Authors: Patrick Robinson
The President nodded sagely, though well out of his depth. “And the Navy?”
“It’s the smallest of our services. Just a few Corvettes in the Red Sea, and a few guided-missile frigates, purchased, you will know, from France. But the Navy is not our greatest strength.”
“And the Air Force?”
“This is our best force. We have more than two hundred combat aircraft in the Royal Saudi Air Force, with eighteen thousand personnel. They are deployed at four key airfields. And their mission is very simply to keep the kingdom safe, in particular to keep our oil installations safe.”
“Well, Your Highness. I would assess that is a
amount of firepower to put down a revolution. If our Bourbon Kings and Princes had possessed half of that, they’d still be here, raping and pillaging the land.”
Prince Nasir laughed despite himself. He took another sip of coffee and then said, “Sir, the Achilles’ heel of the Saudi King is not the ability of the military to fight. It’s his ability to pay them.”
“But he has all the money in the world, flowing in every month to achieve that,” replied the President.
“But what if he didn’t?” said Prince Nasir Ibn Mohammed.
“What if he didn’t?”
“You mean someone takes all the oil away from him?” said the President. “That sounds most unlikely given all those armored brigades and fighter jets.”
“No, sir. What if the oil was taken out of the equation? What if it simply no longer flowed, and the King had no income to pay the armed services? What then?”
“You mean, supposing someone destroyed the Saudi oil industry?”
“Only for a little while,” replied the Prince.
6, 2009, 5:00
QUAI D’ORSAY, PARIS
Pierre St. Martin, the Foreign Minister of France and a hopeful future President, stood beside a large portrait of Napoleon placed on an easel on the left-hand side of his lavish office. Before him stood Monsieur Gaston Savary, the tall saturnine head of the French Secret Service—the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), successor to the former internationally feared SDECE, the counterespionage service.
The two men had never met before, and the elegant Monsieur St. Martin, was, quite frankly, amazed that he had been ordered to his office at this ungodly hour in the morning, apparently to converse with this…this spy from La Piscine—the kind of man patrician politicians in London refer to as Johnny Raincoat.
La Piscine was the government nickname for the DGSE, derived from the proximity of the bleak ten-story Secret Service building to a municipal swimming pool in the Caserne des Tourelles. Savary operated out of 128 Boulevard Mortier, over in the twentieth arrondissement; that was about as far west as you could possibly go and still be in the City of Lights. It is not the kind of neighborhood in which you’d expect to locate an urbane Foreign Minister. The suave and expensively tailored St. Martin had never been to La Piscine.
Nonetheless, they had both been ordered to the sumptuous offices on the Quai d’Orsay by the President of France himself. And the current resident of the Elysée Palace was due there in the next few minutes.
St. Martin, who had spent the night at the apartment of one of the most beautiful actresses in France, was a great deal more irritated by the intrusion into his life than Savary.
Both men were around the same age, fiftyish, but the Secret Service chief was a lifelong career officer in undercover operations. For him the call in the middle of the night was routine. No matter the time, he was instantly operational, and he had been for ten years responsible for the planning of black operations conducted on behalf of the government of France, using both military forces and civilian agents.
A lithe, fit, and slightly morose man, Savary had even taken part personally in various French adventures. He would, as ever, admit nothing, but he was reputed to have been operational in the attack and subsequent sinking of the Greenpeace freighter in Auckland Harbor, New Zealand, in July 1985. Interference with the Pacific nuclear tests conducted by France?
was Savary’s view of that.
“Would you like to remove your raincoat?” asked the Foreign Minister. “Since we are shortly to be in the presence of our President.”
Savary, without a word, took the coat off and slung it over the back of a near-priceless Louis Quinze chair, owned originally by the Duchess of Bourbon, the King’s sister, for whom the massive next-door Palais Bourbon had been built. Stormed and captured by the mob during the Revolution, today the former private residence served as the French Parliament, but retained its original name, Bourbon. It was a reminder of the blistering pace in opulence that those old French aristos had set for the Saudi royal family to emulate.
