The US Government is considering a new gigantic arms sale to the Saudi Kingdom, up to 20 billion dollars' worth of complex weaponry. The proposed package includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters, and new naval vessels, as part of a US strategy to contain the rising military expansion of Iran in the region. The titanic arms deal is a major Saudi investment to shield itself from the Khomeinist menace looming at the horizon: an Iranian nuclear bomb, future Pasdaran control in Iraq, and a Hezb'allah offensive in Lebanon.
The real Iranian threat against the Saudis materializes as follows:
1. Were the US led coalition to leave Iraq abruptly, Iranian forces -- via the help of their militias in Iraq -- will be at the borders with the Kingdom. Throughout the Gulf, Iran's Mullahs will be eyeing the Hijaz on the one hand and the oil rich provinces on the other hand.
2. Hezb'allah threatens the Lebanese Government, which is friendly to the Saudis. Hezb'allah, already training for subversion in Iraq, will become the main trainer of Shia radicals in the Eastern province of the Kingdom.
3. Finally Syria and Iran can send all sorts of Jihadis, including Sunnis, across Iraq's borders, almost in a pincer movement.
In the face of such a hydra-headed advance, the Wahhabi monarchy is hurrying to arm itself with all the military technology it can get from Uncle Sam. Riyadh believes that with improved F 16s, fast boats, electronics and smarter bombs, it can withstand the forthcoming onslaught.
I believe the Saudi regime won't. For, as the Iraq-Iran war has proved, the ideologically-rooted brutality of the Iranian regime knows no boundaries. If the US withdraws from the region without a strong pro-Western Iraq in the neighborhood, and absent of a war of ideas making progress against fundamentalism as a whole, the Saudis won't stand a chance for survival. For the Iranians will apply their pressure directly, and will unleash more radical forces among the neo-Wahhabis against the Kingdom. The Shiite Mullahs will adroitly manipulate radical Sunnis, as they have demonstrated their ability to do in Iraq and Lebanon.
So what should the US advise the Saudis to do instead of spending hugely on arms?
First, if no serious political change is performed in Arabia, the 20 billion dollars' worth of weapons would most likely end up in the hands of some kind of an al Qaeda, ruling over not only over Riyadh, but also Mecca and Medina. That package of wealth, religious prestige and modern arms, at this point of spasms in the region, is simply too risky strategically.
But there are better ways to spend these gigantic sums in the global confrontation with Iranian threat and in defense of stability. It needs a newer vision for the region. Here are alternative plans to use the 20 billion dollars wisely but efficiently; but let's not count on the far reaching mainstream of Western analysis at this point:
Dedicate some significant funds to support the Iranian opposition, both inside the country and overseas. Establish powerful broadcasts in Farsi, Kurdish, Arabic, Azeri and in other ethnic languages directed at the Iranian population. That alone will open a Pandora's box inside Iran. Realists may find it hard to believe, but supporting the Iranian opposition (which is still to be identified) will pay off much better than AWACS flying over deserts.
Slate substantial sums to be spent in southern Iraq to support the anti-Khomeinist Shiia, the real shield against the forthcoming Pasdaran offensive. Such monies distributed wisely on civil society activists and on open anti-Khomeinist groups, would build a much stronger defense against Ahmedinijad's ambitions.
Lavish funding should be granted to the Syrian liberal opposition to pressure the Assad regime into backing off from supporting Terrorism. Without a Mukhabarat regime in Damascus, the bridge between Tehran and Hezb'allah would crumble. Hence, the Syrian opposition is much worth being backed in its own home than for Saudi Arabia to fight future networks in its own home.
Allocate ample funding to the units of the Iraqi army that show the most efficiency in cracking down on terrorists, and which prove to be lawful and loyal to a strong central Government, pledging to defend its borders, particularly with regard to Iran. That would include the moderate Sunnis in the center and the Kurdish and other minority forces in the North. A strong multiethnic Iraq, projecting a balance of power with Iran's regime, is the best option for the Peninsula.
Grant abundant aid to the Lebanese Government, the Cedars Revolution NGOs and the Lebanese Army to enable them to contain Hezb'allah on Lebanese soil. Earmark some of these grants to the Shia opposition to Nasrallah inside his own areas. When Hezb'allah is isolated by Lebanon's population, Arab moderates around the region can sleep much better at night.
Spend real money on de-radicalization programs inside the Kingdom and across the region. With dollars spent on moderate Imams and not on the readicals, Riyadh can shake off the radical Salafi clerics, and have an impact the Jihadists' followers. By doing so, it will prevent Jihadism from becoming (as it has already) the only other option on the inside, if the Iranian axis will put pressure on the country.
Forward meaningful sums to support the current Somali Government against the Islamic Courts and help the moderates in Eritrea and Sudan. The best defense against radicalism coming from the horn of Africa is to support the moderates in East of the continent.
Invite the US military to abandon Qatar as a regional base and to relocate to the Eastern provinces of the Kingdom, with as many billions of dollars as required to help in reinstallation and deployment facing Iran's threat. A military attack by the Iranian regime on Saudi Arabia would then become a direct attack on the United States.
With the remaining billions, the Saudi Government would renew, remodel, and retrain its forces so that along with its allies, the US, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Gulf states, they would deter an Iranian regime, which will be defeated by its own people.
That of course, presumes radical reforms take place, quickly, in the Peninsula. But isn't such a hope just a desert mirage?
Indeed, the points I suggested in this article, although logical in terms of counter-radicalism strategy, have very little chance of being adopted or even considered in Riyadh. The Kingdom, sadly, wants to confront the Islamic Republic only with classical military deterrence, not with a war of ideas. Which perhaps is why the region's "friendly" regimes have preferred not to endorse "spreading democracy" as a mean to contain Terrorism. The reason is simple: Democratic culture will also open spaces in their own countries, a matter they haven't accepted yet.
Dr Walid Phares is senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of War of Ideas.