By Javad Heirannia

Fear of internal turmoil prompting Al-Sauds to buy huge arms from U.S.: professor 

May 22, 2017 - 21:36

TEHRAN - A George Washington University professor says Saudi Arabia is buying huge consignments of arms from the U.S. with the intention to use them against its own people because the rulers in Riyadh are mostly concerned about turmoil at home.

“What the A-Sauds fear most is internal turmoil in the Kingdom. The arms they seek will be used against their own people,” Hossein Askari tells the Tehran Times.

On Saturday, the U.S. sealed a multibillion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The agreement, which is worth $350 billion over 10 years and $110 billion that will take effect immediately, was hailed by the White House as "a significant expansion of…[the] security relationship" between the two countries.

Following is the text of the interview Askari who served as special advisor to Saudi finance minister:

Q: During his election campaigns Donald Trump severely criticized Saudi Arabia. What are the reasons for such a change in Trump’s foreign policy?

A: His criticism of Saudi Arabia was campaign talk. Muslims and Saudi Arabia are unpopular in the United States and Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Saudi (and anti-Iranian) and toughness were popular and won him votes. He said anything and everything to win votes.

An important, but largely unrecognized, reason why Donald Trump may have won the presidency is that he took extreme positions on many issues and doubled down through thick and thin, which showed resolve and commitment to the positions he espoused. How did this help him win? The electorate did not focus on all the issues that he threw out there, but only on the handful of concerns that mattered to each person. If on these he gave the voter what she wanted to hear (extreme positions on which he did not waver), she went with him regardless of his stand on the other twenty or more issues that mattered much less. A direct implication of this is that President Trump may not have even 20 percent popular support for most, if any, of his initiatives, because his supporters did not vote for him based on the sum of all of his proposals, but only because of a few and the few were different for different groups of voters.

“As the Al-Sauds feel more secure with more U.S. arms and especially with more U.S. advisors and Arab military from Jordan and Egypt, they will be emboldened to crack down on domestic dissent in the name of “fighting terrorism”.

Anti-Muslim and anti-Saudi was a good tactic and he used it to his advantage. He gave Americans the impression that he was putting America first by asking Saudi Arabia and the GCC to pay for their defense.”

Q: Is Trump ready to give security guarantees to Saudi Arabia and some other GCC members similar to NATO?

A: No. Trump will talk a lot. Act tough but he will not agree to any new security agreement with the GCC. And even if he wanted to, the U.S. Congress would not agree to any such treaty.

Q: Trump has supported the idea of “Arab NATO”. What would be the nature of such a treaty? And is it possible that the U.S. lend its support to it?

A: Saudi Arabia has pushed such an idea for a number of years. It is all with the goal of isolating Iran and casting Iran and Syria out of the Muslim orbit. Saudi Arabia is paranoid about Iran and will even pay Muslim countries to join.

The U.S. will agree to advise such an organization and coordinate their efforts, in large part to sell more arms. But it will be unlike NATO in a very important way. In NATO, member countries have agreed to come to any member’s rescue if it is attacked. The U.S. will never agree to do this for an Arab NATO.

Q: Feeling of common threat has to be the main cause for creating an Arab NATO, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar differ on Muslim Brotherhood. So, would such a treaty be a successful?

A: You are absolutely correct that all Arab countries don’t agree on every issue, but there are pressures that could be persuasive for countries to join, especially if the organization has no teeth with an ironclad mutual defense agreement.

Q: What were the reasons for the Riyadh summit with presence of Trump and some leaders from Islamic states?

A: This trip was orchestrated by Jared Kushner (Trump’s Middle East czar) and Mohammed bin Salman (Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia). The stated purpose is to create an “Arab NATO” (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as founding members) with the U.S. playing a supporting role to fight terrorism and to contain and isolate Iran. But the purpose is to sell more arms to the Arabs, to promote U.S. exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries and for Trump to look tough on the world stage by putting America first and getting Saudi Arabia and the GCC to pay the U.S. for their defense.

There are a number of reasons why the Al-Sauds are resurrecting the shelved idea of an Arab (or Muslim) NATO. What the A-Sauds fear most is internal turmoil in the Kingdom. The arms they seek will be used against their own people (it doesn’t hurt that massive arms purchases also translate into massive commissions for the Al-Sauds). In turn, U.S. arms mean U.S. advisors and if needed U.S. soldiers to fight for the Al-Sauds at home or abroad. As the Al-Sauds feel more secure with more U.S. arms and especially with more U.S. advisors and Arab military from Jordan and Egypt, they will be emboldened to crack down on domestic dissent in the name of “fighting terrorism” and to confront Iran.

The Al-Sauds fear the rulers of Iran because of their belief that the Iranians are intent on their overthrow. But instead of diplomacy and confidence building initiatives, they prefer to hide under the U.S. protective skirt and do all they can to promote a conflict with Iran with the U.S. at their side, something they believe they can bank on.

Another important aspect of this summit are for Trump and his family to get close to the Al-Sauds for personal financial reasons. Leaders of Europe, Canada, New Zealand and Australia do not shower ex-U.S. presidents, members of their cabinet and ex-senior lawmakers with donations and large consulting/advising contracts, but that is the way of life for the Al-Sauds. The Trump-Kushner partnership knows the big bonanza that awaits them when they leave office and probably hopes for some rewards even while they are in office.  And being “astute” businessmen, the Trump-Kushner team could take this foreign influence peddling thing to another level.