Iran Should Not Underestimate Adverse Coalitions that Could Mean War

09 September 2016 | 22:09 Code : 1963013 General category
In an interview with Iranian Diplomacy, Shireen Tahmaaseb Hunter of Georgetown University discusses Middle East developments in the wake of the nuclear deal.
Iran Should Not Underestimate Adverse Coalitions that Could Mean War

Some observers believe that Barack Obama has acted in a way that has led to the end of Washington-Riyadh relations as long-time allies. How do you evaluate US-Saudi relations today?

 

In spite of the existing tensions in US-Saudi relations, including the differences over the Obama administration’s policies regarding Iran’s nuclear program and Obama’s unwillingness for an extensive military intervention in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad, the US still views Saudi Arabia as a valuable ally in the region. Moreover, the Saudi kingdom still needs US support. The Saudi Arabia seeks US’ military involvement in the Persian Gulf. In the face of regional issues including that of Palestine, the Saudi Arabia still avoid challenging the stances of the US and, more particularly so, of Israel and even helps the latter. More importantly, the US still views the kingdom as leverage to create power balance against Iran. In sum, despite tensions, the foundations of the US-Saudi alliance are still there, even though partly worn out.

 

We have less than two months to go before the US presidential race. How do you see of the US-Saudi relations under the next US administration? Could Riyadh expect a significant shift in US’ foreign policy, given the viewpoints of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

 

If Hillary Clinton is elected, US-Saudi relations will improve. First, because the Clintons have close ties with the Saudis. Secondly, Hillary Clinton is quite close to Israel. At the moment, Israelis and their supporters in the US are backing the Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton will definitely adopt stricter policies on Iran, which will make Saudi Arabia content. Thus, under a Hillary Clinton administration, the relations between the United States and the Saudi Arabia will recover. Even Trump, in spite of his rhetoric, will not be able to put US-Saudi relations in danger. In fact, Trump will also have to adopt more moderate policies on Riyadh if he wins because he cannot reshuffle the foundations of US foreign policy altogether.

 

Given the revelation of the Saudi Arabia’s implicit support for 9/11 attacks and its serious domestic challenges, can we say that at least part of the policy makers in Washington have reached the conclusion that the kingdom has no chance of survival while pursuing backward and factional policies? Does not this put the US in need of a new ally in the Middle East?

 

The US has always been concerned about stability in the Saudi Arabia. However, it has never impaired its ties with the country for this reason. Quite the opposite, it has always tried to tip the stability of the the Saudi establishment. Of course, Riyadh’s domestic issues has reached a point nobody can do anything to help. But it should also be taken into account that the fall of the house of Saud will not lead to the rise of a moderate government. The odds are high that groups like al-Qaeda start competing each other to obtain the throne. On the other hand, the US will not have many options if it wants to choose another ally. Iran, for instance, does not even want to have diplomatic ties with the US. Furthermore, in the post-cold war era, alliances have become more volatile, because there is no all-inclusive ideological fight going on. In other words, the international system has become more like that of the nineteenth century.

 

Where do you think the fate of the nuclear deal will go under the new US administration?

 

Most probably, neither Trump nor Clinton will try to violate the deal. However, there is a possibility that they adopt stricter policies toward Iran, provoking the country to violate the deal. Under such circumstances, it is necessary for Iran to act intelligently, not to give its enemies in the Congress any excuse.

 

Some observers speak of Saudi efforts for closer ties with Israel, to form a coalition against Iran. Do you think the Saudi Arabia has any chances of forming that coalition in the region?

 

In today’s world, there are no chances for permanent coalitions to be established. On the other hand, Turkey has always seen Iran as a rival. The shift in Turkey’s rhetoric is a tactical gesture. Russia has always been manipulating Iran. From Russia’s vantage point, Iran does not have many options and there is no reason to offer concessions to Iran. It can be said that in recent years, all the partners of Iran, even those weaker than the country, have tried to manipulate it.

 

On the other hand, it is unlikely for the US to become concerned over the expansion of ties between Iran and Russia. Iran should try to reduce its differences with key international players and increase the number of its partners if it ever wants to boost its bargaining power. Iran does not have natural allies and is quite isolated. Most of its neighbors, even those with language or religious commonalities such as Iraq and Afghanistan, see Iran as an enemy or rival.

 

What do you think of the recent Russia-Iran-Turkey axis? Could Iran’s ever-increasing tendency toward Russia affect the currently shaky relations between Tehran and the US, in the future?

 

There is an implicit coalition among Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Jordan against Iran. The question for coming years is whether this coalition will undertake military action against Iran or not. Iran should be cautious, not to underestimate the danger underlying in these coalitions.

 

After Washington distanced itself from the Saudi Arabia, we see that even Turkey is accusing the US of treason and complicity in the coup. If we see all these in the light of the nuclear deal, what is the US looking for in the region?

 

Despite recent tensions, Turkey will not distance from the US and the West because its economy and security depend on the West. Turkey’s regional influence is also partly because of its close ties with the West. On the other hand, Russia is a historical rival for Turkey. In my opinion, today’s tensions between Turkey and the US will fade as time passes and the sides will find solutions for their differences. Moreover, the US has no replacement for Turkey. To some extent, Iran is a logical choice but its geography cannot cover the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Black Sea as well as the Middle East.

 

The most prominent US goals in the Middle East are defending Israel, maintaining its presence in the Persian Gulf and preventing the rise of a power that could challenge its capabilities in the region.

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