Putting the Kingdom on Notice

Article excerpt


Al Qaeda's second massive attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, since May, has put the U.S. on notice: The credibility and survival of the Saudi regime, the sentinel of Middle Eastern oil, are at stake.

The incapacitated King Fahd's threat to fight al Qaeda "with an iron fist" sounds hollow. It is under the Gulf regime's noses - and funded by their princes and moneybags - that al Qaeda grew into a global threat.

Since May 2003 attack, the Saudis have improved their antiterrorism efforts, and Secretary of State Colin Powell praised the desert kingdom's cooperation in the war on terrorism. He also said, however, that the Saudis need to do more. Preventing Saudi youths from killing Americans in Iraq is a good place to start.

Osama bin Laden has targeted the aging princes and the foreign presence in the kingdom, which makes the oil economy tick. The attacks' dual aim to drive the "infidels" from the Land of Two Mosques - and topple the monarchy.

Bin Laden is eyeing the symbolism of ruling Mecca, and wants to seize Arabia's gigantic cash flow - more than $160 billion a year - for the sake of nuclear jihad, severing the West's oil artery on the way.

Three devastating scenarios may endanger the flow of the Gulf oil: toppling of the House of Saud; a mega-attack on the oil ports, pipelines and terminals; or a protracted conflict between the monarchists and the jihadis.

Bin Laden may use an explosives-laden jumbo jet or a radiological weapon (dirty nuke) to paralyze vital nodes of the Gulf oil infrastructure such as Ras Tanura terminal. Such an attack may neutralize the Saudi surplus production capacity vital for price stability. If this occurs, the price for gasoline may hit $6 a gallon for several months, and a deep economic recession would be triggered by expensive energy. This could have devastating results to President Bush's economic recovery strategy.

Bin Laden and his henchmen understand terror's political economy of terror. Ayman Al Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, said Western economic targets are high on al Qaeda's hit list. Al Qaeda aims for maximum ripple effect: banking and insurance losses for the September 11, 2001, attack were in excess of $55 billion to $60 billion.

In October 2002, the Limbourg, a French supertanker, was hit by al Qaeda's suicide Zodiac boat in the Straits of Hormuz. Several incidents of anonymous "pirates" taking over large tankers and piloting them for hours happened in the Molucca Straits, close to Indonesia shores. Al Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Islamiya operates in Indonesia and was behind the bloody Bali bombing.

British terrorism expert Tim Spicer has called this a maritime equivalent of a pre-September 11 flight school. …