July 9, 2015 | House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
The Gulf Cooperation Council Camp David Summit: Any Results?
Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee: thank you on behalf of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies for the opportunity to testify before you again on America’s relations with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). As a former professional staff member at this Committee, I am particularly appreciative for the chance to discuss this important topic with you here today.
In light of President Obama’s May summit with senior princes from the Arab Gulf monarchies, it makes sense to take stock of America’s relations with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar all rely on the United States to ensure their national security, and America looks to these countries as essential security partners in the region. So how healthy are U.S. relations with the Gulf?
Unfortunately, not very. U.S. relations with members of the GCC can best be likened to a dissatisfying relationship such as a bad marriage, in which both sides rely on each other for certain basic needs but also feel that their broader desires are going unfulfilled. Prince Saud al-Faisal, who until recently represented Saudi Arabia as the longest-serving foreign minister in the world, described his country’s ideal relationship with America as transitioning away from a monogamous Catholic marriage to one resembling a polygamous Islamic marriage that allows the kingdom to seek strategic relations with several partners at once.
Yet the GCC states still look to America as the ultimate guarantor of their security against external threats, as the closing joint statement from the recent Camp David summit confirmed. And Washington still relies on the Arab Gulf monarchies as a jumping-off platform for many of our military activities in the region. The tenor and content of relations in the last two years or so have arguably been worse off than at any point since the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with frequent sniping in the press. We should explore how to make relations more sustainable and more valuable to the citizens on both sides.
The Gulf summit at Camp David showcased our relationship with the GCC states, including the strong areas – such as military-to-military cooperation – and the not-so-strong areas, such as our anemic dialogue on reform and human rights. Nominally, the purpose of the talks was to address Gulf concerns about the Iranian nuclear negotiations, with President Obama first calling for the summit in his remarks upon the conclusion of the Lausanne framework agreement with Iran in April. However, the U.S. seems to have offered very little in the way of new security assurances or operational plans to impede Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region.
The Gulf states are particularly disappointed about American inaction with regard to Syria, where they feel we have turned a blind eye to Bashar al-Assad’s massacre of their fellow Sunni compatriots. Saudi officials have already described the conflict in Syria as genocide, yet despite Saudi Arabia’s newfound military assertiveness in recent months, Syria is one place where they simply don’t feel they can go it alone.
Our Gulf allies also view with great trepidation America’s pursuit of a multilateral agreement with Tehran on the nuclear track, since most of these monarchies see Iran’s invasive Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as their primary threat in the region. Our partners in the Gulf have nominally welcomed the possibility of a verifiable and enforceable nuclear agreement with Iran, but privately they tend to characterize the results of recent negotiations with Iran as a failure to live up to that ideal. For example, they view the deal’s sunset provisions as a worrying sign that they have been abandoned in the face of an unchecked, long-term Iranian threat.
The United States, on the other hand, has at least three major reasons to be upset with some of its partners in the Gulf: negligence in the fight against terror finance, religious incitement, and state abuses of human and civil rights. Together, these factors create a toxic brew that heightens the appeal and capacity of terrorist groups throughout the broader Middle East and North Africa.
Several of America’s GCC allies have egregiously violated the formal terms of their role in the fight against the Islamic State, as exemplified by the Jeddah Communiqué. Secretary of State John Kerry worked extremely hard to get the GCC states and four other Arab governments to commit to fighting the flow of foreign fighters, ending the incitement, and stopping terror finance – to change the rules of the game so that we can finally defeat groups like ISIL and keep them from reemerging. States such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have violated some of these crucial pledges, and it is up to our government to press them for more serious results.
Further, it is impossible to describe America’s relations with the Gulf without also considering the prominent energy dimensions of these ties. Our allies in the region are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for their revenues and broader prosperity, and they approached America’s shale revolution as a serious threat to their financial well-being. As such, Saudi Arabia’s decision to maintain production in a bear market and crash the price of oil should be seen in part as a conscious effort to kill the growth in high-cost oil production, including from hydraulic fracturing in the U.S., tar sands in Canada, deep-water drilling around Brazil, and oil drilling in the Arctic.
This decision by Saudi Arabia and supported by several other Gulf states (with the very public exception of Oman) is also undermining the economic viability of alternative fuel options by decreasing their market viability. The unfortunate reality is that even with the boom in America’s domestic production of natural gas, we remain over 95% reliant on petroleum (in short, gasoline) for fueling our transportation sector. This is a real economic and national security vulnerability, and an area where we need leadership from Washington in the form of a national strategy for advancing domestic fuel choice. Without it, American industry and consumers will remain acutely vulnerable to oil market disruptions of this sort from the Gulf.
Iran in the Gulf
Iran is the shared threat that animates the lion’s share of America’s security cooperation with the Gulf monarchies today. That is also where we have the most work left to do when it comes to reassuring our Gulf allies, and it was at least nominally the focus of why President Obama called for a summit at Camp David earlier this year. At Camp David, the GCC states gave their vague backing to at least the idea of a “comprehensive, verifiable” nuclear deal with Iran, but they also remain wary as to whether the terms of a deal are likely to fulfill their requirements.
Despite hopes articulated by the administration that we will see a more moderate Iran in the case of a nuclear agreement, Tehran’s conduct in and around the Gulf since the adoption of the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) and the Lausanne framework has yet to provide persuasive indication they are turning over a more moderate leaf in the region. In fact, the most recent Iranian budget displayed a shocking 48% increase in the IRGC’s public allotment in spite of the impact of international sanctions.
Now imagine what the IRGC will be capable of once its government eventually has access to over $100 billion in assets currently frozen, plus some combination of sanctions lifted on oil sales, upstream energy investment, the petrochemical sector, transferring advanced energy technologies, banks used by the regime, Iranian shipping authorities, and on trade in precious metals. While it would be folly to suggest all of these assets will end up in the hands of terrorists, it would be similarly misleading to believe the IRGC will not share in the windfall.
