US Bereft of Arab Coalition After Saudi Arabia Backs out
22 September P.M.
The United States has delayed the start of its offensive against Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden, in retaliation for the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington, because of a dramatic turnaround of Arab support in the Middle East, DEBKAfile ’s Gulf and Washington sources report.
Saturday afternoon, it became clear that events in Riyadh had dealt the final deathblow to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell’s failed efforts to create an Arab front to bolster the Bush administration’s world war on terror.
The reason for King Fahd secret exit from Saudi Arabia, followed by a large royal party, is believed by our most reliable sources to be a palace revolution sparked by differences in the royal family over support for the US offensive against Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden’s terror network and other rogue targets. King Fahd and his Sudeiri faction, including defense minister Sultan, were in favor of letting the US place assault forces in forward bases on Saudi soil; the conservative, religious Crown Prince Abdullah, who runs the kingdom since King Fahd became ill, overruled him, backed by the religious establishment.
As a result, Saudi Arabia refused to let the US use the kingdom’s new combined air operations command center at Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh, after Air Force Lt. Gen Charles Wald had been dispatched to the base earlier this week, to take command of US air forces assigned to the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
His mission was to run the air war from the new, sophisticated air base opened this summer, a base linked to Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates and Seeb in the Sultanate of Oman. The Saudi base was also to have been the central command post not only for the 175 aircraft already based in the region for patrolling south Iraq’s no-flight zone, but also for directing attacks from other bases in the region in the new war offensive.
When General Wald landed in Saudi Arabia with his top aides on Tuesday, September 18, he was told he had no command base. That was when the feuding inside the royal house over its role in the American war against terrorism reached its climax. The monarch’s defeat in the argument inside the palace was apparently the main reason for his abrupt departure the next day, Wednesday, September 19.
The Pentagon has since then been casting about for replacement bases of operation and holding up the onset of the scheduled US campaign.
DEBKAfile ’s military sources believe that one of General Wald’s options for his command post is the Bahrain. Some of the fighter craft due to have been based in Saudi Arabia have been moved to Incerlik, the big air base in South Turkey, after Anakara made all its bases available for the American war effort, and the Uzbek military airport of Tuzel, 15 km. from Tashkent. Large-scale air and commando forces also landed Saturday in Tadjikistan, on the border of Afghanistan.
The American forces are now laboring to catch up with their schedule for the operation.
The upset in Riydah also sent the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat racing to Riydah to meet Crown Prince Abdullah and update his own strategy with the turn of events in the royal house. DEBKAfile ’s Palestinian experts expect Arafat to turn tail and back out of the accommodations he broached under US and European pressure – including his commitment to a ceasefire.
According to DEBKAfile ’s Washington sources, the Bush administration realizes it has been let down by the Arab world, chiefly the Saudis and President Mubarak of Egypt, in its first steps to launch an international campaign to defeat world terrorism. It will go ahead, but not forget in a hurry.
22 September A.M.
King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has been secretly flown out of the kingdom to his palace in Geneva, Switzerland. DEBKAfile reports this breaking news exclusively from its Gulf and Middle East sources. The royal mobile hospital fitted aboard Boeing 757 HZ-HMED landed in the private VIP section of Geneva airport Wednesday afternoon, September 19. A palace conclave led by Crown Prince Abdullah, who effectively rules the kingdom, decided to remove the chronically ailing monarch to safety, fearing he might be stranded in the middle of a military crisis arising from the impending US offensive in the region.
The royal hospital plane was accompanied by another craft of the royal flight carrying the king’s family and entourage.
The possibility of a major terrorist attack on the royal palaces being sparked by the outbreak of hostilities was also taken into account in Riyadh. A group of princes was therefore carried to a safe place in the additional fleet of 10 royal aircraft that ferried members of the Saudi royal family to Geneva. More than a dozen Mercedes waited on the tarmac of Geneva International Airport to collect the royal arrivals.
According to DEBKAfile’s sources, the Saudi royal airlift, which began Tuesday night, September 18, is still in progress. Two more private royal planes are expected in the VIP section of Geneva airport Saturday.