Bandar “Divorces” the Saudis from the Palestinians

Saudi Prince Bandar (Al Arabiya) addresses the Palestinians
Saudi Prince Bandar (Al Arabiya)

According to Islamic law, the Palestinians could be “out” after his third pronouncement

October 7, 2020 — The second part of Saudi Prince Bandar’s lengthy and astounding interview on the Israel-Palestine conflict was released today. The final third segment will be published straightaway.

Bandar, who served as ambassador to Washington (1983-2005) and was considered a D.C. insider, revealed numerous cases of the PLO’s Yasser Arafat scuppering serious peace plans dating back to the 1978 Camp David Accords. He traced Palestinians’ colossal mistakes back to the Mufti of Jerusalem’s alliance with Hitler. From the interview:

“The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful. That sums up the events of the last 70 or 75 years. There is also something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common; they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price. Amin al-Husseini in the 1930s was betting on the Nazis in Germany, and we all know what happened to Hitler and Germany….”

“A bad bet by the Mufti,” according to Prince Bandar. (Screengrab)

“The Palestinians rejected the autonomy provisions in the [1978] Camp David Treaty and considered this peace treaty a betrayal to the Arab nation. What was Israel doing during this period? Israel was working on increasing its influence, while the Arabs were busy with each other. The Palestinians and their leaders led these disputes among the Arabs.”

“After the Oslo Accord, I asked Abu Ammar [Arafat], what he thought of the autonomy provisions in the Camp David Treaty. He said, “Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accord.” I said, “Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?” He said, “I wanted to, but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.” I thought to myself, so he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.”

Bandar also reiterated the Palestinians’ long list of unforgivable insults to the Gulf States, especially, Arafat’s embrace of Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait.

Screenshot from Bandar’s interview. “Who can forget the image?” Iraq’s Saddam Hussein receives Yasser Arafat, 1990 (Al Arabiya)

Ostensibly, the torrent of insults from Palestinian leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority after the U.S.-brokered UAE-Bahrain-Israel Agreements broke the camel’s back, and Prince Bandar – clearly with the encouragement of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) – unleashed a counterattack.

Divorce Islamic Style

“You are haram [forbidden] to me,” declared by a husband to his wife three times is one of the traditional Islamic taleq formulas for a divorce.  Bandar has proclaimed it publicly twice now in his interviews; is the third on its way? Bandar repeatedly said to the Palestinians in his interview, “For too long, we’ve covered for you and gave excuses for you.”

No one should be surprised if the Saudi divorce comes now in the Third Act. The Saudi course of action could have been recognized already in the script’s introduction when the Emirates and Bahrain, with the Saudi playwright’s encouragement, foretold the plot. And the American administration will not surprised or disappointed.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (center), UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed (far right), and Bahrain Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif Al Zayani (far left) (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

What’s in It for the Saudis?
F-35 stealth multirole combat aircraft, for a start.

Prince Bandar is not only a prince, a former ambassador to Washington, and a Saudi Air Force colonel, he is also a battle-scarred and decorated veteran of the AWACS-F-15 fight on Capitol Hill in 1981 and 1982.

I know because I was on the other side as AIPAC’s Director of Research and Information.

It was masterful how the Administration and Bandar marshaled their corporate and lobbying forces, ignoring all the flack we fired about the danger to Israel from the sophisticated F-15s (AWACS was a convenient high-profile media target for us) and Saudi human rights violations. According to reports, Bandar was actually given an office in Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker’s office for the debate.

Today, Saudi Arabia’s profile is much improved, especially after the blatant anti-Semitism of previous kings is gone, and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has emerged as a major decision-maker in the Kingdom and the Gulf States. His tightly-controlled liberalization on issues of women’s rights, Israeli overflights, and investment are very welcome. Senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner is close to MBS, and President Trump sees the Saudi Kingdom as a prolific cash cow for rejuvenating the U.S. economy.