Since the signing of the JPOA, Iran’s international misadventures have included particularly aggressive proxy activity in Iraq, in Syria, and in Yemen. According to the Wall Street Journal, they are even increasing their training, funding, and provision of weapons to the Afghan Taliban. Tehran’s magnanimous relationship with Hamas is reportedly “back on track,” and Tehran has been providing increasingly sophisticated missile hardware to Hezbollah. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and particularly Bahrain claim to have been the victims of Iranian espionage or subversion. In the case of Bahrain, last year U.S. officials seemed to confirm attempts by the IRGC to smuggle weapons into the country and to train violent members of the radical opposition. Last month, Bahraini officials announced the seizure of advanced explosives and bomb-making materials that they claimed bore “clear similarities” to methods used by the IRGC and its regional proxies.
In Iraq, the latest State Department counterterrorism report revealed that “Iran increased its assistance to Iraqi Shia militias, one of which is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” and several of which have previously targeted U.S. troops or “committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians.”
These militias have now displaced the Baghdad formal military as the main ground force used for many military operations in Western Iraq. From the perspective of the GCC, it is particularly worrisome for them to see the U.S. working indirectly to provide air cover for these Iranian protégés in Iraq. Reports that some U.S. soldiers have been forced to share a base with some of these militias are particularly stunning. Saudi officials have complained “Iran is taking over the country.”
In fact, the Gulf states are so concerned that the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, jettisoned his predecessor’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood to make common cause with a wider range of Arab states against Iranian efforts throughout the region. This played a key part in Riyadh’s bid to build a coalition against the insurgents of Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, in Yemen, as well as in the kingdom’s turnabout on radical Islamist groups inside Syria.
While Tehran does not appear to exert command and control over the Houthi rebels inside Yemen, it is inconceivable that they would have been able to conquer so much of the country, including most of the north, without the generous aid they had been receiving from Iran. According to the Wall Street Journal, American officials believe the rebels received “significant” cash from Tehran, and an informed Houthi official said the group received tens of millions of dollars from Tehran.
According to an Iranian official quoted by Reuters, the IRGC’s Quds Force deployed hundreds of operatives in Yemen to train Houthi fighters; additionally, Houthi members were reportedly traveling to Iran and Lebanon for military training. News reports since at least 2012 have documented ships linked to the IRGC bringing military equipment to Ansar Allah in Yemen by the ton, including rifles, ammunition, night-vision goggles, missiles, artillery, rocket-propelled grenades, and explosives. Others claim the group received such shipments as early as 2009.
When Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour asked Secretary of State Kerry about Iranian military aid to the rebels, he said that “there are obviously supplies that have been coming from Iran. There are a number of flights every single week that have been flying in, and we trace those flights and we know this.” The Saudi-led coalition spokesperson General Ahmed Asiri went even further, claiming Tehran had fourteen domestic flights per week running to Sanaa before the war and that “most of them” were “used to transport ammunition and weapons.”
The U.S. has provided ammunition, target vetting, and refueling support to the air coalition, as well as backing the Saudi-led air and naval embargo. Yet we have fundamentally been treating it as someone else’s war, which has not escaped the attention of Sunni-ruled states in the Gulf. Between our government’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran and its disengaged approach to Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, many of Gulf allies have begun to wonder if they are on a fast track to military abandonment.
As my co-panelist Mr. Eisenstadt has aptly noted, this credibility gap cannot be addressed with arms sales or forward military deployments alone. The Gulf states need to believe that we will use our own military might to support them when push comes to shove.
America’s decision not to launch airstrikes after the Assad regime was caught using chemical weapons against its own people in 2013 seriously exacerbated this credibility gap, and reportedly so did America’s reluctance to send additional forces to the Gulf at that time to ward off possible retaliation by Iran. Simply put, the Gulf states have trouble believing that America will actually be prepared to join them in fighting back against incursions by the IRGC and its local military allies. And so long as the Gulf states do not believe we have their best interests in mind, it becomes dramatically harder for us to encourage them to take important steps to combat religious incitement, terror finance, and abuses of civil and human rights.
As I testified before this panel last year, the prism through which the GCC states view Iran’s intentions, including its long-term nuclear intentions, is how Iran utilizes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Further, the IRGC is the bellwether by which our Gulf allies view America’s value as an ally and our intentions with regard to Iran’s nuclear program. If Iran does not decrease its regional adventurism after a deal and we do not step up our efforts to contain the IRGC, then the Gulf states will not trust us to keep Iran from building a nuclear weapon either before or after the terms of a nuclear agreement with the E3/EU+3 have expired.
The stakes for this debate could not be any higher. The Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are in a position to redouble their efforts to build a civilian nuclear infrastructure with possible military dimensions. Individuals close to the Saudi leadership have been making reckless but unsurprising threats in this regard, suggesting that they view an Iranian nuclear deal as the starting gun in a decade-plus race to build their own nuclear capabilities to match. They have warned that Riyadh will begin to revisit their nuclear doctrine now with an eye toward developing a domestic civilian infrastructure for nuclear energy that is well-suited to allow for adding on possible military dimensions later on.
It is incumbent on U.S. officials across various components of the government to unambiguously condemn these irresponsible Saudi statements and threats. It is intolerable when Tehran behaves in this manner, but it is also intolerable for U.S. allies to blackmail us with their own threats of such roguish behavior.
Of course, it is also incumbent on U.S. leaders to address our allies’ legitimate security concerns, in particular their fear of abandonment vis-à-vis Iran. When American officials say that Iran will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, they should also be taking steps to convince our allies that America will not dither to punish violations of the agreement and to devise joint plans to deter Iran from breaking out to a nuclear weapon after provisions of the deal begin to sunset. And we should be fighting the IRGC like there is no nuclear deal.
Finally, it is not enough to take these steps unless Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions are also treated as part of the technical arms control conversation. In the course of reassuring the Saudis that we will help shield them from external military threats, we should be using a mix of sticks and carrots to convince them to accept real limits on the possible weaponization of their nascent nuclear energy program.
