Can Saudi leaders break with terrorism?- The latest suicide-terrorist attacks once again raise this question: Are the Saudis the enemies or the allies of al Qaeda? The answer, frustratingly, is both.
We know that al Qaeda is a largely Saudi organization and that 15 of the 19 suicide terrorists on 9/11 were Saudi. We know that Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia's state religion, openly and enthusiastically supports al Qaeda's Jihadist ideology.
So why would al Qaeda launch an attack on Saudi Arabia? First, it was not an attack on Saudi Arabia, it was an attack on Westerners in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden has never targeted Saudi leaders or diplomats.
But while al Qaeda does not seek to kill Saudi Royals, it doesn't mind embarrassing them, exposing them as hypocrites for preaching Wahhabism at home, while drinking, gambling and cavorting with infidels abroad - and, perhaps worse, relying on infidel soldiers to defend them.
Second, Saudi Arabia may be the one of the very few nations left where al Qaeda can still operate relatively freely - thanks to the support it enjoys among leading Wahhabi clerics and within the highest ranks of the Saudi government. In other words, al Qaeda may have attacked Westerners in Saudi Arabia because it was convenient, not because it was strategic.
The latest attacks also demonstrate - yet again - that al Qaeda and other Jihadist terrorists hate Americans not for what we do, but for who we are.
After 9/11, you'll recall, al Qaeda communiques cited three reasons for targeting New York and Washington: (1) the presence of infidel American troops on what Osama bin Laden considers holy Saudi soil; (2) the sanctions that were causing the Iraqi people such terrible suffering; and (3) the plight of Palestinian Arabs.
Today, American troops are leaving Saudi Arabia - though not, as bin Laden hoped, with their tails between their legs, but rather with their mission (protecting the Saudis from Saddam Hussein) accomplished.
The sanctions on Iraq have yet to be lifted, but Washington is doing all it can to remedy that. At this point, any violent protests against the sanctions really should be directed at the obstructionists in Paris and Moscow.
As for the Palestinians, they now have a "road map" that can lead to statehood - if they are willing to finally give up terrorism and accept the existence of a Jewish nation as their permanent next-door neighbor. (So far, there are no signs that the Palestinian Authority is willing to do either.) For al Qaeda, as well as its affiliates and allies, none of that matters. Their fight has always been with "infidels" of any stripe - Christian, Jewish, Shi'a, Sufi and moderate Sunni Muslim alike. Their fight is not over policy - it's a fight to destroy the Judeo-Christian world and to create a Wahhabi Empire on its ashes.
The latest attack could have an impact on the complex Saudi/al Qaeda relationship. On Tuesday, Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz said: "There can be no acceptance or justification for terrorism. Nor is there a place for any ideology which promotes it, or beliefs which condone it."
Prince Abdullah well knows that the ideology of Wahhabism - his country's religion - explicitly condones and promotes terrorism. Wahhabism says, in effect that infidels are vermin. Bin Ladenism says if that is true, someone must assume the role of righteous exterminator.
For a long time, the Saudi Royals have tried to have it both ways. They spend millions of dollars in the United States on public relations and advertising campaigns portraying themselves as "America's allies in the war against terrorism." But they also pay billions of dollars to the Wahhabis who incite terrorism from New York to Bali to Mombassa to Tel Aviv. And they turn a blind eye when wealthy Saudi sheiks directly finance terrorist organizations.
Prince Abdullah and other members of his family will probably agree to hunt down al Qaeda cells within their borders. But they will divide over whether to curb the Wahhabi clerics.
Bin Laden has said: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they naturally choose the strong horse." The Wahhabis have long been that strong horse in Saudi Arabia. The House of Sa'ud rides it at full gallop. That's frightening - but not so frightening as it would be for them to attempt to rein the horse in and dismount.
(Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism.)