The Saudi scam

Posted: Mar 05, 2002 12:00 AM
On occasion, theatrical productions of the ancient Greeks would end with a god being lowered onto the stage via a crane, a device that became known as a "deus ex machina." Websters' offers a contemporary definition of the term as "a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty." Such a "thing" was recently lowered by the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah, onto the stage on which the increasingly bloody Mideast passion play is being performed. It has taken the form of a so-called Saudi peace initiative and has been seized upon by everyone from President Bush and the European Union to Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon as a device that may allow resolution of the apparently insoluble Arab-Israeli conflict. The only problem is that, given the true nature of this Saudi "initiative," it would be more accurate to describe it as a "deus ex Machiavelli" -- a stratagem worthy of the great and devious Italian Renaissance-era schemer who authored The Prince, a tutorial on the art of effective, if often unethical, statecraft. The Abdullah gambit is far more likely to propel the parties towards new regional war than produce a real and durable peace. Consider its attributes: o Saudi Arabia gets to change the subject. The fact that 15 out of 19 of the terrorists that executed the deadly attacks of September 11 were Saudi nationals was a wake-up call for many Americans -- including some Bush Administration officials -- about the true character of a regime long portrayed as one of the United States' most reliable allies in the Middle East. Now, the Saudi Arabian government apparently was not directly responsible for the actions of these al Qaeda operatives. The Saudis do bear responsibility, however, for the world-wide -- and ongoing -- promotion of the teachings of the radical and virulently anti-American Islamist sect known as Wahabbism that is spawning new recruits for such terrorist operations. This practice makes all the more troubling the kingdom's continuing refusal to make a full and public expression of regret over the attacks perpetrated by its citizens. And, under Abdullah (a member of the royal family long known for his hostility towards the United States), Saudi Arabia has constrained our ability to use American assets in the region as part of the war on terrorism's Phase I (Afghanistan), to say nothing of Phase II (Iraq). The hints about a Saudi peace initiative (there is, at this writing, no actual proposal, only hype, speculation and undeserved plaudits) have had the effect of giving its Prince an overnight diplomatic makeover worthy of Machiavelli. No more talk about a Saudi Arabia that actually spends more time in the "against us" category rather than the "with us" one. Today, the hope that the kingdom will finally play a constructive role in the Arab-Israeli conflict is giving it vital cover, even as Abdullah undermines U.S. efforts to mobilize international support for ending Saddam Hussein's malevolence in Iraq. o Saudi intervention helps its friends, hurts its foes. The Abdullah plan, such as it is, appears to call for Israel to relinquish all the territory it captured in 1967. That would mean all of the West Bank, not just the roughly 95% that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had on offer at Camp David. Its logic would also compel the return to Syria of the strategic Golan Heights. In other words, if this deus ex machina actually came to pass, the Arabs will be rewarded for launching the last year-and-a-half's violence. With the same stroke, Abdullah has reinvigorated the otherwise prostrate "peace camp" in Israel and its advocates elsewhere. Suddenly, if Saudi Arabia will participate, the "peace processors" insist, there are grounds for ignoring the abundant evidence that the previous process begun in Oslo a decade ago has only served to empower, arm and provide safe haven for terrorists aimed at liberating all of what Arafat calls "Palestine" (including the territory controlled by the Jewish State prior to the 1967 Six-Day War). If the Bush and Sharon governments are not careful, they will prompt Israelis who are understandably discouraged at the prospect of open-ended warfare to embrace a dangerous course of action in the belief that doing something, even if it is counterproductive, is better than doing nothing. o The Abdullah "plan" will reopen the Arabs' "war option." Just how counterproductive the surrender of all the territory Israel captured in defensive wars since June 1967 would be can be adduced from an obvious fact: The Jewish State is simply indefensible without the strategic depth and high ground along the West Bank's Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights adjacent to Syria. The surrender of the "occupied territories" will both 1) encourage Israel's enemies to realize their historic and oft-stated goal of "driving the Jews into the sea" and 2) give them the avenues of attack by which to do so. The very unreliability that prompted growing American concerns about Saudi Arabia -- to say nothing of the unrelenting hostility of the rulers of Syria, Libya, Iran and Iraq -- make such a prospect a formula for the destruction of the State of Israel, not its assured security thanks to a prince's undeliverable promise of normalized relations with the entire Arab world. In due course, the Abdullah deus ex Machiavelli will be seen for what it is -- a Saudi scam that makes the Middle East far more dangerous, not less, for American interests and those of its ally, Israel. The question is, how much damage will be done before that reality is recognized for what it is?