Recently there has been a shift in the Saudi King Abdullah's attitude and rhetoric towards the U.S. In an apparent policy shift, he now describes the American presence in Iraq as “an illegitimate foreign occupation.”
Some observers think the Saudi-U.S. alliance is crumbling. But is it? At a time when Middle East stability or the lack thereof depends on the behaviour of so many players, perhaps it is too early to make any rash judgements. It could well take a year or more to determine whether the Saudi relationship with the U.S. is actually changing – or whether it is anything more than an attempt by the Saudi monarchy to regain credibility with their population and their Arab League counterparts at a crucial time for Sunni (Arab) unification.
Perhaps Saudi Arabia is simply attempting to distance itself from U.S. adventurism in what looks like the run-up to war in Iran with the hope of avoiding retaliation from the Shiite state, which would undoubtedly damage Saudi oil infrastructure and revenues. This is backed up by King Abdullah's recent meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, which went strongly against U.S. policy toward Iran.
Saudi Arabia is a very important ally for the U.S. because they have a strong role in the region, the world's largest oil reserves and a strategically important location. However, the U.S. is also an important ally for Saudi Arabia, because their military cooperation provides Saudi forces with training and the best weaponry. The U.S. is also the largest importer of Saudi oil and petroleum products. The safety of these products and infrastructure thereof is a major priority for Saudi Arabia, and so it is likely that recent Saudi actions and those in the near future are at least partly aimed at ensuring they don’t become directly embroiled in any of the region’s wars. Saudi Arabia is also attempting to exercise its growing influence in efforts to stabilize the region.
One aspect of these efforts is to extend their role in stabilizing the region by resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. The initiative currently at the centre of it all is to restart the peace process. It was originally the brainchild of then acting Saudi regent Crown Prince Abdullah and presented to an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002. The initiative offers Israel normalized relations with all Arab League states (i.e., practically all Arab states) including longstanding enemies Lebanon and Syria. The initiative is the best opportunity Israel has ever been offered to ensure its future security. In return, it asks Israel to return land taken in the 1967 war, for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, and "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem".
No doubt a big aspect in implementing the initiative will be getting both sides to agree. But, as we have seen in all other attempts at resolving the crisis, perhaps an even bigger aspect is ensuring that both sides honour their commitments. Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and the many rogue elements within could –and have—the ability to destroy in five minutes what has taken months of hard negotiations to secure.
Hamas and Hezbollah harbour a deep-rooted hatred for the U.S., as do many Palestinian and Lebanese Muslims, for what is seen as a biased Middle Eastern policy heavily favouring Israel. These beliefs have solidified after the years of considerable U.S. financial and military aid to Israel, despite what seems at times to be a lax attitude towards collateral damage. In other words, some believe the U.S. is in part responsible for the high civilian casualties inflicted by Israel in the decades-long conflict.