Saudi Arabia and the Effort to Ostracize Iran

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sajad Mohseni
Doctoral Student of International Relations; Tarbiat Modarres University

By defining itself as a regional actor, Saudi Arabia, which is trying to gain an international identity and prestige, has always made an effort to maintain relations with transregional actors, while marginalizing the only actor that is its most important regional rival both in economic and political terms, and from an ideological standpoint. In fact, one can assert that after the new Saudi ruler, King Salman, and his political cadre rose to power, Saudi Arabia has been trying to introduce the Islamic Republic of Iran as the “opposite” of itself in the region. As a result, Riyadh has started verbal and propaganda challenges against Iran in order to both introduce the Islamic Republic as a threat to regional countries, and practically isolate Tehran among regional states. To achieve this goal, Saudi Arabia has been taking advantage of various mechanisms, which can be explained as follows:

1- Trying to show Iran as a national, regional and global threat: In fact, any international actor is faced with two options in the course of rivalry over gaining more power: it has either to boost its own power or reduce the power of its rival. One of the policies followed by Saudi Arabia is to boost its own power, especially in the economic field, while simultaneously, and by taking advantage of diplomacy and building alliances, reduce Iran's power in the region. In doing this, the country’s new Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has been playing an axial role. He has been trying through an active diplomacy to depict a threatening picture of Iran so as to turn the Islamic Republic into an isolated actor, especially in view of the recent nuclear deal between Iran and the big world powers, which has brought the Islamic Republic into the economic and political limelight of the world. Saudi Arabia is of the opinion that diplomacy can be still used effectively to get other actors in line. The recent meeting between Adel al-Jubeir and foreign ministers of Arab and Latin American countries can be construed along this line.

2- Trying to depict Iran as an actor instigating Shias and other opposition groups against the Saudi government: Extensive propaganda about Iran's intervention in Bahrain and handing down a death sentence to the famous Bahraini Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, are all signs that Saudi Arabia is trying to introduce Iran as an undesirable regional actor. Apart from this, the government of Saudi Arabia is of the opinion that Iran is also trying to boost its influence in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, as well as among Shia population in Saudi Arabia. Releasing fake news about discovery and confiscation of Iranian weapons in Saudi Arabia, which were alleged by Riyadh to have been aimed at sowing insecurity in eastern parts of the kingdom, has been among the most serious charges leveled against Iran by the Saudi government. On November 20, 2015, the Saudi government announced that its security forces had seized a certain amount of arms and money in the kingdom’s eastern city of Qatif. The revelation came at a time that Saudi Arabia claims this region enjoys high potential for religious activities by Iran. Qatif is an eastern Saudi city in the country’s Eastern Province, most of whose population is Shia. The city and the province are of high importance to the Saudi government because it is a passageway for a major pipeline, known as the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line (Tapline). Therefore, the Saudi government exerts tight control over the city as Riyadh considers it as one of its points of vulnerability. Regardless of the degree of truth in Saudi Arabia’s charges against Iran, the pursuit of this policy allows Saudi Arabia to intensify control and supervision over this city. In addition, by raising the possibility of Iran's intervention in that region, Riyadh can depict Tehran as a threat before its own and international public opinion by claiming that the Islamic Republic is interfering in the country’s internal affairs and does not respect its national sovereignty.

A review of these policies and the rise in Saudi Arabia’s harsh verbal attacks against Iran, which has been especially evident in remarks made by the country’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, will prove that Saudi Arabia is trying to create a wide gap between itself and Iran. By doing so, the Saudi government aims to not only create a historical enemy, but also boost its own domestic legitimacy so that it would be able to deflect public opinion from its failure in the Yemen war. Saudi Arabia also wants to challenge Iran in order to demonstrate its regional power while introducing the Islamic Republic of Iran as “the undesirable regional other” actor as opposed to itself.

Key Words: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Relations, Transregional Actors, Regional Rival, King Salman, Regional and Global Threat, Adel al-Jubeir, Isolated Actor, Harsh Verbal Attacks, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Qatif, Shias, Opposition Groups, Mohseni

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*Photo Credit: ISNA

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