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June 28, 2004
Saudis Bolster Security, Move To Protect Foreign Workers

The London Telegraph notes that the Saudis have changed their tune on security concerns, especially as Western civilians have begun to leave due to a lack of confidence in Saudi security:

Saudi Arabia has agreed to improve security and to accept help from foreign troops in checkpoint controls after an unprecedented meeting between alarmed expatriates, western ambassadors and the Saudi foreign minister.

The four-hour meeting, originally suggested by British Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Cole, assembled 40 expatriate employees and the ambassadors of the G8 countries plus 11 other nations in an ornate conference hall overlooking the Red Sea in the hope of stemming the flow of foreign workers fleeing attacks by extreme Islamists.

James Oberwetter, the American ambassador, said Saudi Arabia had agreed to accept foreign assistance in improving the training of security forces at checkpoints, whose often lax appearance has seriously undermined the confidence of expatriates in the police.

Checkpoints set up outside the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh, currently the most sensitive area of the city, are often manned by seven or eight paramilitary troops, two of whom may be checking the contents of car boots while four others sit in the shade of a large khaki beach umbrella sipping tea [emph mine -- CE].

While having the civilian workers who keep Saudi oil flowing run for the hills gives the terrorists a real sense of victory, one cannot blame the workers themselves for making that decision, especially if Saudi security openly gives the impression the Telegraph details. After having a Westerner beheaded by terrorist freaks, I'd hardly feel safe putting my safety in the hands of those who consider their iced tea a higher priority than looking for al-Qaeda operatives at checkpoints. And if, by chance, I happened to be an AQ operative, the sight of security staff focusing on their drinks rather than on the checkpoint would encourage me to think that they may not be on my side, but they're certainly not against me, either.

Saudi Arabia has been fiercely protective of its territory, unwilling to assimilate foreign armies even to protect itself. When the American armies stationed themselves in the kingdom to launch Desert Shield and then Desert Storm, a number of rules had to be promulgated to separate American soldiers, especially females, from the general Saudi populace. Such separation could occur in that case as the main thrust of the deployment was to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait and prevent Saddam from attacking the Saudi oil fields.

However, this new security issue will require foreign troops in much closer proximity to civilian areas, and that may wind up fueling the fire that produced al-Qaeda in the first place. The Saudis obviously understand this, and so their decision to allow the deployment to shore up confidence in their security apparatus speaks volumes about how far the royal family has come in understanding the stakes in the war on al-Qaeda. Prince Saud's statement addressed several aspects of this, as the Telegraph notes:

Prince Saud said the kingdom would agree to foreign help in the training of its urban security forces. "We have a duty to reassure its foreign guests on matters of safety, and a duty as part of its national covenant to protect them."

He also appeared to concede a change in the law under which only Saudi civilians are allowed to carry weapons, as long as they are over 18 and have a permit. Foreigners, like Saudis, "have a right to carry a weapon if they are authorised to do so", Prince Saud said.

Allowing foreigners, especially infidels, to carry firearms in the cradle of Islam shows how serious they are. It also puts AQ on notice that the next Westerner they attempt to hijack may come equipped to handle the situation, requiring them to have a larger -- and more detectable -- presence during their operations in the future.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 28, 2004 1:34 PM

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