In recent discussions with European diplomats, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief and ambassador to the US, said that the Kingdom was considering severing diplomatic ties with the United States over Syria, Palestine, and Iran.
Bin Sultan claimed that the US has deliberately not pursued military action against Bashar al Assad, making this the primary reason for the threatened break. Bin Sultan has been extremely hawkish about Syria, and has in fact been directly involved with the rebels. His ties to hard-line Islamists are on record, including his claim that he can control the Chechen terrorists in the south of Russia, effectively threatening Vladimir Putin with terror attacks if he does not back away from Assad. The reasons for the US not to get involved in Syria have already been discussed at length, including the strong presence of Islamists among the rebel forces.
Palestine has been the cause du jour in the Arab world since 1948. It is included by formula in every complaint against the US.
Finally, Bin Sultan said that the US is growing closer to Tehran. The Sunni-Shia rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is one of the driving factors in unrest and violence in Iraq and Syria today. And in fact, there have been overtures made by this administration to Tehran since the Iranian Presidential elections earlier this year. However, while President Rouhani appears, at least on the surface, to be far more moderate than his Twelver predecessor, Ahmedinejad, he presents a somewhat different face internationally than he does domestically.
The odds of the US actually growing closer to Tehran are slim, especially as the President of Iran is more of a figurehead; the Grand Ayatollah and the Council of Guardians call the shots, and they have been at war with the US since 1979.
Bandar bin Sultan is not alone speaking this way; his cousin, Prince Turki al Faisal, has made similar statements, adding the failure of the US to support the Saudi putdown of the Iranian-backed anti-government rebellion in Bahrain in 2011.
Saudi Arabia wields a great deal of influence through oil money and their possession of the Islamic holy cities, Mecca and Medina. In light of Bin Sultan’s statements in his meeting with Putin earlier this year, it appears that this is another attempt to wield influence, this time in the US. The gist of the Saudi statements appears to be an attempt to blackmail the US into taking sides and pursuing whatever military and diplomatic avenues are in the Kingdom’s best interests, rather than its own.