Deep US-Saudi rift over Egypt: Abdullah stands by Mubarak, turns to Tehran

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 10, 2011, 4:31 PM (GMT+02:00)

In better times

The conversation between President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah early Thursday, Feb. 10, was the most acerbic the US president has ever had with an Arab ruler, DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources report. They had a serious falling-out on the Egyptian crisis which so enraged the king that some US and Middle East sources reported he suffered a sudden heart attack. Rumors that he had died rocked the world financial and oil markets that morning and were denied by an adviser to the ruling family. Some Gulf sources say he has had heart attacks in the past.

Those sources disclose that the call which Obama put into Abdullah, who is recuperating from back surgery at his palace in Morocco, brought their relations into deep crisis and placed in jeopardythe entire edifice of US Iran and Middle East policies.

The king chastised the president for his treatment of Egypt and its president Hosni Muhbarak calling it a disaster that would generate instability in the region and imperil all the moderate Arab rulers and regimes which had backed the United States until now. Abdullah took Obama to task for ditching America’s most faithful ally in the Arab world and vowed that if the US continues to try and get rid of Mubarak, the Saudi royal family would bend all its resources to undoing Washington’s plans for Egypt and nullifying their consequences.

According to British intelligence sources in London, the Saudi King pledged to make up the losses to Egypt if Washington cuts off military and economic aid to force Mubarak to resign. He would personally instruct the Saudi treasury to transfer to the embattled Egyptian ruler the exact amounts he needs for himself and his army to stand up to American pressure.

Through all the ups and downs of Saudi-US relations since the 1950s no Saudi ruler has ever threatened direct action against American policy.
A senior Saudi source told the London Times that “Mubarak and King Abdullah are not just allies, they are close friends, and the King is not about to see his friend cast aside and humiliated.”

Indeed, our sources add, the king at the age of 87 is fearful that in the event of a situation developing in Saudi Arabia like the uprising in Egypt, Washington would dump him just like Mubarak.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources add that replacement aid for Egypt was not the only card in Abdullah’s deck. He informed Obama that without waiting for events in Egypt to play out or America’s response, he had ordered the process set in train for raising the level of Riyadh‘s diplomatic and military ties with Tehran. Invitations had gone out from Riyadh for Iranian delegations to visit the main Saudi cities.

Abdullah stressed he had more than one bone to pick with Obama. The king accused the US president of turning his back not only on Mubarak but on another beleaguered American ally, the former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, when he was toppled by Iran’s surrogate Hizballah.

Our sources in Washington report that all of President Obama’s efforts to pacify the Saudi king and explain his Egyptian policy fell on deaf ears.
Arab sources in London reported Tuesday, Feb. 8, that a special US presidential emissary was dispatched to Morocco with a message of explanation for the king. He was turned away. This is not confirmed by US or Saudi sources.

The initiation of dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran is the most dramatic fallout in the region from the crisis in Egypt. Its is a boon for the ayatollahs who are treated the sight of  pro-Western regimes either fading under the weight of domestic uprisings, or turning away from the US as Saudi Arabia is doing now.

This development is also of pivotal importance for Israel. Saudi Arabia’s close friendship with the Mubarak regime dovetailed neatly with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s alignment with Egypt and provided them with common policy denominators. The opening of the Saudi door to the Iranian push toward the Red Sea and Suez Canal tightens the Iranian siege ring around Israel.

Signs of friction between Washington and Riyadh were noticeable this week even before President Obama’s call to King Abdullah. Some American media reported the discovery that Saudi oil reserves were a lot smaller than previously estimated. And Saudi media ran big headlines, most untypically, alleging the US embassy and consulate in Dahran were paying sub-contractors starvation wages of $4.3 a day for cleaning work and $3.3 a day for gardening work.

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