Belfast Telegraph

Tall storeys as Arab princes engage in petty oneupmanship

By Robert Fisk

Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia is quite a man.

He says he doesn't want to be the prime minister of Lebanon — everyone who wants to be the prime minister of Lebanon says that — but he is immensely wealthy.

True, his bank balance has sunk from $23.7bn to a mere $13.3bn since 2005 (thus sayeth Forbes magazine). But he's just announced that he wants to construct the world's tallest building — a 1km-high Goliath which will dwarf his neighbour emir in Dubai who last month opened the paltry 828 metres Burj Khalifa amid the sand dunes of his bankrupt creditors.

The nephew of King Abdullah, al-Waleed understandably calls his company Kingdom Holdings. “I am very positive,” Prince al-Waleed said when he announced his new priapic tower, to be constructed in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. “We are always looking for new investments.”

Now I know that there are a lot of fine philanthropists in the Gulf, Prince al-Waleed among them, but what is one to make of all this?

Afghanistan is collapsing in blood, Iraq remains a state of semi-civil war, the Israelis continue to thieve land for Jews and Jews only from the Arabs who hold the title deeds to that property — and Prince al-Waled wants to build a tower reaching a kilometre into the sky.

Do the Saudis — who gave so much largesse to the Taliban (we have to forget this, of course, along with the fact that the Saudis provided most of the murderers of 9/11, which is why we bombed Kabul rather than Riyadh) — not have the slightest idea of what is going on around them?

For example, we all know that the Americans maintain stocks of weapons among their allies. They keep munitions in South Korea and, indeed, in the Arab Gulf (aka Saudi Arabia). But very quietly this week, they agreed to double their munitions supplies in Israel from $400m of weapons to $800m.

Of course, Washington's gift of $9bn to Israel up to 2012 — never, of course, to be spent on those illegal colonies which are built against international law on Arab land, but which Barack Obama now pusillanimously ignores — has nothing to do with this.

But don't imagine that — in the event of a new “preventive” war — Israel cannot draw on these supplies for its own army and air force.

After all, it was a missile taken to Saudi Arabia by the US marines for use against Iraq in 1991 that ended up in the hands of the Israeli air force as part of a quid pro quo for not joining in the war against Baghad — and which was subsequently used to kill civilians in a Lebanese ambulance in 1996.

But these days, Arab compliance reaches new heights every day.

Now, for example, we have the Egyptian government building a wall around Rafah, part of the vast mass of poverty which constitutes Gaza, thus preventing food, gasoline (and, no doubt, weapons) from reaching the trapped Palestinians of this prison camp.

In Israel itself, the deputy foreign minister humiliates the Turkish ambassador by forcing the diplomat to sit on a low sofa, refusing to shake hands and addressing him, with two colleagues, from much higher chairs. The foreign minister himself, our dear friend Mr Lieberman, has now acquired the habit — every time poor old (and I mean old) US envoy George Mitchell raises the question of Jerusalem — of walking out of the room.

That's what Obama's point man is worth. Israel's crazies — Netanyahu is a moderate chap by comparison— now prove that Israel can be just as much a banana Raj as the rest of the Middle East.

But fear not. The princes and the emirs and the caliphs and the presidents will be able to outbid each other in towers and hotels.

And the world will watch this tragedy and marvel at the toy boxes now being opened in the Middle East.

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