- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

From combined dispatches

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — America’s allies in the Persian Gulf are at least as worried about terrorism as the United States, spending billions of dollars on security fences in the desert, eye-scanning machines at airports and other measures to keep out militants.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has ordered the construction of a 550-mile fence with state-of-the art technology to seal off its troubled northern neighbor, Iraq.

The barrier, which will be equipped with ultraviolet night-vision cameras, buried sensor cables and thousands of miles of barbed wire, will snake across the vast and remote desert frontier between the countries, the London Sunday Telegraph reported in today’s editions.

The fence will be built despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Saudi kingdom has spent in the past two years to beef up patrols on its border with Iraq, with officials saying the crisis in Iraq is now so dangerous it must be physically shut out.

“Surveillance has already been stepped up over the past 18 months,” said Nawaf Obaid, the director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, an institute that advises the government on security affairs.

“But the feeling in Saudi is that Iraq is way out of control, with no possibility of stability. The urgency now is to get that border sealed — physically sealed,” Mr. Obaid said.

Al Qaeda’s warning that the Gulf is among its next targets is prompting increased security measures among the affluent Arab countries that have largely been spared major violence so far.

They have a lot to lose. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are enjoying tremendous economic growth, boosted by oil money and also because they are seen by investors as islands of stability in a volatile region.

Saudi Arabia asked American forces to leave in 2003, ending a presence that fueled militants’ anger against the kingdom and sparked terrorist attacks, including the truck bomb that killed 19 U.S. service members and a Saudi citizen in 1996.

In a video posted Monday on the Internet, al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, said al Qaeda would soon turn to the other Gulf states.

He addressed Americans, saying “you will be thrown out [of the Gulf] after you are defeated in Iraq, at which point your economic ruin will be achieved.” He also threatened Israel.

So far, al Qaeda’s main effort in the Gulf has been in Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden’s homeland, where the terror group’s branch has killed dozens over the past few years.

The kingdom responded with a vigorous anti-terrorism campaign and says it has killed or capturing most of al Qaeda’s local leadership. Militants have not carried out a major attack in Saudi Arabia since February, when al Qaeda guerrillas tried to bomb an oil refinery.

Saudi Arabia has announced it will spend $12 billion on a complex border defense system of electronic sensors, bases, and physical barriers to be built first along its long frontier with Iraq.

It is also considering a special oil-sector security force and an intelligence agency focusing on threats to the energy industry, Mr. Obaid told the Associated Press.

Saudi Arabia’s success might not translate into security for its neighbors, however.

“It’s gotten harder and harder for al Qaeda to strike inside Saudi Arabia, so we may see them move into one of the other Gulf countries,” Mr. Obaid said.

Kuwait, the main U.S. military staging area for the war in Iraq, saw heavy battles with anti-American militants in 2005. Government forces learned the guerillas planned to attack U.S. military targets and responded with raids that killed nine militants and captured dozens. Four policemen were killed.

In Qatar, militants used a car bomb to attack a theater in March 2005, killing a Briton and wounding 12 persons.

The UAE has not seen any attacks, but there are many factors that could make it a prime target.

The country is home to a U.S. air base and the freewheeling and cosmopolitan UAE also welcomes Westerners for beach vacations that can involve alcohol and prostitution.

It also has in Dubai the Middle East’s busiest airport, accepts more U.S. Navy port visits than any other country in the world, and contributes a special forces team to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.

That hasn’t escaped notice by militants. A government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said several plots had been broken up and would-be terrorists arrested — some of whom were handed over to American authorities.

The UAE already maintains what is believed to be the world’s largest identity database of iris scans, which allows ironclad identity checks aimed at preventing those deported from the country from re-entering with false documents.

At the same time, it is building a wall along its border with Oman — mainly to keep out illegal workers, though militants could try to exploit the porous frontier.

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