Geopolitics

Twisted Saudi Humor: When A Terror Sponsor Vows To Fight Terrorists

Saudi Arabia, long a direct and indirect financier of religious fanatics, has declared war on Islamist extremism! It has 34 countries on board, some of which aren't even aware that they've joined. The punchline? It's not really abo

Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President al-Sisi last month in Riyadh.
Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President al-Sisi last month in Riyadh.
Fehim Tastekin

RIYADH Saudi Arabia has declared the creation of an Islamic front against terrorism, along with 33 other countries. Defense Minister Prince Muhammad bin Selman, who made the announcement, said the coalition will be called the Islamic Alliance Against Terror, and it fight not only ISIS but also other terror groups. The Riyadh-based coalition will provide intelligence, training and coordination support, and will first target Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Praise be!

Saudi Arabia is many things. Among them: chief financier of the countless jihadist groups who tore apart Syria, piece by piece; manipulator of the pro-al Qaeda wave against the Shia in Iraq; and supporter of the jihadist Salafists in dozens of countries. But from this point on, it is leading the fight against terrorism! Don't hold back those tears of joy!

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), reacted to the announcement by telling the Saudis that they were a few months early for an April Fool's joke.

Before we get to the absurdity of it all, let me first underline one fact: al-Qaeda, its successor ISIS and similar counterparts have been useful tools for Saudi Arabia in the dirty wars they wage against their enemies. Saudi financing played a big part in supporting the presence of both al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq. But just as al-Qaeda bit the hand that fed it in the 2000s with attacks on Riyadh and Jeddah — when ISIS crossed the line and said "I am a state, too" — the House of Saud panicked that their territory might be the next target.

Saudi Arabia found itself squeezed by Washington after 15 of the 19 attackers who hit the United States on 9/11 happened to be Saudi citizens, and it had to take certain precautions. The operations to feed jihadist elements became more sophisticated. Instead of offering direct support, the country channeled it through individuals and institutions in "front" countries such as Kuwait.

So let's get back to exploring Saudi Arabia's unique sense of humor with the latest announcement.

First question: Has this coalition actually been founded? How did so many countries suddenly line up behind the Saudis? At which summit did they make these decisions? It's all a mystery.

It's certain that they're employing the "make-it-up-as-we-go" method we know so well in Turkey. But this is a new standard for improvisation, as apparently some countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia and Lebanon didn't even know they were part of the coalition. For the delicate nature of politics in Lebanon, it's dicey to take part in a sectarian coalition while Hezbollah is part of the government.

Paying for our sins

It's also odd that Turkey happened to be the first country to declare support for the coalition. Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu embraced it as the "best answer to give to those who want to identify terrorism with Islam."

Second question: Is this really about combating terror?

Yes, there is a consensus that ISIS is a terror organization. What about the others? Everybody has their own terrorists. For example, Turkey puts the Kurds with the PKK, YPG and PYD in that basket, but like the Saudis, it finds certain Salafist groups to be reasonable. For Egypt, the terrorists are the Muslim Brotherhood, which is praised by the Turkish government, while Hezbollah tops the Saudi enemy list. Some groups that Turkey supports in Libya are considered terrorists by the Saudis. Who are the terrorists? Who will declare war on whom? Dark humor, to say the least.

Don't even get me started on Saudi definition of terrorists: Atheists, those who target the royal family and those who cooperate with foreigners against the king, are considered terrorists. But the oil money that has supported Wahhabi sectarian violence has immunity among the partners of this coalition.

So what's the point? Saudi Arabia's priority has always been founding a Sunni alliance against Iran and its allies, not combating terrorism.

You may recall that the new King Salman attacked Yemen in order to consolidate power domestically and secure the country's status as regional leader and settle a score with Iran over Syria. He tried to form a Sunni coalition in the process, with Ankara always the most enthusiastic partner. Ultimately, the Saudis waged the war in Yemen at the cost of clearing a path for al-Qaeda and ISIS on the Arab Peninsula.

In this light, Saudi Arabia posing as anti-terror is utterly unconvincing.

The Saudis persistently say that the coalition isn't sectarian. Okay, are Iran, Iraq and Syria, which are all fighting ISIS, in the coalition? No. Another crucial question: Can this coalition ever have operational capacity or become a position of power? Almost certainly not.

In short, ISIS and similar organizations are the ugly fruits of the sins of the Saudi-U.S. partnership that was duly followed by many other countries. This is the harsh truth. Syria has turned into hell on earth, but Saudi Arabia still persists in supplying bullets for jihadist guns to force President Bashar al-Assad out at all costs.

Saudi Arabia has no real interest in combatting terrorism. What it wants is a sectarian Sunni coalition. That's about it. The joke's on us.

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