by Eric Margolis © Shanti RTV News Agency
The bombing [on Tuesday 25 June 1996] of a US military complex at Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen and wounding scores of others, has produced the usual calls for yet another war on terrorism. US president Bill Clinton, who was attending the photo-op G-7 summit at Lyon this week, immediately seized on the attack to promote his election campaign and image of firm-jawed statesmanship.
More speeches, and sending planeloads of FBI agents to Saudi Arabia won't end the growing instability of the world's largest oil exporter. This is the second bombing of a US military target in seven months, and a sure sign of growing internal opposition in Saudi Arabia to the US presence.
The Saudi royal family claims the bombing was the work of its hated enemy, Iran, or perhaps Iraq. The Saudis made the same claim after the last bombing, in November 1995, only to later produce four Saudis, with no links to Iran or Iraq, as the perpetrators. They were beheaded. As of this writing, the latest bombing appears to be the work of a shadowy internal opposition group.
The Saudi opposition is deep underground. The highly repressive Saudi regime tolerates no opposition, no matter how mild. Political dissidents are routinely tortured, or charged with alleged drug dealing, and beheaded.
There are two main opposition groups: educated, middle-class youth who want to replace the feudal monarchy that rules Saudi Arabia with a republic or western-style democracy. Then there are the violent extremists, also mainly youths, who gather under the banner of political Islam. They want to overthrow the Saudi royal family, expel its American protectors, bring in an Islamic republic, and raise the price of oil to economically realistic levels.
Both groups are home-grown. It was the Gulf War, not Iranian machinations, that brought simmering resentment against the royal family to a head. During the war, the US poured 500,000 troops into Saudi Arabia and used it as a base for crushing Iraq. The conflict exposed not only the total dependence of the Saudis on American protection, it also revealed the vast infrastructure of secret military bases the US had built in Saudi Arabia, one of which - the Abdel Aziz airbase - was bombed on Tuesday 25 June 1996.
The Saudi opposition claim they are not terrorists, but fighting to liberate their nation from foreign colonial rule. They assert the US runs Saudi through its agents, the royal family. The royals get American protection and skim off the nation's oil profits. In return, they keep the price of oil artificially low, bank their money in the west, and buy billions worth of US, British and French arms that they cannot use.
The underground points to the little-known fact that the US took advantage of the Gulf War to get the royal family to agree to the permanent stationing of more than 30,000 US military personnel in the desert kingdom. Islamic fundamentalists believe Arabia, which to Muslims is as holy as Jerusalem is to Jews, is defiled by the presence of so many infidels, or 'Kafirs'. Many Saudis violently object to western culture, which they fear will infect their children with immorality, drugs, primitive music and even poor nutrition. Americans, of course, regard anyone who objects to their pop culture as demented or religious fanatics.
The US say its troops stationed in Saudi Arabia are merely there to protect 'the west's vital oil interests' from malefactors like Iraq and Iran, and denies they play an internal security role. In reality, US troops protect the Saudi royals, who fear their own troops so much that the Saudi Army is not even given ammunition. The CIA and FBI maintain large security operations to protect the Saudi royal family from foreign agents and, one supposes, their own people.
Ironically, the Saudis have themselves to blame for part of this problem. In the 1980's, the Saudis funded all sorts of militant Islamic groups - provided they stayed out of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis used these groups to attack Iran, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and to show their religious zeal. The men executed for last November's bombings turned out to be Saudi veterans of the Afghan Jihad - known in the Mideast as 'Afghanis'.
The 'Afghanis' have become the spearheads of resistance across the Mideast to what many see as western neo-colonial rule. The 'Afghanis', after all, defeated the Russians, who were the second biggest colonizer of Muslim lands after the British. Now, they aim to kick the Americans out of the Mideast.
The Americans, however, are not about to go quietly, though they may somewhat lower their overbearing presence in Saudi. No US President can survive a massive increase in the cost of gasoline. As the conflict with Iraq showed, Americans will go to war for cheap gas. Of course, one day Arabia's underpriced oil will be exhausted, but as the Americans say, that's your problem, Mahmoud.
Or as the late, wise, and much-venerated Saudi monarch, King Faisal observed, 'In one generation we went from riding camels to riding Cadillacs. The way we are wasting money, I fear the next generation will be riding camels again.'
[Eric Margolis is an international columnist and broadcaster. He provides an inside track to world news. Regarding the term 'Islamic fundamentalist' see The Wisdom Fund press release Islamic Fundamentalism Greatest Threat To World Peace?]