposition (which is still to be identified) will pay off much better than AWACs flying over deserts.

2. Slate $1 billion to be spent in southern Iraq to support the anti-Khomeinist Shiia, the real shield against the forthcoming Pasdaran offensive. Such monies distributed wisely on civil society activists and on open anti-Khomeinist groups would build a much stronger defense against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ambitions.

3. Another billion should be granted to the Syrian liberal opposition to pressure the Assad regime into backing off from supporting terrorism. Without a Mukhabarat regime in Damascus, the bridge between Tehran and Hezbollah would crumble. Hence, the Syrian opposition is worth being backed in its own home more than for Saudi Arabia to fight future networks in its own home.

4. One billion dollars can be allocated to the units of the Iraqi army that show the most efficiency in cracking down on terrorists and prove to be lawful to a strong central government pledging to defend its borders, particularly with Iran. That would include the moderate Sunnis in the center and the Kurdish and other minority forces in the north. A strong multiethnic Iraq, projecting a balance of power with Iran’s regime, is the best option for the region.

5. Grant $2 billion to the Lebanese government, the Cedar Revolution NGOs and the Lebanese army to enable them to contain Hezbollah on Lebanese soil. Earmark $700 million from these grants to the Shiia opposition to Hamas inside his own areas. When Hezbollah is isolated by Lebanon’s population, Arab moderates around the region can sleep much better at night.
6. Spend $2 billion on de-radicalization programs inside Saudi Arabia and across the region. With $1 billion spent on moderate imams, Riyadh can shake off the radical Salafi clerics and impact the jihadists. By doing so, it will prevent jihadism from becoming the only other option on the inside if the Iranian axis will put pressure on the country.
7. Forward $1 billion to support the current Somali government against the Islamic courts and help the moderates in Eritrea and Sudan. The best defense against radicalism coming from the horn of Africa is to support the moderates in eastern part of the continent.
8. Invite the U.S. military to abandon Qatar as a regional base and relocate to the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, with $5 billion to help in reinstallation and deployment facing Iran’s threat. A military attack by the Iranian regime on Saudi Arabia would then become a direct attack on the United States.
9. With the remaining $4 billion, the Saudi government could renew, remodel and retrain its forces so that along with its allies - the U.S., Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf states - they would deter an Iranian regime, which will be defeated by its own people.

That of course, presumes radical reforms to take place, quickly, in the Arabian Peninsula. But isn’t it a desert mirage? Indeed, the points I suggested in this article, although logical in terms of counter-radicalism strategy, have very little chance to be adopted or even considered in Riyadh. The Saudis, sadly, want to confront the Islamic Republic only with classical military deterrence, not with a war of ideas, which is perhaps why the region’s “friendly” regimes have preferred not to endorse “spreading democracy” as a means to contain terrorism. The reason is simple: Democratic culture will also open spaces in their own countries, a matter they haven’t accepted yet.

Walid Phares is senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of Future Jihad and his latest War of Ideas. He can be found at www.walidphares.com.

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