Gerald Posner writes in his new book, Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection, that the Saudis may have rigged their entire oil and gas infrastructure to self-destruct at the push of a button, according to this Daniel Pipes column. Why? To deter invasion, either from a hostile neighbor, in the manner of Saddam's treatment of Kuwait, or even from an apparent ally, the U.S. having failed in the past to rule out the possibility of military action against its friends in the KSA.
Furthermore, given that the U.S. was able to extinguish Saddam's huge Kuwaiti oil fires in a brief time, the Saudis have supposedly made sure that their oil will stay unavailable for decades by making the destruction absolute, including (quoting Pipes here) "pipelines, pumping stations, generators, refineries, storage containers, and export facilities, including the ports and off-shore oil-loading facilities." Indeed, if what Posner writes is true, even many habitable parts of the KSA will become uninhabitable thanks to the use of radioactive materials in this self-sabotage.
But is it true? Posner reportedly is working from intelligence intercepts; he leaves open the alternative that all this information could be a Saudi bluff. Pipes writes that other nations will nevertheless have to act as if it is true, and offers a scenario in which the KSA falls into the hands of Taliban-like Islamists who push the button (if there is one) specifically to throw the West into economic free fall (presumably leaving the holy places of the Hijaz uncontaminated).
Of course, there's also the beach-novel alternative: Somebody will try to fake out the current Saudi leadership, plotting a way to make the KSA push its Doomsday button without the risk of retaliation to themselves, so as to rearrange the entire world order at one stroke. All sorts of figures might be interested in such a scenario: A Chinese Sun Tzu, perhaps, or a Russian Machiavelli; an out-of-control Zarqawi (or one under someone's control), or a well-placed Revelations obsessive who seeks to hasten the Kingdom of Heaven. (Feel free to fill the holes in this plot—or to come up with a better one—in Comments, and we can all split the book and movie money.)
Posner's book will be officially released tomorrow.