The U.A.E. signed a Section 123 agreement with Washington in 2009 whereby they agreed to forego the enrichment of uranium. This step provides a model for the region of peaceful nuclear development. And while it will be difficult to hold the Saudis to such a standard given what Tehran is permitted to keep under the terms of recent international agreements, there are still creative ways to devise credible limits on the Saudi program, such as committing to ship all nuclear fuel out of the country for enrichment and to accept rigorous monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a member of the G20, Riyadh should be expected to take the goodwill gestures needed to reassure the world community that they are the responsible world leaders they claim to be.
Commerce in the Gulf
Moving forward, it seems likely that a revival of trade in the Gulf may not be far off. Several members of the GCC, Oman in particular, have been eager to cash in on Iran’s possible reintegration into international markets. In addition to reaching a nearby, relatively untapped group of consumers, many GCC states will look to Iran if sanctions are dropped as a source of natural gas to keep skyrocketing domestic energy consumption from eating into their oil exports.
However, this dynamic also would exacerbate Saudi Arabia’s fear of regional isolation and poses a threat to the United States if Iran’s illicit economic networks are allowed to increase their activities amidst a broader increase in above-the-board, permitted trade.
Oman has already inked deals to serve as a hub for Iranian natural gas exports, and Kuwait has also voiced a desire to purchase and consume Iranian natural gas. Qatar shares the world’s largest natural gas field with Tehran and has signaled interest in pursuing technology sharing and joint informational coordination on it. The ruler of Dubai, historically a major entrepôt for Iranian trade, voiced support for lifting Iran sanctions shortly after conclusion of the interim JPOA. Several of the smaller, less prosperous emirates toward the northern end of the U.A.E., such as Ras al-Khaimah, have expressed a particular interest in being new partners for Iranian trade.
U.S. officials will have to keep an eye out for increased flows of illicit activity amidst the potential resurgence of legally permitted finance and trade. This has been a longstanding challenge in some of these locales: for instance, Dubai has fought hard in recent years to crack down on Iranian sanctions busting, and yet the U.S. Treasury Department continues to identify entities engaged in such activity that seek to exploit Dubai’s territory for illicit gain.
This will be a region-wide challenge for the United States to monitor and disrupt, and our leaders should not allow the conclusion of a nuclear bargain with Iran to prevent them from continuing to confront the illegal networks Iran employs to break international rules and restrictions on the books. This should also be an area of continuing dialogue and cooperation with our partner governments in the GCC.
The Camp David summit in May focused heavily on military-to-military cooperation, traditionally one of the areas of America’s Gulf relations that receive the most attention. While the GCC states were denied some of their most far-reaching requests for sophisticated military equipment or assurances, they did not walk away empty-handed. The meeting also provided an opportunity to review shared regional security challenges, although in most cases the results appear to have been simply a modest restatement of common principles.
Secretary of State Kerry predicted that the summit would “take us beyond anything that we have had before” by “fleshing out a series of new commitments” and “a new security understanding.” However, the outcome of the summit was more along the lines of what President Obama predicted, namely that he would use the summit “to see how we can formalize that a little bit more.”
As I have written with my FDD colleague Patrick Megahan, the administration evidently declined to sell the Gulf certain advanced weapons systems such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, improved bunker buster bombs, or advanced cruise missiles. On the other hand, the U.S. did agree to establish a “dedicated Foreign Military Sales procurement office to process GCC-wide sales,” a step that could speed up arms sales to the region. Press reports suggest that the U.S. may also have agreed to replenish Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s store of guided bombs to replace those used in Yemen; to possibly sell Kuwait F/A-18 fighter jets; to move ahead with updating radar systems and avionics for F-15s and F-16s already owned by our Gulf allies; to sell Saudi Arabia ten new MH-60R helicopters; and to sell additional advanced missile defense systems such as the THAAD Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.
The United States also offered its allies a reformulation of longstanding security guarantees, namely that we will “work with our GCC partners to determine what actions may be appropriate” in case of an external threat, up to the possible use of force, but that stilted reformulation of past practices fell far short of the formal defense treaty several Gulf states, especially the U.A.E., had reportedly sought. Further, the regional plans laid out at the conference seemed somewhat threadbare.
On Syria, we offered yet another blandishment promising “increasing support to the moderate opposition in Syria” without any sort of explicit and credible blueprint for doing so. In the months ahead, U.S. and Gulf officials should devise new measures to actualize this objective so that moderate forces can provide a better counterweight to the Assad dictatorship on one hand and hardline jihadist fighters on the other.
This is particularly important given reports that Saudi Arabia under the new king has joined Qatar and Turkey in strengthening hardline jihadists in Syria at the expense of the moderate opposition, allegedly allowing aid to reach certain elements of the Army of Conquest coalition in Syria that contains al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and several al Qaeda-friendly militias such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. The summit’s closing language stated that leaders “warned against the influence of other extremist groups” in Syria beyond just ISIL “such as Al-Nusrah, that represent a danger to the Syrian people, to the region and to the international community.” Yet there is no sign that this statement has since brought about a realignment of Saudi, Qatari, or Turkish policy inside Syria since then.
Americans continue to fly air sorties against ISIL in Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve with some participation from the GCC states, but the vast majority of these strikes have been conducted by the U.S., not our Gulf allies. Kuwait and Oman did not pledge to participate in the airstrikes, and CENTCOM also does not include Qatar in its recent listings of states that have launched airstrikes as part of the operation to date. Meanwhile, the value of these strikes may be outweighed if some U.S. allies are turning a blind eye to al Qaeda making gains in Syria.
On Libya, the Camp David closing statement indicated that “the leaders agreed to move in concert to convince all Libyan parties to accept an inclusive power-sharing agreement” based on U.N. initiatives and to “focus on countering the growing terrorist presence in the country.” The statement’s more detailed annex included a clarification that the goal in Libya would be to “establish a national unity government before Ramadan.”
