Khaddam’s memoirs…a Saudi message to Assad: A conspiracy between Gaddafi, “Abu Nidal” and the Iranians to attack American facilities in Saudi Arabia (3 of 5)

publisher: الشرق الأوسط Al-Sharq Al-Awsat

Publishing date: 2024-02-21

The third episode deals with Iran's penetration of the Iraqi borders, the content of the deliberations of the late Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in Damascus, as well as the content of a Saudi message conveyed to the Syrian capital about the conspiracy of Libyan President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the leader of the "Fatah-Revolutionary Council" Sabri Al-Banna (Abu Nidal) with Iran. To target American facilities in Saudi Arabia, and President al-Assad’s message to Riyadh, saying: “Our forces are at your service.”

At the beginning of 1986, the military situation began to favor Iran as its attacks intensified against Iraqi forces, successfully penetrating Iraq’s borders and causing an increase in the number of Iraqi military personnel surrendering to Tehran’s forces. This raised concerns among Kuwait and Gulf states, accompanied by tension in regional and international waters and escalating attacks on oil tankers.

On February 10, 1986, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad sent a message to Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, which reads:

“It is undeniable that Your Excellency has followed with us the news of the dangerous escalation on the Iraqi-Iranian front. This escalation has so far produced rapid developments that have caused us great concern about the potential penetration of Arab territories, particularly Iraqi territory. While I refer to Your Excellency regarding the real dangers this may pose to a neighboring Arab country and the threats it could bring to the security and safety of our Arab nation, I would like to draw Your Excellency’s attention to Syria’s expressed national positions, represented by your affirmations of the sanctity of Arab land wherever it may be and your opposition to any Iranian encroachment on Arab territories. From our national responsibility standpoint, I urge you to exert efforts to put an end to this dangerous escalation.”

On February 22, 1986, Khadam, the Saudi Foreign Minister’s aide, received Prince Saud al-Faisal, who had been in Baghdad before that. The discussion focused on Syrian-Iraqi relations and the war between Iraq and Iran, with mediation aimed at improving relations between Damascus and Baghdad. This was because “the direct Iranian threat to the Gulf states and the entire region must be addressed. There is Iranian occupation, and the recent attack on Basra and their (Iranians’) intention to occupy part of Iraq and install their supporters to claim that this war is Iraqi-Iraqi. This is a serious matter in the region. In war, we cannot afford to gamble, as the situation might collapse at the moment of penetration. Dealing with the situation after it escalates is a problem in itself. Even if Iraq succeeds in mobilizing its military forces and receives Arab forces, the war will worsen and turn into an Arab-Iranian war. Then, the first thing Israel might do is to occupy Jordan and return to Sinai and occupy whatever it wants in Lebanon, and it might even attack Syria. Thus, we would have entered two fronts of war.” This was Prince Saud al-Faisal’s assessment of Iranian intentions in 1986, resembling the repercussions of the current crisis today.

Three pages of Syrian documents about Abdul Halim Khaddam’s meeting with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Minister, his meeting with Prince Saud Al-Faisal, and the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister’s letter to his Syrian counterpart.

Prince Saud al-Faisal said to the Syrian envoys at that time: “If you hate Saddam, then we hate him more than you do. I want to emphasize that Syria is more important and stable in its internal situation and international relations. After the war, Saddam Hussein will not remain. We are trying to understand the truth. Are we deluded in our view of Iran, and is it possible to work and agree with them?”

Khadam’s comment was: “There are two issues: the first is the stance towards Iran, and the second is Syrian-Iraqi relations. Both are interrelated. If we assume today that Syria takes a confrontational stance against Iran, what possibilities can be added to address the situation and alleviate fears from Iran? Will it lead to stopping the war and ending existing fears? If we take a stance against them, what will its practical impact be on Iran? And what will its impact be on removing the concerns of our brothers in the Gulf?”

Khadam answers: “Confrontation with Iran will lead to a collapse of relations and to closing a window that could be used to mitigate damage and reduce risks and address some pressing issues.”

