Event summary: ‘A Saudi Perspective on a Changing Middle East’


This is a summary of an event with His Royal Highness Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia on 12 September 2013; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of the Henry Jackson Society or its staff.

To view the full transcript of the event, click here.


Addressing an audience in Parliament on 12 September 2013, His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s most senior political figures, analysed the increasingly complex situation of his country in regards to a changing Middle East. Prince Turki argued against the West’s inaction in Syria, criticised Iran’s ambitions, and outlined how the Israeli-Palestine continues to be a key issue for the Saudi government.

Saudi Arabia is poised to play an important regional and international role in the coming decades:

  • Unlike other states in the MENA region, Saudi Arabia remains stable and is determined to maintain its role of a religious, economic, and political leader of the wider Arab world.
  • Saudi Arabia is utilising all its diplomatic and economic support capacity in order to strengthen its allies in the region and beyond.
  • The Saudi leadership believes that the most critical security issue of the next decade is progress. In the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, securing economic, social and political progress is vital.

The unpredictable behaviour and interventionist policies of the Iranian regime constitute two of Saudi Arabia’s principal security concerns in the region:

  • Saudi Arabia remains resolute in its efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That geostrategic imperative is crucial for maintaining the balance of power and preventing nuclear arms proliferation in the wider region. While opposing a unilateral military strike against Iran, Saudi Arabia is channelling its efforts to establish a United Nations Security Council-imposed zone free of nuclear weapons that includes rewards and sanctions mechanisms.
  • The Iranian leadership’s potential to exert influence in states such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq is a major de-stabilising factor that threatens the security and welfare of the whole region. Saudi Arabia opposes Iran’s actions in other countries and is working to minimise the negative impact of this.

Iraq is a country of great potential that if managed properly, will propel it to become a major regional player once again:

  • In the aftermath of the U.S. troop withdrawal, Iraq has become a conduit for expanding Iranian regional ambitions.
  • Saudi Arabia’s goal is the transformation of Iraq into a stable and independent member of the Arab world. However, Saudi-Iraqi diplomatic relations are complicated by the increased Iraqi openness to Iranian influence.

Yemen’s weak government is unable to prevent al-Qaeda to operate there with relative ease:

  • Al-Qaeda has a historically established presence in Yemen.
  • In response to the terrorist threat, Saudi Arabia is willing to resuscitate its economic aid once the country stabilses. Saudi Arabia is also increasing its counter-intelligence efforts and consolidating border control in order to prevent al-Qaeda operatives from entering its territory.

Lebanon is the state most affected by Syria’s violent civil conflict:

  • The Syrian civil war is spilling over to Lebanon and is threatening an already volatile nation. Iran-backed Hezbollah remains a force pushing Lebanon towards renewed civil conflict.
  • Saudi Arabia is determined to strengthen and stabilise Lebanon, and is providing substantial economic aid to further that goal.

The situation in Syria is deteriorating and the West’s reluctance to provide tangible support for the opposition will result in further atrocities:

  • Bashar al-Assad must be removed from power. Russia, Iran and China’s support for the regime, along with the inaction of the international community, has contributed to a catastrophic humanitarian situation.
  • The proposition to put Assad’s chemical weapons under international control is a flawed strategy that exonerates the U.S. of the responsibility to take action on its promises and allows the Syrian regime to continue its criminal behaviour.
  • The Syrian opposition should have been supplied with defensive weapons from the beginning of the conflict.
  • An air strike on Assad’s air force could be both executed with minimum collateral damage, and be militarily significant.

Egypt retains a significant place in Saudi’s security interests:

  • Following Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, the Muslim Brotherhood proved themselves to be incompetent and incapable of governance. President Morsi’s removal saved Egypt from disaster.
  • Saudi Arabia has provided significant financial aid to Egypt, having recently authorised $5 billion in aid and grants for Egypt’s emerging government.

Saudi Arabia is a bulwark against Bahrain becoming an Iranian power proxy:

  • Bahrain is steadily becoming an arena for Iranian influence. Iran has helped instigate recent protests there – yet Saudi Arabia will not allow Iran take power there.
  • The Gulf Cooperation Council has authorised a ten-year economic package of $10 billion to Bahrain, with the majority of the money contributed by Saudi Arabia.

The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains possibly Saudi Arabia’s top priority.

  • The most viable peace proposal remains the Arab Peace Initiative, as outlined by King Abdullah in 2002.
  • Saudi Arabia is pushing Israel to take decisive action towards peace and justice while financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and into economically developing Palestine itself.
  • United Nations recognition of Palestine statehood is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

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