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It is tempting to wonder how differently things would have turned out if, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the Saudi government had momentarily taken leave of its senses and accepted Osama bin Laden’s offer to set up a militia of battle-hardened jihadis, fresh from Afghanistan, to protect the kingdom’s northern borders. Would 9/11 have ever occurred? Might the terror of the Western world have been thanked for services rendered and quietly pensioned off to a quiet retreat in Jeddah? Sir Alan Munro, former British ambassador to Riyadh, is not a man to indulge in such idle speculation. But his frank account of the events surrounding the 1990-91 Gulf war testifies to how crucial that brief war proved to be in the history of the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. It was the first time that Western and Arab states had fought together against another Arab army, and Munro was in the thick of the diplomatic action, simultaneously fielding the international press and keeping lines of communication open between his superiors in London, the UN, Washington, the allied military and, most importantly of all, the Saudi royal family. As one of his peers in the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office remarks: ‘He was perhaps the first British diplomat to whom the Al-Saud really opened their doors.’