The start of Ramadan came and went without a unity government in Libya, but the rival Libyan governments from Tobruk and Tripoli sat down this past month for substantive talks in Morocco, even though the Islamist factions that control Tripoli have been stalling since then on responding to the U.N. team’s blueprint for a unity government. Still, this readiness to pursue peace talks is a positive step, presumably with encouragement from the two sides’ patrons in Doha and Abu Dhabi, whom President Obama pressed in Maryland to set aside their differences over the conflict in Libya. Likely, the threat posed to all actors from a nascent Islamic State in the country also played a motivating role.
On Yemen, the U.S. wrested language from Gulf participants in the summit that “underscored the imperative of collective efforts to counter Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula” and praised Saudi Arabia “for the generous grant of $274 million” to U.N. humanitarian efforts there. Yet press reports allege that Saudi Arabia may have delayed the subsequent delivery of this aid to wrest concessions from United Nations agencies. Further, there is no clear indication that America’s Gulf partners are devising their battle plan to include going after AQAP, arguably al Qaeda’s most dangerous branch to our security and theirs.
AQAP overran the capital of Yemen’s largest province in April, and yet Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen have focused exclusively on Ansar Allah and renegade units of the military loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. While presumably Saudi Arabia is still sharing important intelligence on AQAP and probably the Islamic State’s upstart affiliate in Yemen as well, it is not unreasonable to expect our allies to take a direct role in combating Sunni terrorist groups in a country where they already have established clear air superiority.
Unfortunately, the war in Yemen recently passed its 100th day since the coalition intervened with no end in sight, although of course Ansar Allah’s campaign of conquest further precedes that count. We may see this war go for 1,000 days or more before it is over, and the Saudi spokesperson General Asiri has now been talking in terms of a campaign on the same order of length as the U.S.-led military effort in Afghanistan. It is hard to envision either side in Yemen coming to a lasting resolution at this point given that the Houthis still control the capital, can contest most major cities in the north, and have little incentive to given them up.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian toll for the Yemeni people is quite heavy. More than 3,000 people have been killed, more than a million have been displaced, and the number of people facing food insecurity now exceeds thirteen million. Shortages of fuel, water, and medicine are also widespread.
A central reason for this toll is the clumsy implementation of the air and sea embargoes now imposed on Yemen. Yet the goal of keeping Iranian weapons from flooding back into the country is worthwhile. The United States should examine whether there are ways it can help improve the flow of food, fuel, and medicine through this embargo, making the restrictions on illicit weapons more sustainable while decreasing the harm they are imposing on Yemen’s civilians.
On Iraq, the Camp David summit’s closing statement “stressed the importance of strengthening ties between GCC member states and the Iraqi government,” as well as calling on Baghdad to implement its pledges to reconcile with Sunni groups and exert control over Shi’ite militias. Sadly, little work has yet been done to reign in Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. On the plus side, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have moved ahead with plans to reopen embassies in Baghdad after too many years of limited relations, and Riyadh recently swore in its next ambassador to Baghdad.
However, when it comes to the steps that would truly be necessary for helping Baghdad win the war against terrorist organizations such as ISIL, many of America’s Gulf allies are coming up short.
Secretary of State Kerry exerted considerable effort after the Abadi government was sworn in to persuade the GCC states and several other Arab governments to sign onto the Jeddah Communiqué, an important document issued on the most recent anniversary of 9/11. In it, they promised to help the Iraqi government as part of a coalition against the Islamic State by finally addressing some of the longstanding shortcomings with their policies to combat the emergence of terrorist groups.
Most notably, they committed to the following: “stopping the flow of foreign fighters through neighboring countries, countering financing of ISIL and other violent extremists, repudiating their hateful ideology, ending impunity and bringing perpetrators to justice.” While several GCC states adopted tougher regulations for punishing any citizens who seeks to join ISIL or al Qaeda as foreign fighters, several of our partners have failed to follow through on their pledges, most notably on terror finance and religious incitement.
In short, states within the GCC have failed to implement the Jeddah Communiqué. In these critical regards, they are failing the coalition against ISIL, and they are breaking their word to the United States of America to fully fight terror.
President Obama arguably alluded to this fact in his Monday remarks on ISIL, when he said that he still expects our Muslim partners to “step up in terms of pushing back… against these hateful ideologies,” including “what we’re teaching young people” and “the sectarianism that so often fuels the resentments and conflicts.”
Negligence on Terror Finance
In March of 2014, America’s top official for combating terror finance, then-Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, delivered a speech in which he indicated that the GCC states, American allies, became the biggest source of private terror finance to core al Qaeda. He also stated last year that tiny Kuwait had become the single biggest source of private donations to al Qaeda linked terrorists fighting in Syria such as the Nusra Front and ISIL. Cohen labeled Qatar and Kuwait as a whole “permissive jurisdictions” for terror finance, a rather stark form of criticism for such influential allies.
Since then, it does not appear that this state of affairs has changed. Some press reports suggest that the size of these flows might have diminished or note that Kuwait and Qatar passed relevant new laws in recent years. But enforcement remains halting, typically only in response to major terror attacks or concerted U.S. pressure.
We are still under the same disappointing regulatory system for handling terror finance in these two Gulf states. Enforcement still lacks political will, and entities under U.S. sanctions as Specially Designated Global Terrorists still tend to escape punishment under Qatari or Kuwaiti law. The volume of terror finance coming from the Gulf is likely to resurge again unless serious action is taken soon.
Under Secretary Cohen revealed in October 2014 that two Qatari nationals under terror finance sanctions by the United States and United Nations, Abdulrahman al-Nu’aymi and Khalifa al-Subaiy, were enjoying legal impunity in their home country. This is particularly worrisome given that Subaiy was released from Qatari jail after only barely half a year in 2008 following a conviction on charges that included terror finance. At that time, Qatari officials assured America that this man, evidently a former senior state official at Qatar’s Central Bank, would be “under control” and subject to surveillance and tight banking restrictions. And yet the U.S. Treasury Department announced last autumn that Subaiy had resumed funding core al Qaeda to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal recently quoted Qatari officials confirming that these two sanctioned individuals are still free men in Qatar. Qatar’s ambassador to Washington insisted that Doha was building a legal case against the two men, but there has been little indication since then that much of anything is going on. This is a country where Nu’aymi was previously thrown in jail without trial simply for criticizing the country’s rulers and where suspected enemies of the state are often detained for months on end without trial or filing of charges. The fact that Nu’aymi and Subaiy still seem to be free men says something about priority the Al Thani regime attributes to punishing and deterring purported acts terror finance.
