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How Stable Is Saudi Arabia?

King Salman inherits a mess, says the WaPo: [1]

No king of Saudi Arabia has ascended the throne amid more regional turmoil than King Salman, who was crowned Friday upon the death of his brother King Abdullah.

With war raging in Syria and tensions with Iran increasing, Saudi Arabia is threatened by a disintegration of the national government in Yemen across its southern border and by the Islamic State militants who are dominating the Iraqi desert just over its northern border.

Salman indirectly mentioned the threat of rising violence and regional instability on Friday in his first speech to the Saudi people, saying that “the Arab and Islamic nation is in dire need today to be united and maintain solidarity.”

Militants have staged four attacks inside the kingdom in the past six months, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, 11 police or border guards and 13 militants, according to Saudi officials.

As in the recent attacks in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper and a kosher supermarket, most of the Saudi attacks have been carried out by homegrown radicals influenced or trained by the Islamic State, al-Qaeda or other extremist groups. Saudi authorities said that they have arrested 293 people in connection with the incidents and that 260 of them are Saudi nationals.

Germany has reportedly just ceased selling hundreds of billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia: [2]

Germany has decided to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of “instability in the region,” German daily Bild reported on Sunday.

Weapons orders from Saudi Arabia have either been “rejected, pure and simple,” or deferred for further consideration, the newspaper said, adding that the information has not been officially confirmed.

The decision was taken on Wednesday by the national security council, a government body that includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and seven other ministers, it said.

“According to government sources, the situation in the region is too unstable to ship arms there,” added the daily.

Military analyst John Robb continues to argue that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a lot more vulnerable [3]than many of us seem to think. Excerpt:

31 Comments (Open | Close)

31 Comments To "How Stable Is Saudi Arabia?"

#1 Comment By Scott Nunn On January 26, 2015 @ 4:48 pm

Pretty amazing how many world leaders made the trip to pay respects. Saudi Arabia remains a marriage of convenience between the house of Saud and the Wahabbism.

#2 Comment By AnotherBeliever On January 26, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

I don’t worry so much about ISIS taking over Mecca and Medina. There aren’t enough fighters. What is worrisome though is that Saudi’s dissidents are more Wahhabi than the House of Saud. So the end effect might not be much better. It would be bad enough if the royal family were deposed, or, more likely given the sheer number of them, if they fractured into multiple factions and violence ensued. Interestingly, the monarchies have withstood the chaos better than the secular republics. It remains to be seen whether that continues.

I think Saudi will be alright. They have a lot of resources, a lot of international support, and a very high level of motivation to stay alive and in positive control of the Holy Cities. But it sure is unsteady right now in the region.

#3 Comment By collin On January 26, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

Well, Saudia Arabia has such a strong case of “Dutch Disease” that it is impossible for them not to be rich. Maybe to bring stability back we better start paying $80/Barrell for oil! (Actually it is the Chinese and India that now imports more oil from Middle East than the US.)

Still, the potentially dangerous country in the world is Saudia Arabia without the oil revenue.

#4 Comment By check your facts On January 26, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

Hundreds of millions, not billions.

#5 Comment By T.S. Gay On January 26, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

It can be argued that the USA presence on the Arabian peninsula is what started Osama bin Laden to foment. You may have forgotten, but the al-Qaeda that he formed in !988 has not. There will be a wave from the north, just as there has been in Iraq. This time there had better be mass casualties, or they will be emboldened by the weakness. No doubt the Saudi’s get it. The West just doesn’t understand the mindset of the East. And the West’s hesitancy could really be the turning point to an exceptionally brutal al-Qaeda faction having control of Syria, Iraq, Arabia, Yemen—and at that point we leave that region entirely except for aircraft carriers. If Iran ever decided to give them dirty bombs this world is too ugly to consider.

#6 Comment By charles cosimano On January 26, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

Who cares. Let ISIS and Iran fight it out and level Mecca in the process.

#7 Comment By Michael Guarino On January 26, 2015 @ 6:18 pm

Obviously this is purely hypothetical, but what should be done if Saudi Arabia is overtaken by civil war with ISIS radicals? They could be home-grown, as this post suggests, or imported from Syria and Iraq.

Our dependence on Saudi oil has waned significantly, so there are fewer national interests at play, but the conflict could seriously destabilize the Middle East (and American involvement would likely make it worse). I don’t trust my foreign policy judgement enough to answer the question conclusively.

#8 Comment By Michael Guarino On January 26, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

Also, the blockquote in the John Robb comment is messed up. You have an unordered list of blockquotes, but it should be a blockquoted unordered list. I don’t know how to manage that on this site’s content entry system though, so I cannot be much more help.

