The Head of the Snake

In the alleged Iranian government assassination plot involving the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir the Iranian-American prime suspect Manssour Arbabsiar yesterday pleaded not guilty. In view of what has been made public about the so far more than bizarre plot it is currently not clear on what kind of further intelligence the Obama Administration is basing its severe charges.

Saudi Arabian-Iranian relationships are traditionally embittered. Recently, the Kingdom, the strongest American ally in the Middle East after Israel, has feared Iran’s influence during an Arabian Spring offshoot in mainly Shi’te Bahrain which might have even spilled over to the mainly Shi’ite eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Since March 2011 the uprising in the tiny Gulf island had brutally been cracked down with the help of mainly Saudi Arabian tanks.

While millions of pilgrims in the Muslim world right now prepare for the upcoming annual Hajj in Makkah, one might recall that in 2007 the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been invited by King Abdullah to Saudi Arabia to perform, well, the Hajj.

But has he actually been invited? And what were Ahmadinejad’s intentions?

It was in the same year when Western warmongering and hype for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities had been on its height (remember, e.g., McCain’s “Bomb Iran”, which was just a reminiscence of a Vince Vance & the Valiants song released during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis) and preparations for another war in the Middle East had only abruptly been stopped by an American National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) partially released to the public early in December 2007 which clearly stated that, with confidence, Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.     

So, Abdullah didn’t invite Ahmadinejad. It was Ahmadinejad who had invited Abdullah, on the margins of the December 3-4 GCC meeting in Doha, to visit Iran, an invitation which Abdullah declined. When Ahmadinejad had informed him that he intended to visit the Kingdom for Hajj, Abdullah only noted “all Muslims are welcome”.

A secret WikiLeaks cable of 11 December 2007 (a couple of days before Ahmadinejad arrived with his then only buddy Rahim Esfandiar Mashaie at Makkah) released on 30 August 2011, quotes King Abdullah who met the US Ambassador Ford Fraker at his Al-Jandriyya farm several times.

 “2.  (S)  On the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the King said that the report had not changed his mind about the true intentions of the Iranians regarding their nuclear program.  He said, ‘the Iranians are not good people.’ He also said that he believes the Iranians were lying the whole time about their nuclear intentions, asking why the Iranians would have put up with sanctions and not allowed full inspections if they had nothing to hide.  In response to a question from the Ambassador, the King said that he believed the NIE would weaken Chinese and Russian interest in imposing further sanctions on Iran.  The King agreed to continue to urge China and Russia to maintain pressure on Iran.  However, he did not think the report would weaken European resolve.” (Emphasis added.)

Another cable of 20 November 2007 indicates the minutes of a meeting between the Charge d‘Affaires Michael Gfoeller and above mentioned Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir.

2. (S)  On November 20, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir invited the Charge d’Affaires and Staff Assistant (note taker) to his Riyadh residence for lunch. The Ambassador told the Charge that now is the time to ‘confront Iran.’  He said that Iran has been behind most of the difficulties that both the Kingdom and the US have faced in the region in recent years. Unfortunately, ‘No one has stood up to them yet.’  While admitting that the US has begun to counter Iranian efforts at destabilization effectively in Iraq, al-Jubeir suggested that the US has yet to move effectively to counter Iranian interference in the broader region.

3.  (S) Al-Jubeir claimed that recent US-Iranian talks in Baghdad have only emboldened Iran, since they have sent a signal of US weakness.  ‘Two years ago was the time to talk to Iran,’ he asserted, ‘not now.’ The Saudi Ambassador recalled that Iran, ever since the 1979 revolution, has responded to strength and firmness, rather than conciliation.  ‘Khomeini ended the Iran-Iraq when you accidentally shot down a civilian airliner headed to Dubai,’ he claimed, adding, ‘the Iranians said to themselves that the Americans had had enough, and so they stopped.’”

Well, when referring to the infamous 1988 shooting down of the civilian Iranian airbus IR655 by USS Vincennes Captain William C. Rogers III, is then 45-year-old firebrand diplomat al-Jubeir, who has been in the center of the recent Iranian assassination plot really advocating state terrorism here?