The Qataris have reportedly imposed travel bans against several sanctioned individuals accused of terror finance, but its application of these restrictions still leaves much to be desired. When individuals are subject to U.N terror finance sanctions, member states are supposed to impose a travel ban. And yet Qatar historically has let Muthanna al-Dhari enter its territory even though the U.S. and the U.N. have each sanctioned him on charges of providing over $1 million to al Qaeda in Iraq and of directing attacks against Iraqi civilians, and even though his organization reportedly responded to ISIL’s conquest of Western Iraq by welcoming the “great victories achieved by the revolutionaries.”
Muthanna evidently visited Doha as recently as last month, at the salon of a royal family member in connection to programming by an international Qatar-based fundraising organization. Even more repugnant, this March Qatar’s Father Emir exchanged kisses with and physically embraced Muthanna, as did an elder brother to Qatar’s Emir who serves as his “personal envoy.”
Another individual likely subject to such a travel ban is Abdulmalik Abdulsalam, a former resident of Qatar whom the U.S. and U.N. allege worked in concert with Subaiy to aid al Qaeda. The Treasury Department also alleges that Abdulsalam was arrested attempting to carry large sums of money out of the Beirut airport that was intended for delivery to al Qaeda in Syria. Last year, a Lebanese court convicted Abdulsalam and two other defendants on charges that included terror finance, and press coverage claimed that one of these co-defendants, Abdulaziz Khalifa al-Attiyah, had provided funds in Abdulsalam’s possession intended for Syrian jihadists.
But conveniently for Attiyah, he is also the cousin of Qatar’s foreign minister, and both Lebanese and Kuwaiti papers cited allegations that Doha issued a series of swift, punitive threats, forcing Lebanon to release Attiyah from their custody shortly after his detention in 2012. Attiyah was back home in Qatar by the time of his in absentia conviction and has since been granted a lifetime achievement award by the Qatar Olympic Committee, which is chaired by the country’s ruler, Emir Tamim.
Abdulsalam appears to be the son of a prominent jihadist leader in Syria nicknamed Abu Abdulaziz al-Qatari who was killed in early 2014. According to sympathetic biographies, Al-Qatari was a former al Qaeda official in Iraq and Syria who later served until his death as the founding leader of Jund al-Aqsa in Syria, a militia closely aligned with al Qaeda that has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.K. but not yet by the U.S. for attacks on civilian targets. Jund al-Aqsa reportedly received considerable funding from Gulf sources, and biographies of al-Qatari claim that he also had sent material support to Iraqi jihadists from Qatari territory.
Jund al-Aqsa is also part of the Army of Conquest battlefield alliance that includes al Qaeda in Syria. My colleague Thomas Joscelyn alleges that the Jund is “an al Qaeda front group,” pointing out that two more of its leaders were also senior veterans of al Qaeda, including one who was a senior official in the Khorasan Group that U.S. officials have said is planning attacks against the American homeland. The U.S. should impose sanctions on Jund al-Aqsa, on groups such as the Army of Conquest that heavily feature al Qaeda, and on other militias close to al Qaeda such as Ahrar al-Sham that have had its operatives in their upper ranks since being founded.
The U.S. administration has cited two puzzling incidents as supposed proof Qatar has moved against terror finance. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. and Qatari officials “said the emirate has expelled a Jordanian associate of Mr. Nuaymi and shut a social-media website the U.S. believed was used in raising money for al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria.” Since then, the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism released in June indicated that Qatar’s “steps to stem the flow of funds from Qatar to violent extremist groups and individuals” included “shut[ing] down the Madad Ahl al-Sham online fundraising campaign that was suspected of sending funds to violent extremist elements in Syria” and “deport[ing] a Jordanian terrorist financier resident in Doha who had been employed by a Qatari charity.”
But upon closer consideration, both of these steps seem disappointing and half-hearted in nature. If Qatar were truly serious about tackling terror finance and these allegations are true, Doha should have arrested Nu’aymi’s Jordanian associate and preventing him from leaving the country. If Madad Ahl al-Sham was indeed a terror finance concern, then it is worrisome that none of its fundraising captains, officers, or endorsers appear to have been subject to visible court proceedings in Qatar.
Separately, the Christian Science Monitor reported that in December “Qatari authorities briefly detained two Hamas financiers under suspicion of ‘illegal monetary and economic transactions’.” Given that Hamas is a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, Qatar’s decision to release these individuals is worrying, as are reports that Hamas has real estate holdings in Qatar and other Gulf nations.
Two other individuals now on U.S. and U.N. terror finance lists for allegedly funding al Qaeda were detained in the fall for several hours by Kuwaiti authorities but then let go shortly thereafter. According to press and social media reports, the men, Shafi and Hajjaj al-Ajmi, also relied on fundraising representatives in Qatar, but there is no sign that those associates have been punished by authorities in Doha. Qatar’s Interior Ministry, which is run by the prime minister and the lead agency for tackling suspected terror finance, asked one of these individuals to preach to its employees this past month for Ramadan.
Another Kuwaiti national who is subject to U.N. terror finance sanctions, Hamid Abdullah al-Ali, was invited to deliver a sermon from the Qatari state-controlled Grand Mosque, where he allegedly spoke about jihad in Syria. He was supposed to be subject to a U.N. travel ban. It is worth noting that these sanctions and the associated ban were blocked from late 2006 until early 2008 in large part because Qatari diplomats opposed the sanctions at the U.N. Security Council upon request from Kuwait City.
It is important to recognize that these countries provide a safe haven not just to terror financiers, but also to terrorist operatives themselves.
