By Neal Sher
The United States must finally hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its integral role in terrorist activities and the Jewish community must be heard on the issue former AIPAC Executive Director Neal Sher writes.
NEW YORK (JTA) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was stunned at the hostile reception he received during a recent visit to London. It seems our British friends are much more attuned than we to the nefarious role the Saudis continue to play in financing and fomenting terror.
As Middle East policymakers and experts focus their efforts on Iraq, Iran and now the Annapolis gathering and its aftermath, the nation that is best described as the epicenter for terror continues to fly under the radar screen, at least in the United States.
Saudi Arabia has deftly played its oil trump card while putting on its payroll an army of former U.S. diplomats who shamelessly patrol the corridors of power trying to convince us that the king is our most reliable ally in the war on terror.
Rendered virtually irrelevant is a nasty bill of particulars:
- 15 of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001 mass murderers were products of the kingdom and funded with Saudi money;
- more than half of the foreign terrorists attacking and killing our troops in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia;
- Saudi textbooks still preach anti-West and anti-Semitic hatred, trumpeting as gospel the blasphemous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”;
- the Saudis relentlessly finance mosques and schools the world over that bellow deadly extremist ideology;
- U.S. law enforcement officials have publicly aired their frustration at the continued financing of terrorist groups, despite repeated requests to the Saudis to put the enablers out of business;
- the Saudis’ failure to prosecute known sponsors and benefactors of terrorism.
The U.S. Treasury Department has been extremely frustrated at our supposed ally, noting with contempt the great divide between Saudi promises and Saudi action. The terms most used to describe Saudi efforts in the war on terror: “passive,” “disengaged,” “little or no progress” and “foot dragging.”
While certain baby steps have been taken, they amount to no more than a drop in the bucket compared to what the Saudis have been implored to do.
While the Bush administration will in no way hold Saudi feet to the fire, some on Capitol Hill are fed up. Enter U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who have introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2007 in their respective chambers.
The legislation demands that Saudi Arabia close any entity engaged in funding or facilitating terror, and to cooperate with American efforts. Failure to do so will trigger a series of sanctions, including restrictions on arms sales.
The Saudi initiative is one of the most important pieces of legislation pending on the Hill. It should be high not only on the pro-Israel agenda but on America’s national security agenda as well. Indeed, one can make a strong case that it deserves to be the legislative centerpiece of the war on terror.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that terrorist attacks need not be of Sept. 11 magnitude to have a devastating and deadly impact. The less-sophisticated operations carried out by “home-grown” fanatics are just as capable of wreaking havoc. Just ask the Brits and Spaniards; both have felt the wrath of bombings perpetrated by young Islamic terrorists who were inspired by the poison spewing from Saudi-supported mosques and schools.
The White House and State Department, of course, will never endorse this initiative, trotting out the disingenuous mantra that the Saudis are needed in our fight against the bad guys. Never mind that the kingdom and their American hired guns all along have been assuring us that the Saudis will stand shoulder to shoulder with us the empirical evidence proves the contrary.
While the Saudis talk a good game, it would be the height of naivete to expect that they will undertake any of the serious measures we have been urging for years.
Odds are the legislation proffered by Specter, Widen and Weiner will die on the vine, never making it out of committee; I’m afraid the Saudi lobby will win this battle easily. Indeed, similar legislation in recent years has gone nowhere, even when there was the hardest of evidence proving that the Saudi government was paying the families of suicide murderers and directly supporting Hamas.
One reason for the past failure was the lack of a concerted, unified push by the legendary pro-Israel lobby. The silence sent a clear message to Congress: This was not a matter of importance to the Jewish community.
This time, only the Zionist Organization of America has endorsed and will lobby for the Saudi accountability measure. Unfortunately, it probably will be virtually alone in this fight. Jewish organizations would do well to remember that it was a losing battle over the sale of AWACS to the Saudis 25 years ago that for all practical purposes put the pro-Israel lobby on the map.
Some battles must be fought because it simply is the right thing to do. Taking the Saudis to task for being the hub of terrorism is one of those battles.
Unless and until sinister activities engaged in, tolerated and effectively endorsed by Saudi Arabia are challenged head on, the war on terror is not much more than an exercise of putting our heads in the sand. The sources of financing must be dried up and the ideology of hatred must be destroyed. The Saudis have the power and the ability to make this happen. Until now they have demonstrated a decisive lack of will.
The question is whether the pro-Israel community has the guts to take on this vital battle in an effort to make the Saudis see the light. Regrettably, if past is prologue, don’t bet on it.
(Neal Sher, a New York attorney, previously served as the director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations and as the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)