#9 Comment By MikeSJ On January 26, 2015 @ 6:27 pm

I have a hard time believing ISIS could control Saudi Arabia but I wouldn’t have believed Iraqi troops – 30,000 or more and heavily armed – would drop their weapons and run from ~ 2,000 lightly armed ISIS fighters.

Will the Saudi troops do the same? I have no idea. But if I was running the royal family over there I’d start bring in foreign solders that I could depend on – say Turkish army units. (lots of bribe money would help with this of course)

I’d also have a jet gased up and ready on 24/7 standby to fly me to London just in case.

#10 Comment By SteveM On January 26, 2015 @ 6:47 pm

Re: check your facts “Hundreds of millions, not billions.”

Right. It’s the U.S. that sends (tens of) Billions to the Saudi Slob Princes.

And I’m sure if the Germans close their military toy store to the oily House of Saud, the American Merchants of Death will swoop in for the sale…

#11 Comment By Adam On January 26, 2015 @ 6:51 pm

I’ve always been given to understand that the reason for the high Saudi unemployment rate is that young Saudis have very comfortable government welfare programs to fall back on, and think that doing manual or menial labor is beneath them. Perhaps this is mistaken, but a superficial reading of the Gulf economic order (where slaves-by-another-name from Pakistan and India are imported to do most of the real work) would seem to support that theory.

#12 Comment By ae fond hope On January 26, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

“According to [German] government sources, the situation in the region is too unstable to ship arms there,” added the daily.”

What refreshing, sensible words.

Meantime, the weapons we ourselves sold to Iraq are now being used to kill both Americans, American allies, and innocent civilians. Just as the weapons we give Israel are being used in actions that cause terror blowback against America.

Maybe an American presidential candidate will come forward who will put the safety of Americans and the Middle East’s long-suffering civilian population ahead of profits for the merchants of death.

#13 Comment By Stas Wirthing On January 26, 2015 @ 7:18 pm

At this point, with the price of oil plummeting, the main reason for coddling the Saudis is to keep them buying our military equipment. Everyone agrees that the Saudis have one of the weakest military forces in the region. And yet the Saudi defense budget is 4 times as big as Israel’s. Four times!

#14 Comment By Mike W On January 26, 2015 @ 7:26 pm

I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

#15 Comment By VikingLS On January 26, 2015 @ 7:28 pm


About a month ago I had a class full of Saudis discuss AI. They suggested that the government could simply pay the salary of anybody put out of work by robots. When I pointed out that not every government could afford that they responded that their could, and when the oil ran out they could fall back on gold.

I don’t see them as eager to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think I’m wrong.

#16 Comment By SDS On January 26, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

“If Iran ever decided to give them dirty bombs this world is too ugly to consider.”

As Iran is the only opposition to Wahhabism at that point; why would Iran do such a thing?

At that point; they’ll effectively be on our side!

The Shia/Sunni schism is still a big part of the picture….

#17 Comment By Roger H. On January 26, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

just how true this is, but when I was an active duty Marine on my way to a second deployment to Iraq we had the population dynamic of all these Middle Eastern Petro-kingdoms explained to us as such:

If you’re a citizen of (insert kingdom here) then you’re a member of the royal family and you are set for life. Almost everyone else there is an imported worker class.

I don’t know if this is the most accurate statement, but I would suggest that an aggrieved worker class with little loyalty to the royal playboy princes might be happier to see them deposed. (Even if a strict regime replaces them…)

#18 Comment By Myron Hudson On January 26, 2015 @ 8:49 pm

TS Gay – I’m wondering why in the world Iran would give ISIS or al Qaida dirty bombes, when Iran, a Shiite nation, is an enemy of both.

That would be like the Unionists giving tanks to the IRA in northern Ireland.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 26, 2015 @ 9:04 pm

…never you mind, I tells her, put on the kettle, we’ll have ourselves a nice cup of tea…

#20 Comment By Lisa On January 26, 2015 @ 9:22 pm

The Saudis totally deserve this. They have supported terrorists and extremism for years. They are reaping what they have sowed. No sympathy for them at all.

#21 Comment By arrScott On January 26, 2015 @ 9:29 pm

Robb continues to Not Get It. His diagnosis of the Saudi state and body politic is right on. But he continues with the obviously deluded notion that ISIS as it exists in Syria and Iraq poses a danger of physically advancing on KSA. Which is obvious nonsense to anyone who either has seen a map of the world or who has even the slghtest familiarity with the situations in Syria and Iraq. The threat is Wahabbi jihadist uprising, either among Saudi tribal populations, in Saudi urban centers, or from elements in either the regular Saudi military or the National Guard. If such an uprising occurred and succeeded, the center of “Islamic State” gravity would shift radically from the court of “Caliph Ibrahim” to whatever leadership existed on Saudi territory.

