On 9 June a letter appeared on the internet purportedly written by Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. It warned of a coup within the Saudi armed forces and said that if the royal family does not step down soon they risk ending up like Nicolae Ceauşescu or the Shah of Iran. The note had no letterhead, was unsigned and there was no accompanying press release. But it quickly spread across the internet, and is the subject of much discussion on Facebook and other sites.
Prince Turki was the deputy minister for defence and aviation during the reign of King Faisal until he was sacked in a scandal involving his Moroccan wife. Since the mid-1980s he has been living in exile in Cairo on the top two floors of the Semiramis Hotel, guarded by two Austrian security companies. He is widely viewed as powerless because even when his reformist son Prince Sultan bin Turki was kidnapped in Geneva by the Saudi government in June 2003 he raised no public objection with his brothers.
One theory is that Prince Turki wrote the letter so he could ask his brothers to pay him to deny it. He has neither confirmed nor denied that the letter came from him, though the Saudi Press Agency has issued a statement saying he denied it.
On 12 June a report appeared in the Times saying that Saudi Arabia would drop its air defences to allow Israeli jets to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Such close collaboration with Israel would not only be a policy u-turn for Saudi Arabia, but a deeply unpopular and therefore risky one. In a recent interview with Asharq al-Awsat, the Saudi ambassador in London, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, refuted the story. The Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied it.
Then towards the end of July came rumours that Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk airport had been closed to civilian flights so the Israeli Air Force could start preparing it as a forward operating base for assault helicopters. ‘This can’t be true because it makes no strategic sense,’ a Saudi magazine editor told me. ‘If they said they were using UAE or Oman to make a forward operating base then maybe we would believe this, but when there is only a couple of hundred kilometres from Eilat to Tabuk the Israelis don’t need to use it.’
And last week there was a rumour, reported by Ha’aretz, that the Head of Mossad was visiting the Kingdom to discuss Iran and its nuclear programme. Again, this made little sense since all the senior intelligence chiefs you would expect him to meet with were out of the country at the time.
So what’s going on? According to the Saudi magazine editor, ‘there is a propaganda war between the media and intelligence communities in Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Iranians are trying to make problems for Saad Hariri in Lebanon and harm the Saudi reputation in the Islamic world by saying they are co-operating with the Israelis. Besides mobilising every available media resource Iran is instructing its supporters in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain and Kuwait to target the Kingdom and its rulers.’