Tags: Emerging Threats | Exclusive Interviews | Homeland Security | Iraq | Iraq in Crisis | Middle East | MidPoint | Syria | War on Terrorism

Ex-CIA Agent: Saudis and Others Now Awake to ISIS' Threat

By Sean Piccoli   |   Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 05:56 PM

The denunciation of the Islamic State as "enemy No. 1" by Saudi Arabia's senior cleric signals growing alarm over that violent Islamic movement even among fellow Sunni Muslims, and gives the United States a welcome ally against the terrorist army, a former CIA station chief and covert operative told Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

"When the grand mufti — the senior most religious theologian in Saudi Arabia — comes out and calls them 'enemy No. 1,' that looks like a sign to me that the Saudis are going to be in this with us," Gary Berntsen, speaking from Dubai, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.

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Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheik said Tuesday that al-Qaida and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, both harbor "ideas of extremism, radicalism, and terrorism" that have "nothing to do" with Islam.

Berntsen said al-Sheik's statement is "fascinating" because it means the Sunni kingdom's religious leader is "encouraging his government to make war" on ISIS and al-Qaida.

Berntsen said that another shoe dropped Wednesday, when German Development Minister Gerd Mueller publicly accused the government of Qatar — a U.S. ally and host country for a major U.S. military operations center — of funding ISIS.

"These are very, very interesting developments," Berntsen said.

To take advantage of them, Berntsen said, U.S. diplomats and national security officials should reach out to the Saudis and to other Persian Gulf countries poised to help Iraq rid itself of ISIS, "and form a long-term plan to degrade and destroy ISIS."

The idea, said Berntsen, is to present a large and unified front, modeled on the global coalition that President George H.W. Bush assembled before going to war in Kuwait against Saddam Hussein's invading Iraqi army.

"He mobilized the world against Saddam," said Berntsen. "We need to mobilize this region against ISIS."

He also said that any U.S. military operations against ISIS in Iraq should be paid for by U.S. regional allies, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, that stand to gain the most from an ISIS-free Middle East.

"They need to fund our operations in full," said Berntsen. "That's what George Herbert Walker Bush did in 1991, leaving us no debt. This is something his son failed to do in the war on terror starting in 2001."

Berntsen said that Saudi Arabia has officially come out against ISIS probably because the kingdom's leaders fear the group is looking for Saudi recruits.

"There's a large portion of people in Saudi Arabia unhappy with the royal family there," said Berntsen. "These would be possibly willing converts to ISIS, and the Saudis recognize they're going to have get out after them quickly."

Berntsen said regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, that either funded ISIS or tacitly backed its bloody expansion in Syria and Iraq may be reconsidering, having watched ISIS overrun cities, kill civilians, convert people at gunpoint, demolish religious shrines and document its own barbaric acts, including the beheading of an American journalist.

Berntsen said that except perhaps for Qatar, onetime ISIS supporters are worried that "this thing has gotten out of hand now and . . . they may have given birth to some sort of  Frankenstein that they're going to have to act against."

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