“¶4. (S) ‘The position of the King is very clear on Iran,’ al-Jubeir said.  King Abdullah believes that only a show of US strength will stop Iran’s expansionist policies and halt its nuclear program, he said, adding that the program is clearly intended to produce nuclear weapons.  He noted that the King rejects the argument that military action against Iran will coalesce popular support around President Ahmadinejad.  ‘He believes that the opposite will happen,’ the Saudi ambassador said.”

So, al-Jubeir actually begs for military action when counting on then 83-year old Saudi King’s delusional belief that the Iranian people won’t be supportive of Ahmadinejad.

 “5.  (S)  Al-Jubeir added that the Saudis hope that Ahmadinejad’s allies will lose the Iranian parliamentary elections in the Spring of 2008.  He will then become a ‘lame duck,’ he said. “

Which was another misjudgment as history tells. “’Will this make him easier to deal with or more dangerous?’ al-Jubeir asked.  ‘We do not know,’ he added.”

“¶6.  (S)  He also expressed skepticism regarding the ability of economic sanctions to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.  In al-Jubeir’s view, Iran could have the capacity to build a bomb in as little as three years, since Tehran already possesses 3000 centrifuges.  He noted that the Saudi authorities are afraid that the upcoming change of administrations and the US election cycle will give the Iranians just enough time to complete mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle.  Al-Jubeir added that economic sanctions, at least in their current form, would probably not be enough to stop Iran’s rapid progress toward a nuclear weapon.”

We don’t know al-Jubeir’s sources of intelligence but we suppose that he may honestly have been surprised as well after the partial declassification of the NIE only a couple of days later.

7.  (S)  That said, he admitted that much tougher sanctions might work.  The Saudi ambassador said that the two biggest obstacles to stopping Iran’s nuclear program through harsher UN sanctions are Russia and China.  On Russia, Ambassador al-Jubeir said that, ‘We need to flatter Putin.’  He added that, ‘The Russians want to be treated like the superpower they think they are.  From Putin’s point of view, he is the leader of the second most powerful country in the world, and yet America lectures him on human rights and elections.’  He said that gaining Russian cooperation on sanctions against Iran would require putting such concerns aside and focusing on the essential thing, which is stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  He also advised adopting a similar attitude toward China, in order to gain its cooperation on Iran.”

As a true Saudi, al-Jubeir is apparently not a supporter, not to mention friend, of human rights and elections. One instantly thinks of “Sleeping with the Devil”, CIA veteran Bob Baer’s book about the shameless post-Cold War entanglement of the US and different dictatorships in the Middle East, in particular, Saudi Arabia. (Another cable of the same day describes al-Jubair’s song and dance about the seven-fold rape of a 19-year-old Shi’ite woman in 2006 in Qateef in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom; the rape victim was convicted here with a sentence of 200 lashes.)

8.  (S) Al-Jubeir noted that Saudi Arabia can do its part by ‘bribing’ Russia and China to support tougher sanctions against Iran.  The Kingdom can offer Russia both energy cooperation and business deals, in order to compensate it for any losses it may sustain by downgrading its economic relationship with Iran, he said.   ‘We can do such things, but we cannot offer the Russians acceptance and respect,’ he said, adding, ‘only you can do that.’  He also asserted that ‘pressuring China’ to do such things as revalue the Chinese currency and curtail human rights abuses will not further the cause of sanctions, either.  ‘Strong relations with China,’ said the Ambassador, ‘could be the key in stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.’ 

9.  (S) Comment: As a senior royal advisor for the last eight years and a confidant of King Abdullah, al-Jubeir’s views usually track those of the monarch closely. His remarks indicate that Saudi anxieties regarding Iran’s nuclear program are growing, and that the Saudi government’s confidence in the ability of current economic sanctions to alter Iranian behavior remains limited.  That said, he seemed also to believe that much tougher sanctions might work, especially if Russian and Chinese support for them could be acquired, albeit at a high price. End Comment.


The Devil We Know, referring to another of Baer’s bestsellers.


Last update October 25, 2011.

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