Al Qaeda's second massive attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, since May, has put the U.S. on notice: The credibility and survival of the Saudi regime, the sentinel of Middle Eastern oil, are at stake.
The incapacitated King Fahd's threat to fight al Qaeda "with an iron fist" sounds hollow. It is under the Gulf regime's noses — and funded by their princes and moneybags — that al Qaeda grew into a global threat.
Since May 2003 attack, the Saudis have improved their antiterrorism efforts, and Secretary of State Colin Powell praised the desert kingdom's cooperation in the war on terrorism. He also said, however, that the Saudis need to do more. Preventing Saudi youths from killing Americans in Iraq is a good place to start.
Osama bin Laden has targeted the aging princes and the foreign presence in the kingdom, which makes the oil economy tick. The attacks' dual aim to drive the "infidels" from the Land of Two Mosques — and topple the monarchy.
Bin Laden is eyeing the symbolism of ruling Mecca, and wants to seize Arabia's gigantic cash flow — more than $160 billion a year — for the sake of nuclear jihad, severing the West's oil artery on the way.
Three devastating scenarios may endanger the flow of the Gulf oil: toppling of the House of Saud; a mega-attack on the oil ports, pipelines and terminals; or a protracted conflict between the monarchists and the jihadis.
Bin Laden may use an explosives-laden jumbo jet or a radiological weapon (dirty nuke) to paralyze vital nodes of the Gulf oil infrastructure such as Ras Tanura terminal. Such an attack may neutralize the Saudi surplus production capacity vital for price stability. If this occurs, the price for gasoline may hit $6 a gallon for several months, and a deep economic recession would be triggered by expensive energy. This could have devastating results to President Bush's economic recovery strategy.
Bin Laden and his henchmen understand terror's political economy of terror. Ayman Al Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, said Western economic targets are high on al Qaeda's hit list. Al Qaeda aims for maximum ripple effect: banking and insurance losses for the September 11, 2001, attack were in excess of $55 billion to $60 billion.
In October 2002, the Limbourg, a French supertanker, was hit by al Qaeda's suicide Zodiac boat in the Straits of Hormuz. Several incidents of anonymous "pirates" taking over large tankers and piloting them for hours happened in the Molucca Straits, close to Indonesia shores. Al Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Islamiya operates in Indonesia and was behind the bloody Bali bombing.
British terrorism expert Tim Spicer has called this a maritime equivalent of a pre-September 11 flight school. Blown-up tankers can paralyze vital waterways, such as the Panama and Suez Canals or the Bosporus Strait. A tanker full of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) blown up at a Gulf oil terminal would have the power of a nuclear weapon — and consequences as devastating. Warnings of sea-based terrorism abound.
Al Qaeda is dead-set to destroy the Saudi royal guardians of oil — or the fields themselves. As our energy security is endangered, the U.S. needs to respond comprehensively.
The United States must increase the share of domestic oil and gas, including from Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and U.S. Continental Shelf and bring more oil from West Africa and the Caspian. The energy basket must be more diverse, to include methanol/ethanol blended fuels, coal, LNG and nuclear.
Japan, China, the U.S. and Western Europe should expand their Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPRs). Today, the U.S. has 90 days' supply. Europeans have less, and China's reserves barely exist. Industrial economies should build up their supplies to last six months.
It is vital to defeat the Ba'athists, foreign jihadis and their state sponsors in Iraq, which has huge oil reserves — and a great thirst for economic development after decades of Saddam's criminal misrule. When security, law and order, and privatization come, foreign investment will follow.
Saudi Arabia must cut funds to clerics who support slavery and justify murder of "infidels" and "apostates." This bloodshed is what Saleh Al-Fawzan advocates. He is the author of the religious textbooks used to teach 5 million Saudi students, both within the kingdom and in Saudi schools abroad — including those in the D.C. area. Al-Fawzan is a member of the Senior Council of Clerics, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, and a professor at Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University, the main Wahhabi center of learning in the country. People like him continue to support terrorism against the West, the monarchy's statements nonwithstanding.
The Saudi Jihad-exporting network around the world must be dismantled. Terror factories that pose as Islamic academies (madrassas), and those parts of the state-run media that breed terror must be shut down.
The U.S. must ensure that Saudia Arabia and other sheikhdoms fully cooperate with our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, the U.S. military must prepare contingency plans for militarily defeating al Qaeda if it attempts to seize Gulf oil assets.
Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. His expertise includes international energy security.