Friday, May 7, 2004

Commenting on the May 1 killing of seven Westerners — including two Americans — in the port city of Yanbu, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz told a group of Saudi officials, clerics and royal family members “the Zionist hands” were to blame for the terrorist attacks.

The crown prince’s remarks were broadcast live on Saudi television and carried by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab satellite network. Speaking from the royal court of al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, the crown prince lectured his audience several minutes, saying the kingdom was targeted by terrorists supported by Israel.

“It became clear to us now that Zionism is behind terrorist actions in the Kingdom. I can say that I am 95 percent sure of that,” he said. “Zionism has misled some of our sons,” said Prince Abdullah.

“This is seduction,” said the prince. “You all know who is behind it all. Zionism is behind it. It has become clear now. It has become clear to us. I don’t say, I mean… It is not 100 percent, but 95 percent [certain] that the Zionist hands are behind what happened. They are Satan’s helpers. They are the hangers-on of Satan and of imperialism,” said Abdullah.

Abdullah is de-facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom. King Fahd has been largely absent from the political scene for several years due to ill health.

With such statements as Abdullah’s, it appears once more the Desert Kingdom’s rulers choose to hide their collective heads in the sand and shun reality in favor of misconceptions.

There is little doubt Saudi Arabia faces a serious security challenge and is in the midst of one of its worst crises since the modern kingdom’s 1932 founding.

This once serene part of the Arabian Peninsula has been roiled by a recent spate of terrorist activities, such as the bombing of housing complexes, killing of foreigners and firefights with police in several major cities. Analysts believe these acts are largely the work of Wahhabi fundamentalist groups affiliated with or sympathetic to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden and his followers have been critical of the Saudi royal family, whom they consider decadent squanderers of the country’s oil revenues on luxury items and lavish lifestyles.

Additionally, bin Laden dislikes the royal family for allowing U.S. forces, regarded as nonbelievers, to base themselves on Saudi soil, regarded as holy, in the run-up to liberating Kuwait in 1990-91 after Saddam Hussein’s occupied the tiny oil-producing emirate. Largely since then bin Laden has been at war with the royal family, which he would like to depose and replace with an Islamic state.

But blaming others has always been easier than admitting one’s own mistakes. Instead of looking into the cause of this resentment and what led to 15 of their young men to commit such heinous acts as slamming passenger airliners filled with innocent travelers into buildings, Saudi officials opted for denial. Indeed, it was several months before Saudi officials acknowledged their citizens were involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Shortly after September 11, a Saudi delegation met a group of journalists at a Washington conference arranged by the Islamic Institute. Like a number of my colleagues, I attended, hoping to learn what may have caused these dramatic events and what steps Riyadh was taking to address these issues. Instead of citing steps to improve relations with the West and the Saudis’ growing internal problems, the delegation of scholars and religious leaders, lambasted the media for their ills.

Abdullah’s televised statement is reinforced by others in the Arab world with similar opinions. In a statement translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Egyptian military expert Gen. Gamal Madhloum said, “It is probable that Israel is behind the recent events in the [Saudi] kingdom.”

And Ahmad Muslali, a political science lecturer at the American University of Beirut, reportedly said, “The first and last to benefit from this scenario is Israel.”

While the majority of Arabs may regard Israel as the cause of most Middle East headaches, blaming the Jewish state for all regional ills will solve no problems. It only aggravates them.

Perhaps, of course, the Saudi crown prince was playing a double game. He may have astutely hoped to discourage Saudi citizens from cooperating with al Qaeda and other terror outfits by associating the terrorists with Israel. This might discourage young Saudis from blindly supporting the extremist Islamic militant organization.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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