Saudi, Israel Threaten Obama’s Status Quo Goal

Rumors abound that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, the longest serving foreign minister of any nation, is near death and soon will be replaced by his cousin and deputy, Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, son of King Abdullah

Abdulaziz, 49, was appointed deputy foreign minister, in July 2011.  Prior to that he had held leadership positions in the National Guard, which his brother now heads, and served as a royal adviser on Lebanon and Syria.  He clearly lacks the international stature and experience of Prince Saud, 70, who served as his country’s foreign minister from 1975 when he replaced his father, King Faisal, who was assassinated by a nephew.  Saudi Arabia is expected to continue its hard line against Syria, regardless who heads the foreign ministry as King Abdullah favors the removal of Syria’s Bashar al Assad.

What does this mean for the U.S. and the Obama Administration?  As the U.S. election approaches, two huge issues hang over the unsettled Middle East:  Will Israel strike Iran’s nuclear program and will Syria’s rebels succeed in their battle to over throw Assad, possibly provoking him to use chemical weapons in an attempt to save himself.

Obama seeks to maintain the status quo in the mideast at least through the November election.  But America’s two major allies–Israel and Saudi Arabia–each seek change.  Israel threatens to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites and Saudi Arabia is working with Qatar and Turkey to bring down Bashar and his minority Alawite regime.

Both events would force Obama to stop “leading from behind” and act.   Saudi Arabia’s greatest fear in the region is Iran and its nuclear program.  Should Israel strike Iran, the Iranians will surely lash out at both Israel and Saudi Arabia, America’s two key allies in the Middle East, forcing U.S. military efforts to protect both with air power from carriers in the region.

Even without an Israeli strike on Iran, Tehran could decide to precipitate an incident in the Strait of Hormuz to try to get back at Saudi Arabia which has increased oil exports by nearly 1 million barrels this year to offset shortfalls from Iran whose oil exports have been cut by Western sanctions on buying Iranian oil.  All this would be quite an initiation for a new Saudi foreign minister.

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