According to the document, the commentary was: “After these six years of the Iraq-Iran war, we can no longer talk about its starting point, but about the current situation that threatens Arab-Iranian relations. They want to occupy and change the Iraqi government and bring in an alternative government to rule Iraq. We must take a stance, or else it will turn into a Persian-Arab war. Or perhaps the opposite could happen—if they retreat—where Iraq occupies territories in Iran, complicating matters and leading to Arab expansionist motives. We would then find ourselves in a situation where we desire to liberate Arabistan or others, which could happen, and it’s what we want to avoid. We have no motives whatsoever. The means by which we want to avoid this Persian-Arab conflict is to come and convince Iran to change its perspective through a peaceful solution that responds to its self-aspirations and pride without compromising the unity and independence of Iraq. Therefore, we address the situation from their perspective and yours, either something changes at the military level, which we want to avoid, or something changes in the political equation.”

Concern about Iran’s occupation of Iraq

Discussions were held regarding the possibility of foreign intervention and the potential involvement of the Americans and the Soviet Union. Prince Saud inquired about the Soviet position, to which Khadam responded: “The Soviets do not want the defeat of Iraq or the defeat of Iran. In their estimation, if Iran is defeated, it will result in the return of American influence, and if Iran emerges victorious with the policies it advocates, it will create political disturbances for them in the Islamic republics within the Soviet Union. Therefore, I believe that we should set aside what they declare, but they are comfortable with the absence of a clear victory. However, if the price of this is the continuation of the war, they are not inclined in this direction.”

Khadam added: “The Soviets sustain Saddam and support him so that he does not perish, while at the same time, they sustain the Iranians but do not directly supply them with weapons; instead, socialist countries undertake this task.”

Conspiracy against Saudi Arabia

On March 27, 1986, Rafiq al-Hariri handed Khadam a Saudi message: “There is information indicating an agreement between Qaddafi, Abu Nidal, and the Iranians to strike American facilities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Of course, Syria has no connection to Abu Nidal, who could carry out such operations. In Saudi Arabia, there are no American facilities; there are Saudi facilities operated by Americans, and any attack on them would be considered an attack on Saudi Arabia.”

Getty Images

Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam meets Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Damascus on September 18, 2001.

The second matter in the message concerned a call from Iranian President Ali Khamenei to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. It was the first contact of its kind, and “the conversation was very good, excellent, and wonderful. He praised Saudi Arabia and its stances, and praised the King. King Fahd considers this Iranian initiative as a result of the efforts of President Hafez al-Assad, and he thanks him for that and considers this matter a positive development, affirming that Saudi Arabia is not a party to the Iran-Iraq issue… President Khamenei has said several times that we cannot accept Iran striking any Arab country, especially Gulf states. He also emphasized that any Iranian aggression against Arab countries is an aggression against Syria. The King undoubtedly is aware of these statements, and I am sure that Syria stands with Saudi Arabia if it faces any aggression from Iran or others. If Iran targets any country in the region, they consider it as affecting them all, meaning they will not allow it to devour them one by one.”

Khadam’s response to Hariri was, “Our position is clear, and we have reiterated it to you many times.”

Hariri replied, “This matter needs confirmation.” To which Khadam responded, “I will present the matter to the President.”

Khadam states in his documents that after presenting the meeting to President Assad, “On the same day, we discussed the background of the request to confirm the Syrian position. Assad asked Khadam to convey the following message to Saudi Arabia:

“1- Our policy remains steadfast towards any aggression targeting the Gulf states and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Iran in the picture. They will not be surprised by our stance. We are prepared to send troops in the size they desire, and these forces will be under the command of King Fahd. If a battle breaks out, we will send an appropriate force for the battle. We rule out Iran’s involvement because they know our stance. In our conversations with the Iranians, we always emphasized our special relationship with Saudi Arabia. During the recent visit of the Foreign Minister to Tehran, among the points conveyed by the President was the issue of our special relationship with Saudi Arabia. I reiterate that Syria is steadfast in this policy, and I request that this be conveyed to King Fahd.

2- Regarding the Abu Nidal group, we will speak with them firmly and clearly, informing them that anything against Saudi Arabia is against us. If you hear any news, please send it to us.

3- Regarding your oil policy (in response to Iranian comments), the President said, in our opinion, Saudi Arabia’s share should not be left, not even a barrel. We support Saudi Arabia’s policy regarding the issue of prices, and we believe that preserving its share in production is in everyone’s interest.”