Just last week, Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, announced the arrest of 40 individuals from a West Bank Hamas cell that was “preparing the groundwork for terrorist activity.” Israeli officials asserted that a top Hamas official in Qatar, Husam Badran, organized the cell and was involved in its recruitment and financing with hundreds of thousands of dollars, partially obtained through gold smuggling.
This is not the first time Israeli security officials have made such accusations. In 2013, Israel’s military announced that Badran was the “primary contact person abroad” for a disrupted cell in the West Bank that was “planning to kidnap an IDF soldier” and was “receiving guidance and funding” from operatives abroad. Two other Hamas officials based in Qatar, Talal Shareem and Hesham Hejazi, were accused by Israel of directing terror cells in the West Bank in 2013 and 2014. Additionally, Hamas’s Khaled Meshal, who still appears to be resident in Qatar, and Salah Arouri, based in Turkey, were both permitted to visit Kuwait City to meet with the Amir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah at his palace last July.
In early 2014, the Amir of Kuwait appointed Nayef al-Ajmi, who had been involved in pro-jihadist fundraising, to run the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, key posts for the control of terror finance. Subsequently, then-Under Secretary Cohen called out Kuwait for this appointment calling it “a step in the wrong direction” and stating that one of the fundraising networks claiming an endorsement from al-Ajmi was a major funder of al Qaeda in Syria. Several weeks after the Kuwaiti cabinet publicly voiced its resentment at the charges in his defense, Nayef al-Ajmi stepped down.
Thus, you can see why Kuwait and Qatar have not yet shown themselves genuinely willing to tackle terror finance from private individuals inside their territory. They have also embraced senior operatives of Hamas, providing safe haven to a terrorist group. There are laws on the books that may offer a model for empowering the Congress and convincing the executive branch to punish states which provide such a safe haven, and the conclusion of this testimony will offer some options for doing so.
While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have taken some steps to tackle terrorism and terror finance in recent years, there are still some areas in which their actions fall short. Riyadh joined Washington in imposing sanctions this April against the rebranded Pakistan office of the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), the local branch of a Kuwaiti charity under U.S. terror finance sanctions on charges of funding al Qaeda. Yet Saudi Arabia has yet to sanction RIHS as a whole.
Notably, both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates issued formal lists of banned terrorist organizations for the first time in 2014. However, many observers noted that the credibility of these lists was undercut by a decision to include groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (and even a European nonviolent democracy-promotion group in the case of the U.A.E.). It is also worth noting that these lists bizarrely excluded Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and other violent terrorist groups.
Shortly after the U.A.E. joined Saudi Arabia in issuing its list, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed credit for the gruesome killing of worshippers in a West Jerusalem synagogue with a gun and a meat cleaver, yet neither Abu Dhabi nor Riyadh added the group to their lists.
Incitement, Hatred, and State-Sanctioned Intolerance
As recently as last week, the Qatari network Al Jazeera was still explicitly lionizing the perpetrators of that West Jerusalem terrorist attack as martyrs. The network, which still largely reflects Qatar’s political agenda, has also provided unfettered airtime to terrorist commanders over the last twelve months. During the 2014 Gaza war, the state news wires of Bahrain and Qatar both included known terrorists in with civilians as part of their tally of “martyrs” among the Palestinians.
This is just one example of the intolerable incitement that continues to emanate from our allies in the Gulf. Incitement from religious sources is particularly extensive, whereby firebrand Islamic preachers spout hatred toward other religions yet receive privileges from the state. This issue is especially problematic in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but it is also an ongoing challenge in Dubai, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
As recently last week, the Qatari network Al Jazeera was still explicitly lionizing the perpetrators of that West Jerusalem terrorist attack as martyrs. The network, which still largely reflects Qatar’s political agenda, has also provided unfettered airtime to terrorist commanders over the last twelve months. During the 2014 Gaza war, the state news wires of Bahrain and Qatar both lumped known terrorists in with civilians as part of their tally of “martyrs” among the Palestinians.
Take, for example, the case of Saad bin Ateeq al-Ateeq. Ateeq delivered a sermon from Qatar’s state-controlled Grand Mosque earlier this year beseeching Allah to “destroy” the Jews, Christians, Alawites, and Shi’a. This was the sixth time Ateeq had been invited back to the Grand Mosque since making similar remarks in 2013, so the Qataris presumably knew what they were likely to get.
Depending upon how one counts titles, Ateeq has been serving as an official at up to three different Saudi ministries: as the preacher in residence at the academy for Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, as an Islamic supervisor at the regional education department in Riyadh, and as chairman of a quasi-governmental community religious board overseen by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Since calling for the destruction of adherents to other religions, Ateeq has been invited to speak throughout the kingdom, at a festival sponsored by the ruler in Dubai, to officers of the Qatari Navy and Qatari airport security, and to officers under the supervision of Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry.
Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman is moving the country in a more religiously conservative direction. He fired an official who had tried to rein in the austere religious police, appointed a preacher to advise his court whose way of condemning ISIL is to call it “more infidel than Jews and Christians,” and dismissed only one member of the state’s highest religious board, who was considered a relative reformer.
When King Salman skipped the Camp David summit, he instead met with officials from the state-appointed religious board, whose members have made a range of hateful statements over the years. These statements reportedly include calling for socially liberal Muslim media owners to be executed, encouraging any young Saudi capable of entering Iraq while U.S. troops were there to join the fight, authorizing slavery, supporting anti-miscegenation laws, hate speech against LGBT individuals, urging men and women to observe sexual segregation even on the Internet, and calling Jewish people perfidious and deceptive. Also retained by Salman is the country’s Grand Mufti, who has said that all churches on the Arabian Peninsula should be demolished and authorized child-marriage for girls as young as age ten.
When recent Saudi textbooks call for executing gay people and anyone who converts away from Islam, when the Saudi religious affairs minister says that Islam is at “war,” under attack from a “dangerous triad” of Christians, Jews, and mushrikeen (a common derogatory term in the kingdom for Shi’ite Muslims that translates loosely to “polytheists”), it is unsurprising if other clerics who receive privileges from the state presume they can get away with voicing hatred of other religions. Many such clerics regularly condemn Shi’a as apostates, Safavids, or rawafidh (or “rejectionists”) for refusing to accept the Salafist Sunni version of Islam.