St. Martin stared at the spy’s raincoat over the back of the late King’s chair, and…well, winced.
He pressed a small bell for the butler to bring them some coffee, but his prime purpose was to get rid of the garment owned by
Jean-Claude Raincoat or whatever his damned name was
. St. Martin had always harbored a sneaking regard for the Bourbons and their excellent taste.
“I don’t suppose you have the slightest idea what this is all about?” he said.
“Absolutely none,” replied the intelligence chief. “I just received a phone call from the Palais Elysée and was told that the President wished to see me in your office at five-fifteen
Here I am,
“My summons was exactly the same. My mobile phone rang at one-thirty
. God knows what this is all about.”
is about to declare war?”
“Not, I hope, on the United States.”
Savary smiled for the first time. But just then their coffee arrived, for three, as requested. St. Martin had the butler pour just two cups and asked him to hang Savary’s raincoat in the hall closet.
Almost immediately a phone rang on his enormous desk and a voice announced that the presidential car had arrived at the portals of the Foreign Office. Pierre St. Martin poured the third cup of coffee himself.
Three minutes later he was most surprised to see that the President was entirely alone: no secretary, no aides, no officials. He closed the door himself and said quietly, “Pierre, Gaston, thank you for coming so early. Would you please ensure that our discussion is conducted entirely in secret. Perhaps a guard outside the door.”
St. Martin made a short phone call, handed the President a cup of coffee, and motioned for everyone to be seated, the President on a fine drawing room upright chair, the Secret Service chief on the Louis Quinze number lately occupied by his raincoat, while the Foreign Minister himself retreated behind his desk.
“Gentlemen,” said the President, “approximately two hours ago, one of the most important Princes in the Saudi Arabian royal family left my residence to fly home in a French Air Force jet to Damascus, and then in his own aircraft to Riyadh. His visit with me was so private, so confidential, not even the most senior staff at the Saudi embassy here in Paris were aware of his presence in the city.
“He came not just to inform me that the financial excesses of the Saudi Arabian ruling family would shortly bankrupt his country, but to propose a way out of the problem—to the very great advantage of himself, and indeed of France.”
St. Martin swiftly interjected, “Doubtless inspired by that young Saudi Prince who nearly sank the
“I think partly,” replied the President. “But the problem of thirty-five thousand princes, all members of the family, spending up to a million dollars a month on fast living has been vexing the reformist element in the Saudi government for several years. According to my visitor, the time has come for that to cease.”
Savary spoke for the first time. “I imagine he mentioned that the Saudi King is heavily protected by a fiercely loyal Army, Air Force, and Navy. So an overthrow of that part of the family is more or less out of the question.”
“Indeed he did, Gaston. He mentioned it in great detail. And he pointed out that the only person in the entire kingdom who could pay the armed services is the King, who receives all the oil revenues of the country and pays all the bills for his family.”
“So the armed services would be most unlikely to turn against him,” said Savary.
“Most unlikely,” agreed the President. “Unless for some reason the vast revenues from the oil fields ceased to exist.”
“And the King could no longer pay them, correct?” said Savary.
“Precisely,” replied the President.
“Sir, I have no doubt you are as aware as I am that those Saudi oil fields are guarded by a steel ring of personnel and armaments,” said Savary. “They’re just about impregnable—understandably, since the whole country is one hundred percent dependent upon them, from the richest to the poorest.”
“Well, we have not reached that point in the conversation yet, Gaston. But I would like to inform you, in the broadest possible terms, what the Prince was proposing.”
“I, for one, am paying keen attention,” said Pierre St. Martin.
