How Israel Helps Saudi Arabia’s Rulers Control their Working Class

by John Spritzler

January 1, 2007


[Read about the early history of Saudi Arabia and Zionism here]


Here is a brief history of how the Saudi Royal family learned to use Israel to control the working class in Saudi Arabia.

In 1953 the Saudi Royal family was inexperienced in dealing with a rebellious working class.

According to a Time Magazine report November 2, 1953, "The country's first real labor disturbance caught the government completely unprepared, for 73-year-old King Ibn Saud had never got around to making any law for or against strikes, while the devisers of the Moslem Sharia (sacred law) had never anticipated a Taft-Hartley world." It started out with native Saudi employees of ARAMCO (the Arabian American Oil Co., biggest enterprise in the land) demanding justice for all the company's 15,000 native workers. Nothing that the ARAMCO managers offered satisfied the workers. Then the government stepped in and put the workers’ leaders in jail. Then, as Time reported:

"[D]emanding that the government release their leaders, 13,000 of Aramco's 15,000 native workers walked out in a surprisingly well-organized general strike. Nothing like this had ever happened before in autocratic Saudi Arabia: strikers rioted in front of a police station, slugged foreign workers and stoned vehicles.

"Enraged, Crown Prince Saud (who is trying to run the country while his father lies critically ill) ordered the men to return to work. If they did not, he said, he would ship them back to their villages, where they used to enjoy the benefits of a 7½¢-a-day wage. Whatever happened, Saudi Arabia would never be the same again. The astonished government muttered that it was looking into labor laws in other countries to see what they did about this sort of thing."

That was then. Now fast forward to May, 2004, when the Saudi Royals have learned to tell their working class that the Royal family is their protector against their real enemy–Israel. On May 6, Newsweek reported:

A New Rift?

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has blamed ‘Zionists’ for a weekend terror attack. While his comments seemed designed for a domestic audience, they could damage relations with Washington


By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball


Updated: 6:19 p.m. ET May 6, 2004

May 4 - Only days after the State Department praised Saudi Arabia for its "aggressive" and "unprecedented" campaign to hunt down terrorists, Crown Prince Abdullah—the country’s de facto ruler—has startled Bush administration officials by blaming "Zionists" and "followers of Satan" for recent terrorist acts in the kingdom. "We can be certain that Zionism is behind everything," Abdullah told a gathering of leading government officials and academics in Jeddah as he talked about the weekend attack on oil workers, which killed six people, including two Americans. "I don’t say 100 percent, but 95 percent."...

In an apparent attempt to provide some evidence for his comments, Saud claimed that one of two Saudis who had been linked to the attack were believed to be followers of two well-known London-based Saudi dissidents, Saad al-Fagih and Mohammed al-Masari, who, according to the Saudi foreign minister, are being financed by Israel. No evidence of such links has ever been made public. "This shows how desperate and hopeless they are," Fagih told NEWSWEEK in a telephone interview from London. "This is like saying George Bush is sponsoring bin Laden."

Shortly after this, on May 29, there was another terrorist attack on oil workers, described this way by Wikipedia:

In the 29 May 2004 Al-Khobar massacres in Saudi Arabia, four Islamist terrorists attacked two oil industry installations and a foreign workers' housing complex, the Oasis Compound, in the Gulf city of Khobar, Saudi Arabia, taking more than 50 hostages and killing 22 of them. It was reported that the kidnappers asked the hostages if they were Christian or Muslim, letting the Muslims go.

On May 30, Saudi Special Emergency Forces stormed the compound where the terrorists held the hostages. Despite dramatic live footage, three of the terrorists had already escaped, by stealing a car and using hostages as human shields. Another was captured. Altogether 41 hostages were freed, 25 were injured and 22 were killed, among them 19 foreigners. It is widely believed that Saudi security forces somehow facilitated the perpetrators' escape, given that it was broad daylight and the Oasis compound was surrounded by hundreds of armed soldiers, police officers, and reporters at the time the terrorists managed to escape.

Regardless of who really instigated the attacks on oil workers (and there is good reason to believe it was a Saudi inside job), the Saudi Royals are clearly relying on the Israel boogeyman as a way to control their working class by directing its anger and fear away from the Royals and towards Israel.

Israel also gives the Saudi Royals the excuse they need for spending the nation’s oil wealth on military weapons to strengthen the power of the Royal family rather than to meet the needs of its working class. While the port city of Jeddah, with three million inhabitants, has 300 palaces for royalty but no sewage system, the Saudi Royals got away with being the foremost purchaser of U.S. armaments in 2005, with over $1.1 billion in purchases.

To get their working class to tolerate so much wealth going for military uses, the Saudi Royals make a point of locating their F-15's in Tabuk, a town in the far corner of Saudi Arabia that is closest to Israel.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly transferred much of its advanced F-15 fighter-jet fleet to the Tabuk air base in violation of the kingdom's promises not to do so. As part of the Carter Administration's effort to persuade Congress to approve the controversial sale of F-15s to the Saudis in 1978, U.S. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown said in a letter to Congress that the planes would be based elsewhere in part because they would be too vulnerable at Tabuk.

From this advanced base, the jets could reach Israel's southern border in about six minutes. The United States requested that the Saudis return the planes to their original bases, but they have so far refused to do so. Consequently, Israel has had to increase its monitoring of Saudi Arabia.


Even though Saudi Arabia is, in reality, a close ally of the United States, its ruling family still finds it necessary, purely for purposes of domestic social control, to adopt an anti-Israel and anti-U.S. stance for domestic consumption. This explains why the Saudi government-controlled press, like The Arab News, prints so many anti-Israel and anti-U.S. articles and opinions. For example, one can read in the December 29, 2006 edition this analysis (in "America’s True Intentions in the Mideast" by Hassan Tahsin):

"In fact, the real motive for the US occupation of the Middle East is to stop the growing power of Muslims and weaken Arab countries, as well as putting an end to the increasing trend of people, particularly blacks, embracing Islam in the US and Western Europe."


"Israel is no more than a tool in the US strategic scheme to strike at the Arab countries that refuse to toe the US line."

The fact is that the Saudi Royals need Israel. They need Israel the same way George W. Bush needs "terrorists." Without Israel, who would the Saudi Royals tell their workers to fear and blame? Likewise, without Israel there would be no "anti-Semitic bloodthirsty Arab fanatics" for George Bush to tell Americans to fear and blame. The Saudi Royals need Israel in order to more effectively control their own workers. This means that one needs to take with a large grain of salt their anti-Israel pronouncements. It also means one needs to take with an equally large grain of salt any statements by America's Big Oil executives that they have a problem with the U.S. government's support for Israel. After all, if Israel were not a super-strong military power, then the Saudi Royals would have no handy excuse for not actually using their military weapons against Israel. Much better for everybody in the elite club if Israel is strong, and it continues to play its role of using ethnic cleansing to provoke Arab/Muslim anger and deflect it away from the Saudi Royals. Otherwise, the bad old days of 1953 could return, with workers going on a general strike against the Saudi Arabian government.


Postscript November 10, 2015: Saudi Prince declares support for Israel, not for Palestinians. But the Prince then denied this report.


John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.


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