Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 7
By Nathalie Goulet, exclusively for Trend
War of economy and seeking an upper hand under the guise of religion
Behind the religious differences and centuries-old grudges that Saudi Arabia and Iran have had against each other, there lies a sense of arrogant rivalry and an economic war. Persian Gulf countries, not least of all Saudi Arabia, have never accepted the Iran nuclear deal, regarding which they still preserve their rage against the United States.
It is worth noting that, the Wahhabi king hasn’t only to fight the “Islamic State” (aka IS, ISIL or ISIS), but also prove that fighting the IS is a real objective of Riyadh, even though the country has historically been a funder of the group. Therefore, besides several beheading punishments on the onset of the current Christian year, Saudi Arabia was forced to create a coalition composed of 34 countries against the IS.
In the complicated East, nothing comes as a coincidence. Saudi Arabia knew well that by executing a dissident Shiite sheikh, it would not only trigger anger and demonstrations on the streets of Tehran, but also enrage Shiites in such countries as Bahrain, Yemen, and Lebanon. This was a well-calculated move from Saudi Arabia to incite Iran, and came amid Iran’s attempts to return to the scene of world politics as Tehran has become an unavoidable venue for politicians, tourists, and businessmen.
Saudi Arabia caught up in its own convoluted government system
Iran’s revival and return to international arena is unbearable for Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia is facing a historical budget deficit of $87 billion, equal to 20 percent of its GDP, Iran will in the near future gain access to over $100 billion of its assets blocked around the world.
Saudi Arabia has a very convoluted government system. Feeling secluded and abandoned by the US, Saudi Arabia feels downgraded having turned into the US’s second ally. Therefore, the Saudis are forced to prove that they really want to fight terrorism.
On the other hand, by executing a Shiite leader and enraging all the Shiites, Saudi Arabia showed it is seeking to control the Gulf – one that in the eye of Saudi Arabia can’t be a Persian gulf.
Iranian president did well, but he doesn’t have all the keys
Amid the recent developments, President Hassan Rouhani has acted well. He hasn’t only condemned the unauthorized protests in Iran, but has also arrested some people and done his best to prevent the case from worsening.
But, who does this crime of attack on Saudi embassy serve? Who is going to gain interests from it? The answer is surely Iran’s hardliners – the very ones who also were against the nuclear deal and Iran’s growth.
It was exactly the hardliners who attacked the Saudi embassy in Iran, a scene that was reminiscent of the attack on the US embassy during the 1979 revolution.
Surely, Rouhani can’t allow all of his years-long efforts and interests gained by the nuclear deal go to waste. But he doesn’t have all of the keys.
Although the US, too, has somehow expressed its disapproval of the Saudi government’s act, the strategies of the Saudis are clear: to hamper Iran’s return to the international arena step by step.
And to attain that, Saudi Arabia intends not only to team up with Persian Gulf countries, but it is also eyeing relations with Turkey and, in particular, Israel.
As they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, which seems to be true about governments as well.
A highly militarized region
A meagre spark is needed for a highly militarized region to turn into a blazing furnace, either directly or via intermediary agents, which can’t be controlled by Iran.
Although Iran’s influence is powerful and real, the country doesn’t hold ample sway over the operations of militants in Yemen, the Hezbollah, the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, or those in Bahrain. I doubt that Rouhani would manage to stay away from the battles of foreign groups for a long time and at the same time fight the hardliner opposition at home.
It is feared that, as it was during the Iran-Iraq war, the West would support Iran’s rivals, at the top of which stands Israel. But today, the world needs unity to fight the IS and we are witnessing a pointless diplomatic pressure rising between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The entire balance and stability of this strategic region is at stake. It seems arms dealers are going to have bright days ahead. But we have to avoid all the factors that aggravate sectarian conflicts between the Shiites and Sunnis, something that is shaping in front of our eyes and may in the end turn against us, with flares going beyond the current conflict boundaries.
Nathalie Goulet is vice chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Senate
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