King Fahd Stays in Geneva - US Is Kept Out of Saudi Bases
30 September: In the last 24 hours, official US and British sources have hinted to various media that Saudi Arabia has come round to permitting US anti-terror forces to use installations located in the kingdom President George W. Bush pronounced himself satisfied with the assistance in the war against terrorism Riyadh is rendering the United States and Pakistan.
No one mentioned the spanking new Prince Sultan air base northeast of Riyadh.
DEBKAfile’s Gulf sources are quite certain that nothing has changed in the basic Saudi veto on America’s use of the base for attacking Afghanistan or Iraq.
Before addressing the diplomatic ramifications of this situation, DEBKAfile’s military analysts ask: Does the United States really need that particular base in order to pursue its campaign against terrorism?
The answer is: No.
The Prince Sultan base is one of the most advanced command, aerial intelligence, electronic warfare and air surveillance facilities in the world, completed as recently as the second half of July. It is outfitted to suit every possible US air force need. At the same time, as time goes by after the deadly strikes in New York and Washington, it becomes increasingly evident that the war America needs to fight against Afghanistan is not an aerial one. Neither does it require an operations center as sophisticated as the Saudi base.
Aside from the few locations associated directly with Osma Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, there are no strategic targets in Afghanistan warranting aerial bombardment.
Even if the Americans located Bin Laden’s hideout (See separate item on this page), an air blitz would not be the way to flush him out. He is buried deep inside the well-protected underground caves of Hindu Kush, above which peaks tower to a height of 20,000 ft. The caves open out in floor of desert valleys. None of this is visible from the air or satellite.
To reach their quarry, therefore, the Americans do not need an air force, but sound intelligence and crack soldiers capable of surviving in rugged, hostile terrain for long periods.
US Special Forces in recent years have been trained to knock out the enemy’s vital national and military systems – not inured to the kind of hand-to- hand combat needed to catch Bin Laden. By the time these elite forces are retrained, the harsh desert winter will have set in and the high mountains covered in swirling snow blizzards.
So why is the Bush administration so determined to obtain Saudi consent for the use of the Prince Sultan base? The reason is that the rest of the Gulf emirates are about to follow the Saudi lead and pull away from the American war on terror, threatening America’s diplomatic drive for an international coalition.
DEBKAfile’s Gulf analysts observe that at stake is much more than the present crisis; the orientation of the Saudi throne hangs in the balance. If it were only up to King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz and his brother, defense minister Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, the Americans would be granted the use of the air base without demur. The trouble is that Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz has been running the kingdom for the past two years in view of the king’s chronic ill health. A conservative, he stands solidly against giving the Americans the freedom of this forward base for assaults against any Moslem country, partly in deference to the Islamic religious establishment that supports him.
This feud led to a near palace revolution ten days ago and King Fahd’s abrupt and secret departure from the kingdom. On September 22, DEBKAfile carried the world exclusive of the Saudi King’s landing in Geneva international airport on September 19, accompanied by a royal mobile hospital fitted aboard Boeing 757 HZ-HMED.
As of Saturday, sources in Geneva report that Saudi King Fahd shows no sign of returning to Riyadh.
Residents of the luxury villas near the royal palace at Corsier on the bank of Lake Geneva told DEBKAfile Saturday that the king, who rarely spends much time in Geneva, arrived this time with an unusually large entourage that included his entire family and a number of “princes who are ministers”.
Since then, private Saudi planes continue to land in the VIP section of Geneva airport. Another arrival at the end of the week was the Emir of Qatar, Zeid Ibn Sultan el-Nayan.
King Fahd’s Swiss lakeside neighbors, in one of the lushest residential areas in the world, are considering suing him under Swiss privacy protection laws, because of the large number of TV security cameras bristling round his 100-room residence and picking up every movement in the entire area.
DEBKAfile’s sources believe that the king will stay away from the kingdom until its rulers settle their dispute over whether to permit United States anti-terror forces to operate out of Saudi bases.
According to DEBKAfile ’s Gulf sources, that refusal still stands and, given the king’s poor health, he may never return home. If Abdullah succeeds to the throne by dint of his stand against supporting the exercise of US military might – backed by his country’s clerical leaders – the rest of the region’s pro-Western leaders may well be pulled in his wake onto an entirely new path, namely into the arms of radical Islam. America’s fight against militant Islam and its terrorist manifestations will push the Arab world further in that direction. A long American war will draw this process out but also deepen it.
Therefore Abdullah’s denial of the Prince Sultan base to America and the king’s exit may have set off a seminal process, which members of the Bush team in their eager pursuit of coalition partners may not have taken into account. That team, led by secretary of state Colin Powell, is going out of its way to rope in Arab and Islamic nations, even Iran and Syria. So keen is it on these allies that the administration omitted the suicidal Hamas and Jihad Islami militant groups operating in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority from the list of 27 terrorist groups the freezing of whose assets President Bush announced last week.
This was a slap in the face for Israel, who has in the past year suffered 30 suicidal bombing attacks from those groups, sustaining 54 dead and more than 634 injured. It was also a nod and a wink from Washington to the Arab world.
For the moment, the US government is proceeding with its military plans as though its Saudi base does not exist. At a later stage, the Americans may have to come to grips with the virulent terrorist groups harbored or sponsored by Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia and the Palestinian autonomy. But if their need for the strategic Saudi base becomes pressing, the Americans may simply may go in and use it without asking.