One country that will find little to cheer about in the Saudis' latest rescue of Western consumers is Israel. While it's in Saudi Arabia's self-interest to help out the West in this instance both to maintain stability in world oil prices and to deny a victory to its belligerent Iraqi neighbor Riyadh also has some demands of its own. The Saudi leadership is reportedly outraged by Israel's reaction to the latest Palestinian uprising, and wants to see the U.S. play a more evenhanded role in the region. Crown Prince Abdullah, de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia since his half brother King Fahd's stroke, has warned, for example, that the kingdom would break ties with any country that moved its embassy to the disputed city of Jerusalem.
Israel proclaims the Holy City as its capital, and although few countries have moved their embassies there from Tel Aviv, moving the embassy there is a popular call in U.S. domestic politics. Indeed, both the Gore and the Bush campaigns committed themselves during the election to moving the embassy, but they may be reluctant to stir up Arab hostility particularly if that translated into higher oil prices. Of course, the Saudis are not threatening and make no overt linkage between their geopolitical positions and their stance on oil prices. In fact, Saudi Arabia's official position is that it wants the oil price issue depoliticized. But there is mounting domestic political pressure on the royal family to take a tougher stand on Israel and distance itself from U.S. influence. Moments like the one last week when an Iraqi gambit on oil suddenly made Saudi Arabia Washington's most important friend in the region highlight the U.S. need to keep the Saudis sweet. And in the Middle East, Washington can't please all of its friends all the time.