Nuclear Agreement Will Draw Saudi Arabia toward Iran
Iran and Saudi Arabia have now reached an unprecedented state of action-reaction. Although a direct war is impossible, both sides have reached an inevitable dispute. What is the reason behind Saudi Arabia’s aggressive approach?
The rulers of Saudi Arabia are concerned and worried. This behavior is rooted in the developments of the region which, in their view, are advancing towards Saudi Arabia’s disadvantage which could, in turn, challenge the Saudi government in its domestic policies. There is an inseparable relation between the Saudi government and the ideological issues of the region. Saudi Arabia has defined a political, security and ideological domain of influence in the region for itself and the weakening of its role in the region is considered as the weakening of its regional status. A look at the chain of events shows that Saudi concerns began in 2003 when a Shiite government came to power for the first time in an Arab country and this was a defeat for this country. As a result, Iraq’s political, security and economic structures changed. The most important point was that Iran and Iraq converged in different aspects and they were no longer the strategic enemies of each other. In the opinion of the Saudis, this issue changed the balance of power in the region to Iran’s benefit. Later, the Arab Spring happened, whose climax was the crisis in Syria. In Syria, the Saudis felt that they could not contain and limit the status of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the continuation of the crisis in Syria would challenge the status of the Saudi government in the region. Now the crisis in Yemen has occurred which is a change in the Sunni region under the influence of the Saudis. The Ansarullah movement in Yemen has called Iran its ally and this is not acceptable for the Saudis.
On the other hand, the Saudis are concerned that the developments in the Middle East would advance in a direction which would distance the US and the western countries from Saudi Arabia and would make them lose their traditional support. They are concerned about the negative impacts of the possible closeness between Iran and the US in dealing with the regional issues. A few months ago, Barack Obama stated that the main threat of the Arab countries is not Iran, but rather their internal policies and the lack of reform. The developments of the region have brought up the issues of democracy, good governance, human rights and women’s rights in the region and this is a matter of concern for a country like Saudi Arabia which is traditionally foreign to these issues. They are worried that the US may change its policy of support for this regime and exert pressure on it.
The other point is the coming to power of the new leadership in Saudi Arabia who assumes that the interests of Saudi Arabia in the region are better provided through aggressive policies and that Riyadh must distance itself from its traditional conservative status and must prevent and contain future threats.
Therefore, is what has happened in Saudi Arabia the continuation of its domestic policies and concerns about popular uprisings?
I believe that Saudi Arabia cannot escape from the developments of the Arab Spring and is seriously the subject of change from within. Some analysts believe that the entrance of Saudi Arabia into Yemen will impact the domestic policies of this country because it will be trapped between the government and the people in Yemen. The Saudis have initiated a conventional war against a Muslim neighbor. These types of wars and coalitions are seriously challenged in the region. Following the Iran-Iraq war, there has never been this kind of war in the region. Countries may interfere in the affairs of other countries due to their national interests and security threats but such an invasion by a military force and air strikes are unprecedented. Thus, one of the issues is that this invasion may challenge the legitimacy of the Saudi government inside the country because, simultaneously with the increasing political and financial costs of this war, the existing rift between the people and the Saudi government would grow and this might lead to instability inside Saudi Arabia.
There seems to be a growing distance between the US and Saudi Arabia. Is Saudi Arabia really separating itself from Washington in the region?
Saudi Arabia cannot completely be separated from the US, but during the recent years and due to its disagreement with certain US policies in the region, such as not attacking Syria, it has pursued its own independent security policies. Some believe that it was the US which encouraged Saudi Arabia to enter Yemen but I don’t believe that this is a realistic analysis. The US knows well that Saudi Arabia’s all-out war against Yemen would leave one of its big allies in the region vulnerable and its continuation would lead to instability in Saudi Arabia. This contradicts the traditional policy of the US which is based on the establishment of stability in the biggest oil-producing country in the region. We must know that sometimes the US is bound to pursue the policies of its allies.
Could the developments in Yemen further disclose the secret tension between Riyadh and Tehran?
This depends on the trend of developments in Yemen within the next few days. Unfortunately the degree of tension between these two countries has increased these days. Perhaps both countries assume that the issues of Yemen and Syria will determine the status of each country in the region. What is clear is that Saudi Arabia will not win this crisis as it wishes. Air strikes against the people will gradually lose their values. And now a ceasefire has been put in place. The important point in foreign policy is the degree of the legitimacy and support of the public opinion of the world and, more importantly, domestic support. The internal policy of Saudi Arabia does not have the potential to attract the public opinion of the world and inside the country. It is different in Iran; the public opinion is transformed into a policy. For example, the public opinion in Iran is inclined towards reaching an agreement on the nuclear issue and when this is turned into a policy, the power of the government will grow. But this is not the case in Saudi Arabia.
One of the accusations expressed against Iran is its political presence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. It is said that Iran’s policies in the region have caused the Arabs to react. Is this a correct assessment of the situation?
Whatever the Arab countries want to be done in the region is not supposed to be implemented. Each country defines its own national interests. For example, many say that Turkey’s behavior in ignoring the passage of the terrorists through its territories into Syria is a mistake but this has not changed Turkey’s approach in this regard. Regarding Yemen, many believe that Saudi air strikes are a mistake but Saudi policies are defined based on its national interests and security.
With regard to the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, there is a western view among the Arab states that Iran seeks to expand its influence in the region and increase its power. There is another viewpoint which, with little optimism, states that Iran is defending its security. The logic of the second view is more acceptable but why shouldn’t we propose a third logic? Iran, like any other country, seeks to safeguard its own interests. Similar to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Iran cannot separate itself from the regional issues, because the insecurity of the region will involve Iran as well.
Under conditions where there is chaos and instability in the Middle East, Iran is the only country which has political and security stability. It is on this basis that the European countries have reached the conclusion that they must cooperate with Iran.
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