Saudi Arabia has cut its diplomatic links with Libya in what is seen as one of the boldest diplomatic moves of the conservative Saudis for some years. The move came after a statement by Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi to pilgrims at the recent annual Muslim hajj rites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He said that their devotions were invalidated by the presence "in the skies over Mecca" of infidel Americans piloting AWACS radar surveillance planes over the Saudi kingdom.
Colonel Qaddafi's claim was the culmination of a concerted Libyan attack on the presence of the US planes in Saudi Arabia, a presence requested by Saudis. (Libya also currently supports Iran, whose officials claim that information collected by these same AWACS is handed over to Iraq.)
One Saudi analyst here confirmed that the Saudi reaction to the latest Qaddafi claim was considerably stronger than its response to similar or even more biting claims made by other Arab critics, dating back to Egypt's late President Nasser.
"But the situation has changed since then," the analyst continued. "Since the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, our region is increasingly one where the language of force speaks. We are really in a situation of 'to be or not to be.'"
"We do not complain to the Libyans about their own huge arsenals of Soviet weaponry, so they have no right to speak of the kingdom's armament policy," he added. He stressed that the AWACS were under Saudi control, with non-Saudis acting only as technical specialists in their deployment.
The source said that the principal concern in the kingdom these days is the vacuum of military power in the Gulf. "Iran's former supremacy disappeared with the Shah, and the half- victory gained by Iraq in the present fighting in draining Iraq of what power it had," he explained.
He said that these circumstances were encouraging some voices to be raised in Saudi Arabia in favor of a rapid buildup of the kingdom's own armed forces. At 47,000 strong, these are currently less than one quarter the size of either Iraq's or Iran's forces.
But this analyst considered that caution should be exercised in this regard, so as not to alarm the kingdom's neighbors, and to prevent the appearance of similar tensions to those that swept the Shah from power.
"We should continue with an evolutionary buildup of our power, to ensure our survival. But I am against any revolutionary buildup," he concluded.
He warned that Saudi Arabia forces potential threats not only from the Islamic fundamentalists across the Gulf in Iran, but also from pro-Soviet South Yemen and Ethiopia "as well as Israel."
He saw these threats as linked to an overall Soviet offensive against the region.