315. Special National Intelligence Estimate0

SNIE 30–1–58

IMPLICATIONS OF RECENT GOVERNMENTAL CHANGES IN SAUDI ARABIA

The Problem

To estimate the implications of recent governmental changes in Saudi Arabia.

The Estimate

1. Crown Prince Feisal’s recent assumption of increased authority represents an important shift within the dominant group in Saudi Arabia. However, neither the fundamental outlook of the governing class nor the basic power structure within the country has significantly changed [3 lines of 2-column source text not declassified]. We believe that in the near future, the most important consequences of Feisal’s elevation will be felt in Saudi Arabia’s policies relating to the Middle East area.

Internal Affairs

2. The events leading up to the royal decree of 22 March, which turned over key powers to Prince Feisal, President of the Council of Ministers, are not fully known. However, it appears most likely that a number of Saudi princes, including Feisal, long dissatisfied with Saud’s conduct of governmental affairs and recently distressed by the country’s financial problems which were affecting their emoluments, seized upon [less than 1 line of 2-column source text not declassified] the Sarraj affair as the occasion to demand a major share of authority for Feisal. There is no indication that the King, who implicitly acknowledged the failure of his own policy in the decree, made any significant attempt to resist the demands, although as far as is known he still retains paramount personal influence over the Bedouin tribes and control over the Royal Guard Regiment and the fanatic “White Army.”1 In addition, Saud’s eldest son, Prince Fahd, remains Minister of Defense. The King [Page 727]therefore could command important elements of power in the event of a fundamental disagreement between him and Feisal. Meanwhile, the King’s apparent acquiescence may result in a temporary unification of the royal family, but [2 lines of 2-column source text not declassified] may be compounded by growing differences over the conduct of policy relating to the Middle East area. [3-½ lines of 2-column source text not declassified]

3. For the immediate future, re-emergence of the relatively capable and respected Feisal will probably lead to some improvement in administration and some financial reforms which do not seriously affect the existing prerogatives of the princes. The influence of the King’s non-Saudi advisers, such as the Syrian Yusuf Yassin and the Palestinian Jamal Bey Hussaini, will almost certainly be reduced and they may be totally removed from policy making. Certain pro-Nasser and anti-Western elements, notably portions of the Hejazi merchant community and the Egyptianized army officers, will initially at least be favorably disposed toward Feisal. All such developments would probably tend to restrict Nasser’s opportunities to subvert the Saudi regime.

Foreign Policy

4. In regional affairs, Feisal will almost certainly seek to maintain a position of neutrality between the quarreling Arab groups, [3-½ lines of 2-column source text not declassified]. Improvement in Egyptian-Saudi relations is likely and may lead to some kind of formal cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab States—notably in military matters. However, Feisal’s outlook remains that of a traditional Saudi prince, and he is almost certainly aware that there is no secure place for the Saudi royal family in Nasser’s United Arab States. In general he will probably seek to retain as much independence of Nasser as he can without renewing King Saud’s open quarrel with the Egyptian leader.

5. Under Feisal’s guidance, Saudi Arabia will probably seek to bring its relations with the great powers into more even balance. Establishment of relations with some Bloc countries is likely and eventual acceptance of some Bloc assistance may occur. Feisal will probably attempt to increase pressure on the US for support in his differences with the UK in the Persian Gulf—especially in regard to the Buraimi problem. Increased pressure on Aramco for a greater share of the profits and more participation in management and control of the country’s oil resources is almost inevitable. Feisal will probably not seek early or sweeping modifications of the Dhahran Airfield Agreement of 2 April 1957, which he approved in advance of signature. [2-½ lines of 2-column source text not declassified] Outright expropriation of the oil company or complete denial of the air base to the US appears unlikely in the near future unless Feisal becomes convinced that Aramco and the US are actively attempting to undermine his position and his policies.

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Israel

6. Feisal’s intense antagonism toward Israel will probably result in the Israeli problem becoming more than ever the touchstone by which the intentions of other powers are judged. Feisal will probably use the Gulf of Aqaba question as a test of what he can expect from the US. If he becomes convinced that he cannot obtain what he feels to be adequate support from the US, he may move toward closer relations with the Soviet Bloc. [7-½ lines of 2-column source text not declassified] Renewed and closer coordination with UAR military forces may be established. In an area crisis involving Israel, Feisal would be disposed to act more impulsively than King Saud. However, we do not believe he will deliberately provoke a war with Israel in the near future.

Impact on the Area

7. The chief impact of a new Saudi policy of the kind described above would be the elimination of one of the major indigenous elements hostile to Nasser and the devitalization and isolation of the newly formed Arab Union of Iraq and Jordan. Regardless of Feisal’s actual intentions in regard to the UAR, his coming to power will be construed throughout the area as a repudiation of Saud’s open anti-Nasser, pro-West policy, and as a victory for Nasserism.

8. Feisal will probably abandon the Saudi subsidy to Jordan and withdraw Saudi troops stationed there—moves already initiated by King Saud for financial reasons. In these circumstances Jordan and Iraq, and Lebanon as well, will probably greatly increase their demands for more US support. If these states fail to obtain from the West the support which they consider essential to protect their security, the present pro-Western governments may be replaced by regimes which will seek an accommodation with Nasser.

  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Secret. Submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence with an indication that CIA, INR, and the intelligence organizations of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff participated in its preparation. All members of the Intelligence Advisory Board concurred with this estimate on April 8, with the exception of the representatives of the AEC and the FBI who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside their jurisdiction.
  2. In telegram 1024 from Jidda, April 9, Heath concluded that the position of King Saud “is still one of sovereign control over professedly loyal Prince Faisal.” [text not declassified] (Ibid., Central Files, 786A.00/4–958)