GCC oil fields and military bases threatened by the Islamic State

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An image made available on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin on June 11, 2014 shows a militant of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) posing with the trademark Islamist flag after they allegedly seized an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern Iraqi province of Salahuddin. (Photo: AFP-Welayet Salahuddin)

By: Nizar Abboud

Published Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Saudi Arabia is facing today growing security threats amid fears that the same terrorism it established in neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Syria, will expand to reach its own territories, especially since the “Islamic State” organization has learned many lessons from the past experiences of its predecessor, al-Qaeda, with the Saudi regime.

New York – The Gulf governments seem worried these days. None of them had imagined, a few months ago, that individuals entrusted with security, people’s lives, oil fields and weapons would eventually pose the main threat to all these valuables.

Times have changed, so did the rules of the game. The new “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, supported by countries of the Gulf that have provided him with money and arms, will not wait before striking. Al-Baghdadi may even resort to a preemptive war, this time launched from inside, not from across the borders.

Since the early 1970s, Gulf countries have been counting on apolitical Bedouins to maintain security. These people were trusted because they distanced themselves from politics and did not embrace leftist and revolutionary ideas. Their main concerns were their salaries and bonuses, and to please their guardians (the rulers).

When a regime is under any kind of threat, the Bedouins are usually the first to step up to defend the earnings that they themselves lack in the desert, like a stable residence, water and peace of mind, alongside other privileges and a steady income, as well as education and healthcare services for their families, and above all the respect that accompanies the military uniform.

In general, Gulf citizens did not trust Bedouins, they did not want their daughters to marry them, and even denied them citizenship. First and foremost, Bedouins do not believe in modern states and the desert does not recognize the Sykes-Picot treaty, nor its borders. They do not even acknowledge civil records. For them, lineage is something to be stored in one’s memory, and parentage is recorded by the tribes’ elders.

Bedouinism, which has been linked to the Wahabi-Takfiri ideology for about three centuries, is the optimal weapon to confront the Shia, just like it confronted communism before. It is an ideal alliance that is uncontested by any Arab ruler or Western government. In this framework, a sea, or rather an ocean, of historical animosity can be invested in a war that has already stirred up all old vocabularies that have been stored for centuries.

Sectarian fanaticism failed to prevail in the fierce Iraqi-Iranian war as late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein turned against the states that stood by his side but [were really] pushing him into the abyss. For a moment, Saddam thought that the military power he was permitted to hold while fighting Iran was also to be used in implementing plans he had drawn for other parts of the Gulf, to the south and the east of Iraq.

At the time, the alliance between Gulf monarchs did not conflict with the one they held with Wahabi Bedouin security forces. [During the invasion of Kuwait], Kuwaitis of all affiliations fled to Saudi Arabia, whether Bedouins, urbanites, or Bedoons (stateless Arabs) and after the liberation, they all returned to their old labels, but with increased bigotry.

Kuwait’s Bedoons were declined citizenship ever since the US-British led liberation of their country, since history in this part of the world is not easily forgotten. The House of Sabah, the ruling family of Kuwait, still remembers that Bedoons, mostly adhering to Wahabism, were tools used by Islamic preacher Mohammed bin Abdel Wahab as he sought to impose his ideology by the power of the sword.

He took hold of large swathes of land in the Arabian Peninsula, attacked Kuwait, the coast of Oman, Damascus, Karbala and Najaf, destroyed historical sites, religious mausoleums and shrines whenever he could, and looted properties belonging to both Sunnis and Shia.

This Wahabi Bedouinism was not restricted to the Arabian Peninsula, but it spread to other parts of the world at the hands of influential Saudi preachers.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Europe hosted many of their religious schools. So it is not strange for Bahrain to naturalize Pakistani and Bengali fanatics, in a bid to change the demographics of the mostly Shia island, by giving it a “Saudi” aspect and making it more Wahabi. These naturalized Asians were later assigned to security posts, just like Bedouins.

Salafi-takfiri Wahabism was a suitable ideology in the fight against Iran, Iraq, communism and all independent Arab states. However, it never presented itself as anti-colonial, not even against Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine. Meanwhile, it played a role in bringing down Arab republics whose rhetoric menaced Arab monarchies.

Changes in the aftermath of the Syrian and Iraqi unrest

Saudi Arabia has not forgotten its past experience with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and the events that ensued. Back then, Osama bin Laden honestly believed that Saudi Arabia was fighting polytheism and sought to establish a righteous Islamic state in Afghanistan. Upon his return, he told the Saudi ruling family that he can oust Americans from the Arabian Peninsula, just like he did with the Soviets in Afghanistan. The rest is history.

Today, after the miserable failure in Syria, Saudi Arabia is not alone to fear the expansion of the Islamic State currently surging in Iraq. It shares these concerns with all other monarchies in the region, from Jordan to the UAE.

ISIS leaders, the likes of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are well aware of al-Qaeda’s past experience and they do realize that the Islamic caliphate will never be truly fulfilled without controlling the region’s most important treasures, i.e. oil and gas resources. That was their priority, first in Syria, then in Iraq. And although ISIS is yet to conquer Kirkuk, the northern Iraqi city tops its list of planned conquests that aim to take over the region’s resources and hold them hostage.
ISIS will not torch oil fields, like Saddam did in Kuwait, but they will seek to use them as leverage against Western countries that dare to attack the Islamic State. They can invest in oil returns to enroll soldiers and fund their strike force, like they did in the 18 century.

They attacked the Arabs of Syria, said historian Ibn Bishr in 1212 AH (1797 C.E.), “the emir of al-Qassim Province, Hujailan bin Hamd led his army to al-Jawf, in the east of Syria, they attacked Arabs in the valley of Shararat; they vanquished them and killed about 120 of their men. They looted their shops, properties and provisions, and took 5,000 of their camels and many of their sheep. The Akhmas (possessions entitled to the Imam) were set aside and taken by Abdel Aziz’s workers, and the rest was distributed by Hujailan to the army, as loot.”

Today, however, something far more important than camels, shops and Akhmas is at stake. It is the oil, gas, banks and military bases comprising state-of-the-art weapons.

Takfiri-Wahabi extremists are present in all these sites; they infiltrated all facilities in the Gulf states in their capacities as guards and high ranking officials; thus, they can at least disable production and upset western economies at this very critical time.

If Iran can seal off the Strait of Hormuz and block the passage of oil, Wahabis can shut down the entire production and disable it for a long period of time.

Today, the Saudi regime is baffled as it realizes the scale of salafi-jihadi infiltration within its security apparatus. The regime is also aware that the real threat may not emanate from Iraq or Yemen, but from al-Qassim and al-Riyadh. And while Kuwait started to crack down on extremists within its borders, Islamists are in a state of alert with their hands on the trigger. However, after seeing the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they might not wait for their turn, and may opt to meet their fate halfway.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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