President Trump expresses thanks to MBS for $12.5 billion in Saudi purchases of U.S. weapons in March 2018. (YouTube screengrab)

Enter the F-35s and the U.S. elections.  The Saudis realize that a new resident could be living in the White House in January 2021, and a Democratic-controlled Congress is a real possibility. In recent years, the Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed rage over the involvement of Saudi intelligence agents in the murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey in 2018.  Democrats, led by presidential nominee Joseph Biden, have called for “end[ing] our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.” In July 2019, President Trump vetoed congressional resolutions to block weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because of their involvement in the air campaign in Yemen. His veto was upheld with the support of Senate Republicans, who argued that Saudi Arabia was a “bulwark against Iran’s influence in the Mideast.” That can change.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States live in fear of the bellicose Iranians. The worst nightmare for them would be the return to government after January 2021 of Obama policymakers who, in an attempt to show U.S. balance to Iran, would halt such game-changing sales of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia.

What’s in It for the Trump Administration?

An interesting fact that arose during the debate over the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia was the discovery that the planes were originally sold to the Shah of Iran’s air force. The Khomeini revolution hit Iran before the planes’ delivery. The sale was redirected to Saudi Arabia, which served to amortize the massive cost of the AWACS to the U.S. Air Force.

Can that be the case with the F-35s? If not for Turkey’s President Erdogan misguided purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, those planes could have been on the way to Turkey.  The United States removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program in July 2019.  The U.S. Air Force ended up purchasing the “Turkish F-35s.”

An indication of the Trump Administration’s intentions toward Saudi Arabia may be found in an exclusive interview given to the Riyadh Daily, on September 23, 2020, by Simone Ledeen,  U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East.

According to the report, Ledeen “added that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the pillars of the regional security architecture, and has primary interest in combating terrorism and Iran’s destabilizing activities. Given the common threat we face in the region, the US Department of Defense seeks to deepen the relationship with strong partners to achieve counter-terrorism goals, as there is long-term cooperation with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces, the National Guard and the Ministry of Interior. This cooperation, which covers training and foreign military sales, makes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia an important defense partner, and this partnership is based on common goals and valued by the United States.

Ledeen is too young to remember the AWACS debate, but U.S. administration officials used to refer to the Shah’s Iran and Saudi Arabia as “Pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East.”

What Does Israel Say?

Israel is close to ecstasy over the new open relationships with the Emirates and Bahrain, and it is quietly pleased with the under-the-table relationship with Saudi Arabia. They all share the challenge to confront Iran, and presumably, they share vital intelligence. Israel wants its new friends to show military prowess, too, especially as the United States lowers its profile in the region.

The United Arab Emirates Air Force flies some 150 American-made multirole F-16 fighters and French-made Mirage 2000, which have flown combat sorties in Libya, Syria, and Iraq.  As tensions with Turkey increased in the eastern Mediterranean in August 2020, the UAE sent four F-16s to Greece for joint exercises.

The Saudi Air Force possesses hundreds of the formidable American-made multirole F-15 combat aircraft, including enhanced versions. The plane is the backbone of the Israeli Air Force, and Israeli planners considered purchasing more F-15s instead of the F-35.

In any scenario, the current air forces of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are more than a match for Iran’s antiquated air force.

Israel has expressed its opposition to the United States selling F-35s to any Arab State. It is not an issue of prestige; the F-35 is in a Generation-5, super-plane class of itself. Besides its stealth features, the aircraft has unparalleled electronic warfare, battlefield management, and intelligence capabilities. Non-Israeli sources report that the Israeli F-35 planes have flown combat missions deep in enemy territory.  Israel fears that in the hands of potentially unstable regimes, the planes’ secrets will be compromised.  An American sale would also violate a legally mandated American commitment to maintain Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge (QME).”

About the Author
Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He is a public affairs consultant, writer, researcher, and historian of early photographs. Ben-David is the author of "American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs." He worked for AIPAC for 25 years in Washington and Jerusalem.
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