An unusually candid remark of a prominent Saudi prince last week in support of an Israeli military strike against Iran has drawn fire from commentators across the Arab world.
In an interview by American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg published in Bloomberg November 22, Saudi businessman Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was asked whether Arab states would back an Israeli strike on Iran if negotiations with the P5+1 failed in forcing Iran to forgo its military nuclear program.
“Publicly, they would be against it,” the Saudi prince responded. “Privately, they would love it.”
Bin Talal added that most Arabs who adhere to the dominant Sunni stream of Islam would support a military attack against Shiite Iran. “The Sunni Muslim is very much anti-Shiite, and very much anti-, anti-, anti-Iran,” he told Goldberg.
That comment managed to infuriate Kuwaiti cleric Abdullah Al-Nafisi, who said that bin Talal had no right to speak on behalf of the majority of Muslims.
“Al-Waleed bin Talal is not Sheikh Al-Azhar [the highest religious authority in Egypt] to speak on behalf of Sunnis,” Al-Nafisi wrote on his Facebook page. “Who appointed you to speak for me and for this Islamic, Salafi Sunni nation with its various denominations? Who appointed you to speak for everyone who honestly declares that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger?”
Bin Talal is not the first Saudi prince to publicly criticize the Obama administration for its ostensibly weak stance on Iran.
Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi chief of intelligence and brother of the current foreign minister, said in an interview with The Washington Post on November 5 that Saudi Arabia supported a nuclear-free Middle East — encompassing Israel as well as Iran — with the US providing a “nuclear security umbrella” to the Middle East, as it does with Germany and Japan.
“I suggested two years ago that the [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries should consider seriously all options, including acquiring nuclear weapons, if Iran acquires nuclear weapons,” the Saudi statesman told the paper.
Last week, Saudi Arabia broke its silence on Iran, expressing support in a government statement for the interim agreement, which it said “could be a step towards a comprehensive agreement for Iran’s controversial nuclear program depending on goodwill.”
But Lebanese journalist Sami Kalib, writing for the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar on Monday, said it would be wrong to believe Israeli media reports about rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel over Iran. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is well-known for his antipathy toward the Jewish state, Kalib claimed in an op-ed titled, “Protecting Saudi Arabia from Israel.”
“Let us agree, then, that Saudi Arabia doesn’t like Israel. But it hates Iran and fears its role in the region. The Saudi concern is now at its peak.”