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Wednesday, May 25, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Report: Arab Spring, 'wobbly' U.S. policy weakens Saudi-led coalition against Iran

TEL AVIV — Saudi Arabia has been shaken by the Arab revolt spreading throughout the Middle East.


Saudi leaders are deeply angered at the perceived weakness of the Obama Administration and feels alone against neighboring Iran, a report said.

The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies stated that the Saudi royal family feels that Riyad has been significantly weakened by the Arab revolt. The center, in a report by researcher Joshua Teitelbaum, said the Saudis have assessed that they are virtually alone in a Sunni coalition against Teheran, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The Saudis had previously believed that they were the leaders, with U.S. backing, of a united Sunni coalition against Shi'ite Iran," the report, titled "Saudi Arabia, Iran and America in the Wake of the Arab Spring," said. "Now its partners have fallen by the wayside — Egypt appears to be dropping out, Bahrain is threatened, and the U.S. is wobbly."

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Teitelbaum, regarded as a leading Israeli analyst on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, said the Arab revolt has undermined a Saudi strategy set in 1979 that saw Iran as the leading threat. The report said Riyad has also been dismayed over the policy of President Barack Obama, who appears to favor a U.S. reconciliation with Iran even as it threatens the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.

"This is certainly a rocky period in Riyad-Washington relations," the report said. "As the U.S. struggles to align its interests with its values, it finds it more difficult to support authoritarian monarchies like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia."

Saudi anger toward Obama was said to have peaked this year when Washington supported the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Later, Obama failed to help Bahrain in quelling what the Saudis assessed was an Iranian-backed Shi'ite revolt.

"Outraged at what it saw as the Obama administration's abandonment of anti-Iranian Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Saudis charged into Bahrain on March 14 to support its ally against a Shi'ite uprising, despite last minute U.S. efforts to head off the Saudi move," the report said. "The Saudis troops are still there. Egypt's announcement that it was ready to reestablish diplomatic relations with Teheran, and the Egyptian-brokered rapprochement between Fatah and Iranian-supported Hamas, have further contributed to a Saudi sense of abandonment."

The report said the Saudis have been concerned over the prospect of an Iranian-Egyptian alliance. Egyptian Prime Minister Issam Sharaf was said to have informed Riyad in April of Cairo's plans to renew relations with Teheran.

Teitelbaum envisioned continued tension between the Saudis and its longtime allies, particularly the United States. He said Obama was referring to Riyad in his May 19 address that outlined a U.S. commitment to a democratic Arab world.

"With multiple interests across the globe, the Obama administration has been divided on the Arab Spring: Liberal interventionists, or idealists, saw U.S. interests as being nearly synonymous with promoting democracy, while the pragmatists, or realists, believed that U.S. interests were much wider and should consider many other factors," the report said. "Saudi interests, on the other hand, were more clear-cut, the threats closer by and therefore much more immediate. Obama's May 19 speech was a victory for the administration’s idealists, to the Saudis' great disappointment."

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