reflections

Jun 3, 2004 | 07:48 GMT

4 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Wednesday, June 2, 2004

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Several things happened today in Saudi Arabia regarding the war between the Saudi regime and its jihadist opponents. The day began with suspected militants shooting at two vehicles leaving a U.S. military compound south of Riyadh. It was the second attack against Westerners in the kingdom within four days. An U.S. military officer was injured in the shooting, purportedly claimed by al Qaeda in a statement posted on a pro-jihadist Web site. The statement said, "Mujahideen from the 'Fallujah Squad' ambushed a group of American officers" on the Riyadh-al-Kharj road, killing two and seriously wounding a third; it was signed by the "al Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula." U.S. authorities have denied anyone was killed in the incident. Later in the afternoon, Saudi authorities announced two militants were killed after a 12-hour chase. They claimed the men were involved in attacks against Westerners in Khobar on May 29 that killed 22. In another development, Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, told a news conference that the Saudi government was dissolving the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Riyadh-based charity suspected of funding al Qaeda. Al-Jubeir said Al-Haramain's assets would be incorporated into a new agency that will channel all Saudi charitable contributions. U.S. personnel were attacked in the morning, but it appears that the Saudi government spent the day engaged in a counterterrorism offensive of sorts — or at least trying to give the impression it was making strides in the fight against the militants. The Saudis have been criticized for slacking off on counterterrorism efforts, a charge that Riyadh is desperately trying to disprove since the May 2 attack in Yanbu. The Saudi regime knows that unless it can demonstrate it has matters under control, Westerners could begin leaving the kingdom en masse — a situation the jihadists look forward to effecting. Perhaps the most serious aspect of the situation is the growing uncertainty surrounding the future of the Saudi oil supply, a supply that is contingent upon the continued presence of Western workers manning key positions in the Saudi oil industry. Al-Jubeir tried to play down the matter by saying, "The oil installations are very, very secure," because fewer than 10 percent of the employees were foreigners. This statement is an effort to show that the Saudi regime has matters under control, but it also — ironically — is an implicit acknowledgment that Riyadh is not in a position to prevent the militants from launching attacks. Regardless of whether al-Jubeir's claims have any merit, what is clear is that Crown Prince Abdullah's foreign policy adviser is trying to shift the focus from preventing attacks to ensuring that the Saudi oil wells would not stop pumping just because Westerners might choose to leave out of fear for their security — something the monarchy seems less and less able to provide. Al-Jubeir's efforts at diverting attention aside, the fact is that Riyadh is under immense pressure from Washington to rein in the militants, and the sense of urgency among the kingdom's rulers has only increased with the recent string of attacks. The Saudis seem to believe that through high-profile killings of suspected militants, and by dissolving the most noted Saudi charity accused of funding militant initiatives, they can convince Washington they are doing their best as an ally in the war against Islamist militants. Apart from demonstrating its reliability as a partner in the fight against terrorism, the kingdom has another incentive to eliminate militants and go after financing enterprises — it can keep a lid on the shadowy relationships between the jihadists and prominent Saudis.

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