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Edge on Terrorism

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Saudi Arabia's Questionable Support of America's War on Terror

December 27th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard

While the United States has publicly lauded Saudi Arabia as a major ally in the ongoing war on terror, classified diplomatic cables uncovered by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks in late November show that the State Department holds a much more pessimistic view toward the Saudi commitment to counter-terrorism.  More than nine years after the attacks of September 11th, the released cables reveal that U.S. officials feel Saudi Arabia continues to permit, and at worst even encourage, the financing of terrorists. 

In recent years, wealthy Saudi nationals were identified as funneling millions of dollars through various government-sanctioned charitable organizations that help fund Islamic terror organizations, including Bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda and Palestinian Hamas.  According to one of the released cables, "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide."

Though the Saudi government was not directly indicted by WikiLeaks for financing terrorism, both their support for extremism and their reluctance to embrace the American-led war on terror is well documented.  In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian Intifada, the Saudis' sponsored a telethon for "Palestinian martyrs" through which hundreds of thousands of dollars were distributed to the families of suicide bombers. An estimate released in 2003 showed up to 60 percent of Hamas' total budget was supplied by Saudi Arabia, either from official government sources or through organizations whose ongoing activities were protected by the government.

Toward the end of the Bush administration, after years of receiving millions of dollars in economic and military aid from the U.S., Saudi leaders attacked the U.S. by calling it "a first class sponsor of international terrorism" and even issued a fatwa allowing the use of WMDs against the U.S. In one of the cables released through WikiLeaks, dated December 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was privately critical of the Saudi government's staunch refusal to ban three charities that the U.S. classified as terrorist entities after intelligence reports suggested "that these groups continue to send money overseas... and fund extremism."  Clinton was also deeply frustrated that the Saudis had done little to disrupt the internal access to fundraising that terrorist groups such as Hamas, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) enjoy within the Kingdom. For example, not one person directly identified by the United States and United Nations as a terror financier for these groups has been prosecuted in Saudi courts.

The Saudi Arabian government has indeed made some efforts to curb terrorism stemming from its country; however, the measures taken have been almost exclusively aimed at protecting the royal family and their vast oil reserves.  As Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorist and Financial Intelligence within the Department of the Treasury, noted, beyond those "personal" initiatives, Saudi Arabia has taken only minimal steps to curb Islamic extremism.

In an interview with ABC News, Levey said, "If I could somehow snap my fingers and cut off the funding [to terrorists] from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia." Despite being publicly hailed by the United States as a critical military and diplomatic ally, Saudi Arabia has yet to prove that it is fully committed to assisting in the war on terror.

Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of AICE and the Jewish Virtual Library. His books include: Will Israel Survive? (Palgrave), 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/ Dawn of the Holocaust (Lyons Press).


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