Indeed, if you look at the language used by ISIL when claiming credit for bombings perpetrated by Saudi nationals against Shi’ite worshippers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait these last two months, the statements have specifically used words like mushrikeen (polytheists) and rafidha (rejectionism, typically referring to Shi’a).
Last month, Emir Tamim of Qatar personally hugged, kissed, and physically embraced some of the most hateful clerics in the Gulf. He kissed on the head Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who once called in a public sermon for Allah to “take the Jews, the treacherous aggressors” and “count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.” Emir Tamim embraced and exchanged kisses with Aidh al-Qarni, who has called the fighters of Hamas holy warriors and maligned Jews as “the brothers of apes and pigs,” as well as Mohammed al-Arifi, who has been accused of calling Shi’a “non-believers who must be killed.” The Emir held hands with Nasser al-Omar, who reportedly has signed a petition calling the “Shi[ite] sect an evil among the sects of the Islamic nation, and the greatest enemy and deceivers of the Sunni people.”
In Dubai, a government department invited residents to a 2015 Ramadan forum that hosted two extremist clerics this past weekend who deny and mock the truth of how al Qaeda used passenger aircraft to perpetrate the attacks of 9/11. This is particularly worrisome given that Dubai has the world’s busiest airport in terms of international travelers.
Last year, a Quranic festival sponsored by the ruler of Dubai hosted Saad al-Ateeq, the aforementioned Saudi preacher who beseeched Allah to “destroy” adherents of other religions. This year, that same festival featured an opening lecturer named Saleh al-Moghamsy, who notoriously has said that Osama bin Laden died with more dignity and honor than any “infidels” such as “Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, apostates, and atheists.”
Kuwait and Bahrain have both allowed Moghamsy to speak at their state-controlled Grand Mosques in recent years. His lecture in Kuwait this April was sponsored by the Amir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah himself, and Moghamsy was permitted to use the Amir’s honor hall at the airport. Kuwait’s government also hosted the Saudi preacher Saleh bin Humeid as a guest speaker, both before and after he gave a sermon brimming with hate speech against LGBT individuals. Both times in Kuwait he was honored with gifts. Amir Sabah’s choice for Minister of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in early 2014 gave a sermon on Kuwaiti state TV calling Jews “apes and pigs” and “the scum of mankind.” This March, Kuwaiti state TV aired a sermon invoking the noted forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion and proclaiming that Allah does not like the Jewish people because they spread corruption throughout the land.
News reports that Kuwait may now be moving to ban Salafist media outlets from Saudi Arabia that incite hatred against Shi’ite Muslims is a positive step in the right direction, and American officials should privately encourage Riyadh to match Kuwait’s example.
In Bahrain, Saleh al-Moghamsy was honored by a lunch with members of the royal family, including a deputy prime minister and the head of the country’s religious establishment. In little more than the last two years, Bahrain’s deputy prime minister, justice minister, and the commander-in-chief of the defense forces have all received a hardline Bahraini preacher named Jassim al-Saeedi (twice in the case of the BDF’s commander). Saeedi has allegedly preached for Allah to “damn the Jews and Christians and Rafidha [derogatory term referring to Shi’a],” and the meetings took place shortly after a call on his Twitter account for Allah to “destroy the Rafidha and those who are hostile and the Majous [derogatory term for Alawites] and the sons of Jews and the Christians and the sons of apes and pigs.” Activists have also alleged that Manama’s armed forces republished a Salafist book in February 2015 called Light of the Sunni Faith and the Darkness of Heresy, the text of which states that common Shi’ite rituals and beliefs make one an infidel, a polytheist, and a heretic.
Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Justice
The systematic abuse of civil rights and other human rights by Gulf regimes is another essential area where our allies are setting the stage for greater regional instability and thus undermining our own national security.
As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained in her 2005 speech at the American University in Cairo, “for 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East – and we achieve neither.” This is one of the main lessons we should have drawn from 9/11 as well as from the Arab Spring: reform cannot be postponed indefinitely, and attempts to do so cause greater radicalization and instability down the line.
President Obama seems to understand this, at least on the rhetorical level. In his interview with the New York Times ahead of the Camp David summit, he said that “the biggest threat” our Gulf allies face is “going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries.” He said “that’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one that we have to have.” And yet just before the summit began, a senior administration official informed Politico that political reform is “not what Camp David is about” and “not what Camp David was designed to do.”
This seems to reflect a broader challenge across administrations: that we jettison our principles on matters of civil rights and other human rights when we engage with our allies in the Gulf. Indeed, President Obama declined to bring up human rights when he might with Saudi Arabia’s then-King Abdullah last year near Riyadh. He downplayed the importance of discussing human rights on his way to meet the new King Salman in the Saudi capital this January, and there is little indication that he seriously raised the issue at Camp David, despite a positive statement to this effect in the president’s post-summit press conference.
Human rights abuses are particularly egregious in Saudi Arabia, which has been undergoing an authoritarian regression since the King Salman took the throne. Power is so centralized now among a handful of individuals, particularly the direct descendants his Sudairy family clique, that the country only half-jokingly being referred to as “Sudairy Arabia.” The country is on its way to setting a new record for executions, with over 100 so far this year, and the state is hiring more executioners to help with the beheadings. Death sentences continue to be handed out on such outrageous charges as blasphemous speech, conversion away from Islam, and perceived acts of sorcery.
Yet throughout the GCC region, U.S.-allied monarchies are headed in the wrong direction in terms of domestic inclusivity, moderation, and reform. In fact, they are systematically demolishing the constituencies required to move their countries in a more tolerant direction while continuing to embrace intolerant or repressive hardliners.
Bloggers, civil society groups, women’s advocates, proponents of sectarian dialogue, human rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens engaging in free speech have all faced unjust repression at the hands of Gulf governments since the Arab Spring. President Obama has said that “America’s support for civil society is a matter of national security,” and nowhere is the shortfall in our support for these efforts more transparent and in need of changing than in the Gulf.
