This article was contributed by Don Cannelonski, a very close friend from way back when. After years of extensive travelling and living it large in Barcelona, Spain/Catalonia, DC recently returned to his roots in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It is now patently clear that a high stakes proxy war is being waged between the Kingdom of Saud and its main rival for influence in the Middle East, Iran. Of course, on a deeper level the US and Russia are also closely involved behind the scenes.
However, with the recent split between the KSA and its love-you-long-time sugardaddy, the USA, the House of Saud and its new ally, Israel, are feeling increasingly isolated in the region. This isolation, coupled with growing domestic dissent, is driving them to take increasing risks in a high-stakes geo-political game that could wreak chaos not only in their extremely fragile backyard, but in the world at large.
Arming and Funding Terrorists in Syria
As is now common knowledge — at least anywhere outside the mainstream media — Saudi Intelligence has played a frontline role in the Syrian war, financing and directing a wide array of jihadist groups fighting against the Assad regime. Since 2011, the popular uprising in that country has snowballed into a brutal civil war pitting largely Sunni rebels against the secular Alawite government forces.
These resistance fighters became known as the Free Syrian Army. However, most reports now show that the FSA is all but nonexistent, having been chased out of the country by radical groups such as the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) and Al-Nusra Front.
These Islamist groups now control large swathes of Western Iraq and Eastern Syria, using extreme violence to terrorize the people of the region. Composed mostly of foreign fighters, they have imposed Sharia Law throughout the lands they control, ruthlessly dispatching anyone who stands in their way, including even moderate Sunni Muslims.
As with the drug war in Mexico, these groups have made public beheadings and gruesome torture commonplace. Indeed, the situation is so out of control that, in recent days, what little remains of the more moderate rebel forces have turned on their former brothers-in-arms.
The Long, Bloody Hand of the House of Saud
However, it’s not just in Syria that the House of Saud has been fomenting conflict. Indeed, wherever there’s war in the Middle East — which is just about everywhere these days — you can bet that one side is being funded by Saudi petrol dollars.
Since realizing that the Assad regime would not be easily toppled, the Saudis have redoubled their efforts to bring down Iraq’s struggling Shia government. It is no coincidence that the already fragile situation in Iraq reached a new level of violence in 2013, with an estimated 8,000-10,000 casualties and an average of 70 incidents per week.
The groups they have been arming and funding have recently orchestrated a number of daring prison breaks, which have helped bolster their numbers in both Iraq and Syria. The situation has become so extreme in recent weeks that the Iraqi military is now directly engaged in combat with extremist groups in major cities throughout Anbar province.
The Saudis are also heavily involved in Lebanon where they just donated $3 billion to the military (twice the regular budget). At first glance, this appears to be a strategic move aimed at beefing up government forces as a counterweight to Saudi Arabia’s eternal thorn in the side Hezbollah.
But there is also an ulterior motive at work: namely, bringing Lebanon under closer Saudi control. This can be clearly seen in the case of Majed Al Majed, the supposed Saudi terrorist who was arrested by Lebanese intelligence for masterminding the November 2013 bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. It is widely believed that Al Majed was a high-level Saudi intelligence agent. He mysteriously died of kidney failure in a military hospital in early January 2014.
The Saudis have also had their hands in uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen. In Bahrain they sent their own troops to put down a popular Shia uprising against the Sunni monarch. In Yemen, they brokered a deal allowing dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
Internal Dissent and Power Struggles
We can clearly see a pattern of Saudi interference in almost every country in the region. So why are they going to such great pains? The answer is they are afraid of domestic dissent, internal power struggles, and becoming a marginalized power in the region.
There is growing dissent inside the country both from the Shia minority as well as Sunni intellectuals. The Shia of the Eastern Province, who have long been discriminated against, have been the most vocal opponents since the beginning of the Arab Spring. This has created quite a headache for the government in Riyadh because most of the country’s oil production is based in this region.
Although it has not been widely reported in the international media, there have been major protests in the region over the past two years. The people involved in these demonstrations have put themselves at great risk, often being jailed without trial indefinitely. Intellectual Sunnis inside the Kingdom have also begun to criticize the government for what they see as an epidemic of corruption and the looting of the country’s wealth by the greedy elite.
The internal power struggle of Prince Bandar Bin Sultan also plays heavily into this story. Also known as “Bandar Bush” because of his close connections to the Bush family, he is the long time Saudi ambassador to Washington as well as an international arms dealer. Recently appointed as Saudi intelligence chief in a last ditch effort to get rid of the Assad regime, Prince Bander has been the driving force behind the recent regional chaos.
It has been reported that there is an ongoing power struggle between him and the successor to the throne, crown Prince Salman. Bandar has also made several trips to Russia over the past six months, allegedly threatening Putin that if he didn’t back off in Syria, the Chechen groups the Saudis control in the Caucuses would strike the Sochi Olympics [for more background on Prince Bandar, click here]. This has left many analysts wondering just who was really behind the string of bombings in Volgograd in December 2013.
A Messy Divorce With Global Implications
Naturally, the Saudis are terrified of becoming a marginalized power in the region. For over 40 years they have enjoyed a marriage of convenience with the US that has guaranteed their security in exchange for a steady stream of oil.
However, things have changed dramatically in recent years, largely as a result of the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” revolution. Although there is little doubt that fracking poses a serious long-term threat to the environment, the US is determined to make itself energy independent – at literally any cost, including a potentially very messy divorce with the House of Saud that could even jeopardize the petro dollar system that has underpinned U.S. global economic dominance over the last 40 years.
Riyadh was infuriated about being left in the dark regarding the back-door nuclear negotiations between Tehran and Washington. This merely compounded the Saudis’ sense of betrayal over Obama’s refusal to get militarily involved in Syria after the alleged use of chemical weapons – weapons that many experts now believe may have been supplied by Prince Bandar himself.
The Saudis’ increasing destabilization of the region is testament to just how desperate and isolated they’ve become. In many ways the country is still stuck in the middle ages, and the family that has reigned as an absolute monarchy for generations is determined that it will stay that way. However, there is a tide of change sweeping through the region and if history teaches us anything, it’s that governments that are unwilling to change will eventually be forgotten by time.