The Phaserl


Has JASTA Become the Deal Breaker in Saudi-US Relations?

by Maxim Egorov, New Eastern Outlook:

The unanimous adoption of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) by the US House of Representatives on September 9 resulted in a massive diplomatic row between the US and Saudi Arabia.

For sure, this latest episode is not the first one in the history of the troubled relations of the two states that seem to be unable to overcome mutual mistrust that has been on the rise in recent years. The honeymoon period of the US-Saudi relations only lasted from 1945 to 1973, while the formula “oil for security” that was penned by the Saudi King Abdulaziz Al-Saud and President Roosevelt aboard the legendary USS Quincy actually worked.

The bilateral relations suffered a major blow for the first time during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, when Saudi Arabia acted as a mastermind behind the embargo that prevented Western states from getting Middle Eastern oil deliveries. This resulted in an oil crisis in the West and inflicted an extensive amount of damage to the US oil interests and virtually buried the strategic cooperation between the two countries. Yet, the ties were gradually rebuilt, largely due to the fact that CIA operatives took an active part in the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi military occupation back in 1990.

But any further progress in establishing trustful bilateral relations has been effectively derailed by the 9/11 attacks, since it became known almost immediately in their aftermath that the absolute majority of radicals that brought terror on the US soil were of Saudi origin. According to the official version of these events, a series of despicable acts of terrorism was planned and executed by the Al-Qaida, that was headed at the time by a Saudi citizen Osama bin Laden. The damage inflicted by these facts on the US-Saudi relations was so extensive that it took the states almost a year before they even tried to mend the broken ties.

At some point it seemed that this topic would never be revisited again by both Washington and Riyadh, since the official investigation found no ties between Saudi officials and the Al-Qaeda. Soon the headlines were screaming “invasion” as Washington decided it was time to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq back in 2003. It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia was eager to support Washington in this military adventure. Then, the so-called “Arab Spring” erupted in the region, leading to the collapse of a number of Middle Eastern states. It seemed that the events of 9/11 would never be brought to light again.

However, this does not mean that the ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States were effectively repaired, as new crises awaited the alliance that was almost a century old. As Washington withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and started discussions with Teheran about the fate of its nuclear program Riyadh couldn’t help but feel betrayed. It was as if Washington tried to distance itself from Saudi Arabia, willing to choose Tehran over Riyadh for playing the role of a regional gendarme.

Yet, Riyadh had no intention of facing the Islamic Revolutionary titan on its own, since the latter has always has way more combat-capable forces while remaining in possession of a comparable natural wealth, especially in terms of oil and gas. In fears that such a turn can take place, Riyadh decided that it must find a way to sway Washington in its favor. For this purpose Riyadh signed two arms shipment contracts with Washington back in 2011, the total worth of which amounted to the whooping 60 billion dollars, making it the biggest arms deal in history. It would seem that America would have no second thoughts about retaining its strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia.

But even then the behavior of its “strategic partner” remained a total mystery for Riyadh. The Syrian conflict turned out to be a bitter disappointment to the ruling Al-Saud clan, since in February 2012, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the KSA Saud al-Faisal was behind himself with rage when he realized that Hillary Clinton that was the US Secretary of State at the time, had no intension of supplying the so-called Syrian opposition with US made weapons. This became apparent at the meeting of the so-called “friends of Syria” that al-Faisal abandoned before it even ended. Moreover, the United States chose to seek cooperation with Russia to pursue the peaceful destruction of the Syrian chemical stockpiles that Moscow proposed. This fact aggravated the suspicions that were brewing deep inside the al-Saud royal clan that Washington would be relying on Iran and Russia when dealing with different Middle Eastern matters.

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