WikiLeaks Shows Saudi Obsession with Iran
For decades, Saudi Arabia has poured billions of its oil dollars into sympathetic organizations around the world, quietly practicing checkbook diplomacy to advance its agenda.
But a trove of thousands of Saudi documents recently released by WikiLeaks reveals in surprising detail how the government’s goal in recent years was not just to spread its strict version of Wahabi Islam — though that was a priority — but also to undermine Iran.
The documents from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry illustrate a near obsession with Iran, with diplomats in Africa, Asia and Europe monitoring Iranian activities in minute detail and top government agencies plotting moves to limit the spread of Shiite Islam.
The scope of this global oil-funded operation helps explain the kingdom’s alarm at the deal reached on Tuesday between world powers and Iran over its nuclear energy program.
The documents indicate an extensive apparatus inside the Saudi government dedicated to missionary activity that brings in officials from the Foreign, Interior and Islamic Affairs Ministries, the intelligence service and the office of the king.
Recent initiatives have included putting foreign preachers on the Saudi payroll, building mosques, schools and study centers, and undermining foreign officials and news media deemed threatening to the kingdom’s agenda.
At times, the king got involved, ordering an Iranian television station off the air or granting $1 million to an Islamic association in India.
“We are talking about thousands and thousands of activist organizations and preachers who are in the Saudi sphere of influence because they are directly or indirectly funded by them,” said Usama Hasan, a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the Quilliam Foundation in London. “It has been a huge factor, and the Saudi influence is undeniable.”
While the documents do not show any Saudi support for militant activity, critics argue that the kingdom’s campaign against Shiites — and its promotion of Wahabism — have eroded pluralism in the Muslim world and added to the tensions fueling conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The Saudi government has made no secret of its international religious mission, nor of its enmity toward Iran. But it has found the leaks deeply embarrassing and has told its citizens that spreading them is a crime.
It said last month that the documents were related to an electronic attack in March on the Foreign Ministry that was claimed by the Yemeni Cyber Army, a little-known group. WikiLeaks mentioned the attack when it released the documents.
While Saudi Arabia says some documents were fabricated, many contain correct names and phone numbers, and a number of individuals and associations named in them verified their contents when reached by reporters from The New York Times.