Alternately, the sons of Ibn Saud are almost exhausted – only Salman and Muqrin are left. That means that the crown must soon pass to the next generation, but to the sons of which son of Ibn Saud? With Salman, the Sudairis appear ascendant, but it’s not conceivable that either then or another cadet branch might embrace a super-fundamentalist position as they make a claim for succession to the throne. Whether such a claim is overtly tied to ISIS or a competing caliphate almost doesn’t matter – either way the notion of an Umma-uniting Sunni caliphate would have possession of Mecca.

#22 Comment By rr On January 26, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

Even if one accepts the far-fetched notion that ISIS is capable of marching on Saudi Arabia, it is highly unlikely that ISIS would be able to run a modern state such as Saudi Arabia. Some in the media as well as the Obama administration like to use the term “so-called Islamic state” because they want to avoid associated ISIS with Islam. Oh, they are Islamic alright. It’s the state part that is questionable.

The brand of fanatical, fundamentalist Islam that groups such as ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram practice is incompatible with having a half-way functioning government and economy. If ISIS or some other fanatical Islamic group took over Saudi Arabia, they would turn it into a failed state and third world country in the matter of a few years. If this happens, the Saudis have dug their own graves by sponsoring Wahabbism for so long.

In case something like this does happen, I really hope our dependence on Middle Eastern oil continues to wane.

#23 Comment By df On January 26, 2015 @ 11:31 pm

Rod, this is tangential, and wanted to point out to you. But as cultural index and epiphenomenon, as post-mods would say, it’s hard to beat: France’s gays are warming to Marine Le Pen’s National Front (as are some Jews). I think you can guess why:


#24 Comment By Uncle Billy On January 27, 2015 @ 8:04 am

For many years, the Saudis have bankrolled Sunni extremists all over the world. Now, they are getting some blowback. Who da thunk it? Actually, the Saudis have had numerous “incidents” over the years, such as when the Sunni fanatics took the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1978, resulting in hundreds of deaths and chaos in Mecca for weeks.

A sensible person would think that the Saudis would try to dial down the fanaticism, but no, they insist on playing with fire.

#25 Comment By Raskolnik On January 27, 2015 @ 8:10 am

rr, the fact that ISIS doesn’t play by the rules of the international system inherited from the ethnic nationalist unifications of Europe during the 19th century in no way indicates that they are incapable of running “a state,” on the contrary it only demonstrates the weaknesses and internal contradictions of that system and its accompanying conception of statehood.

#26 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 27, 2015 @ 9:47 am

Saudi Arabia is more than capable of managing their affairs. And Should Germany be inclined to withdraw sales because of the mess we helped create, then by all means,

we should sell what they will buy.

#27 Comment By Polichinello On January 27, 2015 @ 9:53 am

Like Hyman Roth’s heart attack, the Saudi monarchy has been falling to the same revolution for decades now, yet all is the same.

#28 Comment By Captain P On January 27, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

ISIS has shown no ability to take significant land from well-armed forces motivated to fight it. It was a Johnny-come-lately in parts of Syria where the rebels had already pushed out Assad’s forces, and it took over parts of Iraq where the Sunni tribal leadership conspired to bring it in, and the “Iraqi army” was only a paper force. (Literally paper- commanders listed soldiers on their payroll who did not actually exist).

If the Kurdish peshmerga, which is essentially nothing more than an infantry force riding around in trucks, can push back ISIS with the help of US airstrikes, I’m pretty sure that the Saudi army can handle things.

#29 Comment By stef On January 27, 2015 @ 4:42 pm

Well, maybe if the Saudis didn’t use women as brood mares, they wouldn’t have half their population under 25, and such phenomenal unemployment.

The only terrible thing I can see about an ISIS takeover of Saudi Arabia is that we still have US-citizen women (and children) imprisoned there. These women had the very bad judgment to marry Saudi husbands, then went to Saudi Arabia, came under Saudi law, and have been imprisoned ever since.

[NFR: If the berserkers of ISIS got hold of Saudi oil money, the conflagration they would set off in the Middle East would slaughter hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, and destroy the world’s economy. — RD]

#30 Comment By Winston On January 30, 2015 @ 10:49 pm

I want to know how an intelligent man like St. John Philby could become a Wahhabi? yes one of the most legendary British spies, who bested T.E. Lawrence and got his way and put Ibn Saud in power!
See also discussion here about Philby:

As Prince Charles and David Cameron lead tributes to Saudi king… Oxford historian MARK ALMOND says UK establishment seems blinded by kingdom’s vast oil wealth

#31 Comment By Winston On January 30, 2015 @ 10:55 pm

As this blogger pointed out just look at the symbolic message of the flag (and its sword)

How We All Bow to the Saudi King