US-Saudi ties: Bond of blessings

by Asadullah Raisani

The US policy towards Saudi Arabia is pro-interest and the Saudi foreign policy toward US is pro-power.


Weak states are always pro-power and Pro-Power States are always pro-interest. Same case follows in the US Saudi relations. Saudi Arabia is a mega violator of human rights, gender equality and has assertive foreign policy. Despite that US finds pluses there to stay with the monarchy. As there are three main glues for America to keep showering her blessings on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Firstly, Saudi Arabia can be America’s third watchdog after Israel and UAE, in the region. Secondly, she can help US in containing Iran, the arch rival of both the states today. Thirdly, KSA is an oil rich country with Islamic holy sites, as that Makkah and Madinah. The third factor makes her a secure land. Whereas the answer of the question, “What keeps Saudi Arabia to shower her blessings on US?” is in the first sentence of the paragraph.

Key words: US, Iran, KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

Saudi law does not provide for freedom of assembly, expression, religion, the press, or association; rather, the government strictly limits each of these.

Since 2017, Saudi security forces have detained dozens of activists, Islamist figures, and journalists, also announcing various charges against some well-known public figures, including prominent clerics, human rights advocates, and women’s rights campaigners. Though such cases are easy to be witnessed in many other states except KSA, but the American behavior remains different towards Saudi Monarchy than other countries. In addition “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” Saudi law does not provide for freedom of assembly, expression, religion, the press, or association; rather, the government strictly limits each of these. The most recent (2018) U.S. State Department report on human rights in Saudi Arabia notes, “Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their rights.” The report states that, despite conditions in which “gender discrimination excluded women from many aspects of public life … women slowly but increasingly participated in political life, albeit at a disadvantage.”

Saudi law does not provide freedom of religion. The country’s official religion is Islam, and the Quran and Sunna (traditions) of the Prophet Mohammed serve as the country’s foundational legal sources. In November 2017, authorities revised the counterterrorism law to criminalize “the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form,” “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam,” publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts deemed contrary to sharia, including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim. In April 2019, Saudi authorities executed 33 individuals convicted of involvement in related unrest, attacks, or of espionage. U.S. travel advisories state that U.S. government personnel are restricted from travel to Qatif and Al Awamiyah because of related tensions and the potential for violence.

Both the states have very little to pay for this friendship.

Despite all mentioned aspects, in September 2019, President Trump deployed additional military personnel and assets to Saudi Arabia in response to escalating cross-border attacks on Saudi infrastructure. This indicates a high alert position of US and Saudi Arabia. Trump Administration has proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia with a potential value of more than $28 billion, including emergency arms sales announced in May 2019. Successive U.S. Administrations have sought partnership with the ruling Al Saud family since the 1940s in light of their kingdom’s large oil reserves and Saudi influence derived from their management of the birthplace of the Islamic faith. The visits of the high officials show hasty ties between the states. Both the states have very little to pay for this friendship. For instance, the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was avoided by the US president Donald Trump and in return KSA has allowed Saudi females to drive and travel without a guardian. These prices are mild if one puts a glance on the mega interests of both the countries. Additionally Saudi Arabia was the second largest U.S. trading partner in the Middle East by overall value in 2019.

In the terms of common threats, IS (so called Islamic State), Al-Qaaeda and Al-Qaeda affiliates are on top of the list. In 2016, the Saudi Ministry of Interior reported that there were then “2,093 Saudis fighting with terrorist organizations in conflict zones, including ISIS, with more than 70 percent of them in Syria.” Following the January 2016 execution by the Saudi government of dozens of convicted AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) suspects, including some prominent ideologues, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri released a statement condemning the kingdom and calling for revenge. Including that Saudi officials have arrested more than 1,600 suspected IS supporters and report they have foiled several planned attacks. Late IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi aggressively challenged Saudi leaders’ credentials as defenders of Islam and implementers of Salafist Sunni principles, calling them “the slaves of the Crusaders and allies of the Jews” and accusing them of abandoning Sunni Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, and others.

Furthermore, the rivalry between Arabs and Persians is as old as Persia’s invasion by Arabs in seventh century. Whereas the US Iran rivalry is as old as Iran’s Islamic Revolution of February 1979. This makes Iran a common foe between Saudi Arabia and the United States. As it is said, “Enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In this regard, a wise analyst argues that Iran has five capitals. First, Tehran is her capital in Iran. Beirut is Iran’s second capital which is located in Lebanon. As Hezbollah (a Shia majority) group of Lebanon works for Iran in the region to counter Israel and US where needed. Damascus is the third capital of Iran, located in Syria. The fourth capital of Iran is Baghdad in Iraq, as she has been allegedly involved in the internal affairs of Iraq. Lastly, the fifth capital of Iran is Sana in Yemen, as Houthis are supported by IRGC (the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) of Iran. This makes America and KSA more cautious regarding their interests in the Middle East.

War torn Yemen

In this regard Saudi Arabia established a coalition in March 2015 to engage in military operations in Yemen against the Ansar Allah/Houthi movement and loyalists of the previous president of Yemen, the late Ali Abdullah Saleh. Not only has that but KSA also used Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition against Yemen on OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) platform. Iran and Saudi Arabia are often alleged to maneuver the platform of OIC for their personal interests rather than the collective interests of the Islamic World. Whereas the KSA succeeds to do so and Iran cannot. Saudi Arabia has also victimized school children in Yemen, but the international community generally and America particularly remains indifferent on such issues.

In addition Saudi Arabia relies on other states for her defense as she does not have a strong military. For her large oil resources US provides her such protection. According to recent facts, as of January 2020, Saudi Arabia was the third largest source of U.S. crude oil imports, providing an average of 368 thousand barrels per day of the 6.57 million barrels per day (mbd) in gross U.S. crude oil imports, behind Canada and Mexico. Including that, no Muslim State can attack on the holy sites of Islamic Faith, as Makkah and Madinah. This makes KSA a stronger nation on earth. Whereas her rivals Iran, Qatar, Syria and Yemen do not possess such advantage. This is a firm bond between KSA AND USA.

Three conclusions can be drawn from this article. Firstly, Saudi Arabia is on the road to be US’s watchdog in the Middle East. As Israel, UAE, USA and KSA have one thing common, which is Iran’s rivalry. Iran is growing her ties with the revisionists as Russia and China and this is what intolerable for US in a multilateral world. Secondly, both the states are bound to be allies to contain Iran in the region generally and in Yemen particularly. As Iran supports Houthis in Yemen, she is pro-Assad in Syria, facilitates arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Major General Qassem Soleimani of Iran was hunted from Baghdad, who was allegedly interfering in the Iraqi politics and had killed many American personnel in the region. Thirdly, Saudi Arabia is an oil rich country, which makes her a leading trade partner of USA in the region.

Middle East Writer

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