“Excellent,” replied the President. “Because the information I am about to impart might be of critical importance to our nation. His Highness, Prince Nasir—you need know nothing more of him—proposes the following. Someone hits the oil fields and knocks out the main pumping station and the three or four biggest loading terminals on both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
“Two days later, with Saudi Arabia’s economy effectively laid to waste, a small, highly trained fighting force attacks the Saudi military city in the southwest of the country near the Yemen border. And while the military is in disarray, another highly specialized force goes in and takes Riyadh, the capital city.
“They knock out a couple of palaces, gun down the royal family, take the television station and the radio station, and sweep the Crown Prince to power. He then appears on nationwide television and announces that he has taken control, and the corrupt regime of the present King has been summarily swept away.”
“And you are proposing we somehow take part in all this?” asked St. Martin incredulously.
“Certainly not. I am suggesting we examine the feasibility of doing so.”
“And if the military coup were carried out, with our assistance, and the Prince took over Saudi Arabia, what could be in it for us?” asked Gaston Savary.
“Well, as his best friends and closest allies, and a sworn opponent to the ambitions of the United States, we would be awarded every single contract to rebuild the oil installations, and we would become the sole marketing agents for all Saudi Arabian oil for the next hundred years. Anyone wishes to buy, they buy it from us. Which means we effectively control world oil prices.”
“And how long would it take us to rebuild the oil installations?”
“Maybe two years. Maybe less.”
“And what about that big Saudi Army and Air Force?”
The President shrugged. “What about them? They would have no alternative but to switch their allegiance to serve the new King. After all, they cannot serve a dead one,
? And no one else could possibly pay them, save for the new ruler. And even then things would be rather tight for a few months, until some oil began to flow, probably in the Gulf terminals.”
“You really think this could be achieved, sir?” said Savary. “Militarily, I mean?”
“I have no idea. But Prince Nasir does. And he says that if it is not achieved, Saudi Arabia is doomed.”
“What kind of a premise will he campaign on?” asked St. Martin.
“Well, he won’t really need to campaign, will he? Not if he simply seizes power. But he will immediately assure the populace that the massive financial stipends for the princes will end forthwith. Which will save his treasury maybe two hundred fifty billion a year.
“He will also advocate an immediate return to pure Muslim worship of the Wahhabi persuasion. You understand—strict rules of prayer, no alcohol, the strict word of the Koran, and the teachings of the Prophet. There will be no more cozying up to American politicians, and the country will return to its basic Bedouin roots, to the old ways of life. They will heed the call of the desert, and bring up their children according to the old traditions, as indeed Prince Nasir has brought up his own. And there will certainly be no more financing of terrorism. And no further need to pay vast sums of protection money to groups who might otherwise attack Saudi Arabia. I speak of course of hundreds of millions of dollars directed to al-Qaeda.
“Once Prince Nasir has severed his ties with the United States, there will be no further danger from the fundamentalist groups. And of course we may also expect a far greater Saudi support for the Palestinians.”
“But surely this will cause chaos on the world oil markets?” said St. Martin. “Absolute chaos.”
“I have no doubt it will. But this won’t affect us, because we will rid ourselves of our Saudi contracts long before anything happens. We will sign new two-year agreements with other Middle Eastern countries for all of our oil and gas requirements.”
“But what about the world oil shortages? This would just about bankrupt Japan and cripple even the mighty economy of the United States. Our European partners would also be hurt. Gasoline could go to a hundred fifty dollars a barrel.” St. Martin was just beginning to look particularly distraught.
“I agree,” said the President. “But if Prince Nasir is correct, all this will happen anyway, if the Saudi population takes to the streets in protest against the royal family. As for the oil prices going through the roof—well, can you imagine anything more appealing to the country that effectively controls world sales of Saudi oil?”
“But, sir,” said St. Martin. “The Saudi fields are the only stabilizer in all of the world’s markets. Remember how they saved everyone by producing millions of extra barrels in 1991, and then again after 9/11 when they pumped almost five million extra barrels to save the market? Petrol prices hardly went up by a single franc.