Over the years, Bandar has treated the issue of "terrorism" as something of a situational ethic, using the term to disparage political movements disfavored by the Saudi royals while treating violent groups backed by Saudi Arabia as freedom fighters. That rhetorical technique has been well-honed since the days when Saudi Arabia and the Reagan administration poured billions of dollars into the Afghan mujahedeen and their Arab jihadist allies fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s.
The anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan brought to prominence Saudi national Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who later consolidated themselves under the global brand, al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, these roving jihadists were hailed as freedom fighters and brave defenders of Islam, but -- in the 1990s -- they began targeting the United States with terrorist attacks.
Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda operatives -- 15 identified as Saudi nationals -- hijacked four U.S. commercial jets and used them to inflict some 3,000 deaths in New York, at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. At the time, Bandar was the Saudi ambassador in Washington and so close to the Bush family that he was nicknamed "Bandar Bush."
Bandar was also very close to the bin Laden family. After the 9/11 attacks, Bandar acknowledged having met Osama bin Laden in the context of bin Laden thanking Bandar for his help financing the Afghan jihad project. "I was not impressed, to be honest with you," Bandar told CNN's Larry King about bin Laden. "I thought he was simple and very quiet guy."
However, immediately after 9/11, Bandar undermined the FBI's opportunity to learn more about the connections between Osama bin Laden's relatives and the perpetrators of 9/11 when Bandar arranged for members of the bin Laden family to flee the United States on some of the first planes allowed back into the air -- after only cursory interviews with FBI investigators.
The only segment of the 9/11 Commission's report to be blacked out was the part dealing with alleged Saudi financing for al-Qaeda.
Bandar's Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games -- a version of "nice Olympics you got here, it'd be a shame if something terrible happened to it" -- failed to intimidate Putin. Indeed, I was told that Putin's anger fueled his decision to intervene in the Syrian crisis to head off a threatened U.S. military strike designed to "degrade" the Syrian military.
The Saudi-backed rebels had planned to mount an offensive timed with the U.S. bombing in a final drive to topple the Assad regime -- and were furious when Russian diplomacy averted the U.S. attack.
As the near U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war shows, the Israeli-Saudi alliance can be problematic to U.S. interests in the Middle East by seeking to limit peaceful options available to President Obama. In yanking Official Washington around, Saudi Arabia and Israel can work different sides of the U.S. influence-peddling street.
Saudi oil billionaires can reach into both Wall Street boardrooms and the corporate offices of Texas energy giants, while Israel has unparalleled lobbying power with Congress and can deploy its network of neocon propagandists to shape any American foreign policy debate.
Thus, the new Israeli-Saudi alliance can threaten U.S.-Russian strategies for negotiating settlements to Middle East crises. When both Israeli and Saudi leaders say no, it's hard to fashion an effective strategy for addressing the loss of democracy in Egypt, for instance, or pursuing negotiations to resolve the crises with Syria and Iran.
The only possible counterforce strong enough to take on this new Israeli-Saudi powerhouse would be a coordinated -- and determined -- effort by the United States and Russia. Thus, the odd-couple bonding of Netanyahu and Bandar might have the ironic consequence of pushing together another odd couple, Barack and Vlad.
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