Kuwait, a government that historically has shied away from prosecuting prominent financiers of terrorism has shown no such compunction when it comes to sending ordinary people to prison for years simply for criticizing government policies or the personage of the country’s Amir.
In Oman, an atheist blogger who criticized state policies went missing after being summoned by intelligence officials. He reappeared at a mental institution with shackles on his legs.
Qatar, a purported champion of the broader Arab Spring, sentenced a local poet for expressing similar yearnings to a lifetime in prison, although his sentence was subsequently reduced to a mere 15 years.
Beyond treating their own citizens with little dignity, Gulf regimes have a tendency to treat foreigners, particularly foreign laborers, as less than human. Qatar’s kefala labor system inherently lends itself to egregious abuses of foreign workers, in some cases verging on modern day slavery, but the country’s government continues to drag its feet on legislative reforms. Saudi Arabia’s kefala system is arguably not much better, and reports continue to emerge from the United Arab Emirates of foreign laborers being beaten, harassed, or deported for seeking to express their collective voice.
The last time the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers visited the U.A.E., she concluded that officials handling state security cases “almost systematically violate” defendants’ right to due process, utilize secret detention facilities and incommunicado detention, that arrests are “usually carried out without a warrant,” and that she received “credible information and evidence that in many cases, detainees are tortured and/or subjected to ill-treatment.”
Last week, the U.S. government decided to lift the hold on security assistance to Bahrain’s Defense Forces and National Guard that was instituted after the regime’s harsh crackdown on protesters that started in 2011. The State Department cited “some meaningful progress on human rights reforms in Bahrain” to justify the move, even though four days earlier a senior U.S. official admitted Manama “has focused much of its energy on prosecuting peaceful critics.” While the State Department’s announcement praised the “recent release” of some prisoners, the evidence in this regard – as in other regards on the Bahraini file – is disappointing at best.
Last month, Manama released from prison Ibrahim Sharif, a top Sunni member of the country’s political opposition. Sharif had been arrested in 2011 and already served most of his five-year sentence. But this positive gesture came just days after a severe step in the wrong direction, when the leader of the country’s mainstream opposition, Shi’ite cleric Ali Salman, was sentenced to four years in jail. Amnesty International considers Salman a prisoner of conscience, calling his conviction “an affront to freedom” as he was sentenced “solely for peacefully expressing his opinion.”
One day before the State Department’s announcement, a court in Bahrain sentenced opposition politician Fadhel Abbas to five years in prison for a statement and tweets opposing the war in Yemen. One day after the U.S. announcement, Salman’s deputy Khalil Marzooq was unavailable for comment because Bahrain’s Interior Ministry summoned him for statements he had expressed at a recent public meeting, reportedly charging him with insulting the interior minister. Two days after the U.S. decision, another prominent member of the opposition who served as president of the Manama Municipal Council for eight years, Majeed Milad, was allegedly detained by authorities and facing charges “related to his peaceful political activism and for expression of political opinion.”
Human rights abuses in the GCC are important to address now because otherwise the risk of instability in this area may get worse, not better over time.
Virtually all the GCC states rely directly or indirectly on petroleum revenues for their economic wellbeing. But by refusing to reduce skyrocketing domestic energy consumption by eliminating exorbitant subsidies, these countries are generally in for leaner economic times ahead. Without tapping into the power of civil society to channel and address people’s desire for better governance, public grievances are set to expand. The continued exclusion of women from much of the labor market means economic growth will struggle to keep pace with the global economy. Further, the looming presence of a demographic bulge means rising numbers of young people will be disaffected and underemployed. And by refusing to tackle incitement, the GCC governments are ensuring that hardliners get to indoctrinate the youths who will be agitating for change and determining its eventual character.
Energy and Economic Relations:
The GCC states are extremely appealing as big-ticket economic partners. Although they do not regularly respect the rule of law, these petroleum-enriched regimes offer highly centralized decision-making and often dispense economic privileges as political favors. Thanks in large part to arms sales, the United Arab Emirates is now America’s number one destination for exports anywhere in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. Additionally, tiny Qatar has announced plans to invest a whopping $35 billion inside U.S. territory.
But we should not let such immediate economic advantages blind us to the long-term economic and strategic risks of allowing U.S.-Gulf relations to continue on autopilot in the midst of the current turmoil in the region. We should not let the tempting subject of foreign investments overshadow pressing issues like terror finance, religious incitement, and systematic repression that are sowing the ground for greater insecurity and violence down the road.
As the recent Saudi decision to crash the oil market reveals, we should not wait to begin protecting our economy and pocketbooks from sudden disruptions in global oil markets, which are often shaped in large part by the Gulf. We need a national strategy to promote fuel choice and American energy independence, and that requires leadership from the very top, something every president for several decades has promised but none has truly delivered.
With regard to Iran, it would be unrealistic to expect that all of our GCC allies will shun the economic opportunities presented by Tehran after the possible lifting of sanctions. Yet given the longstanding history of Iranian sanctions-busting networks in the Gulf, it will be particularly important for American officials to proactively monitor and punish instances of such illicit activity in the Gulf in the event of an accord and to partner with local authorities when we can be helpful to them.
Regional Reassurance and Iran:
The United States should fight aggression by the IRGC and its proxies regardless of any nuclear agreement. Without doing so, it is impossible to truly reassure our Gulf allies, and it is crucial for ensuring the stability and balance of the region. It is up to Congress and the administration to ensure that if sanctions are lifted, they are not removed from entities that remain involved in supporting terrorism in the region.
The U.S. must maintain a robust dialogue with the GCC states to reach a common understanding, clear guidelines, and explicit commitments as to what will happen in the event Iran cheats on a nuclear agreement, as well as what Washington will do to prevent Iran from breaking out to a nuclear weapon once the terms of a deal begin to sunset. While addressing Saudi Arabia’s fears of abandonment, the U.S. must also condemn