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Howard's End: USA's Achilles Heel – Saudi Arabia

The overwhelming consensus at a dinner party I attended last night was that in the confusion in the West, Osama bin Laden will strike at the corrupt rulers of his home-land and try to recapture the sacred soil of his country which will economically destabilise the West without him firing a shot. Maree Howard writes.

The world's biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, is now a bankrupt fiefdom with half its 15 million population under 18 years of age, a corrupt royal family who has spirited between $600 and $800 billion of oil income out of the country and between a third to a half of its population unemployed.

Feheid al-Sharef, Deputy Governor of the one-year-old Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority said recently; "Right now, Saudi Arabia can only meet its daily living costs and needs around $120 billion in new investments over the next 25 years in the power industry alone."

Just days before the September 11 attacks the Saudi chief of intelligence, Prince Turki, brother of the Saudi foreign minister, was dismissed from his position after 25 years. He was responsible for Saudi affairs between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the liaison with American intelligence services.

He became the victim of in-fighting in the Saudi royal family over how to deal with the American requests to get bin Laden.

King Fahd and his huge entourage fled to Geneva just a week after the American attacks and now lives behind a walled enclave registered in the name of his European business partners.

Osama bin Laden will be well aware of the tenuous position of the Saudi royal family and the present power structure which has seen a dangerous vacuum created.

Under pressure, the Saudi Government has now given permission for the U.S. to use its air bases. This is likely to further inflame an already volatile internal situation.

In a 1998 interview bin Laden was said to have had tears streaming down his face in front of the interviewer when describing his feelings for his homeland. He is reported to have said; "Saudi Arabia is my homeland first and forever."

In the 1960's his father Mohamed bin Laden, engineered the transfer of the Saudi throne away from the corrupt King Saud to the pious King Faisal.

The son, Osama, came to despise what he saw as a corrupt and malignant power structure indistinguishable from the American system.

Today, large numbers of young disaffected Saudis feel increasingly alienated by a regime that can neither defend itself by its own means, nor maintain a standard of living that has dropped from $18,000 per capita in the 1980's to $6,000 in 2000.

There are tens of thousands of dissidents in the kingdom who form the core of Osama bin Laden's support. Militant protests and subversive activity around oil terminals and pipelines, as well as attacks on American assets in Saudi Arabia, will strike hard against the current American military strategies.

Amidst the confusion and instability in the West and the Middle East, Osama bin Laden is likely to use an escape route out of Afghanistan and seek refuge under the protection of the thousands of his supporters on the sacred soil of his Saudi Arabian homeland.

If he succeeds, it will likely cause revolutionary eruptions throughout the more radical countries of the Middle East, the like of which we have not seen before. The West, particularly America, will lose economically big time. It will be desperate to prevent that happening.

It is probably one of the prime reasons for naming bin Laden as the key suspect for the September 11 attacks - i.e. arrange to get him before he gets back to his homeland and disrupts the supply to the West of the vast oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Such an accomplishment would dramatically tilt the Middle East balance of power in favour of radical countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Osama bin Laden and the radical Islamic world are not fools. They well know they cannot win a head-on military conflict with the West which could ultimately include Russia and China. But a military conflict is not what this is all about.

They do know the world can be destabilised and undermined economically through oil supplies and, at the same time, possibly rid themselves of arch-enemy Israel.

The West is just coming to terms with something the Arab world has known for two thousand years - out of chaos a leader will rise!


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