Saudi Arabia at Crossroads over Syria’s Future: Insisting on Arab World or Coalition with Others?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

Saudi Arabia’s hostile moves against Iran have been considerably on the rise since Russia started its military intervention in Syria crisis from late September 2015. As a result, since his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister in late October 2015, Adel al-Jubeir has been beating the drums of Iranophobia and demonization of Iran on behalf of the Arab world countries and has been injecting the “Arab world” and “the Arab lands” with the so-called spirit of nationalism in order to change the attitude of world politicians as well as the regional and global public opinions toward Iran.

While the rise in the number of actors that can affect future course of the strategic crisis in Syria is indicative of the collapse of borders, nation-states and Arab nationalism in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, which is reeling from the shock of Syria crisis is going to ignore the rights of neighborhood with regard to Iran. On the opposite of Iran, which has a civilization background of several thousand years, the Arab world is a new phenomenon related to developments that took place following the World War II. After the end of World War II, Arabic language, Semite race, a joint political and economic organization known as the Arab League, and Arab nationalism have been among main components of nation-state building process in the Arab world. The emergence of the Arab world caused developments of Arab-Iranian front to enter a totally new phase. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain, as the most important international power started divisive measures under such titles as Arab-Jewish, Jewish-Iranian, Arab-Turkish, Iranian-Turkish, Arab-Iranian, Afghan-Iranian and so forth, thus triggering the process of intraregional discrepancies in the Middle East.

After Israel emerged as an actor in the Middle East following World War II, political and military as well as Arab-Israeli rivalries remarkably increased in the Middle East during the 1950s and 1960s. Four wars fought between Arab armies and Israel were part of those rivalries. After this unprecedented wave of hostility subsided, Arab nationalism was reconfigured in the 1970s and 1980s in order to restrict Iran's regional influence, which was fully manifested in the all-out support that Arab states offered to the former Baathist regime of Iraq during its aggression against Iran's territorial integrity. During the 1990s and following the collapse of the bipolar world system and termination of the Cold War, previous rivalries gave birth to a model of Arab-Arab conflict in the Middle East, prominent examples of which were invasion of Kuwait by the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, followed by invasion of Iraq by a coalition of Western powers at the beginning of the 1990s. At the start of the third millennium, the terror attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001, which were committed by radical Arabs from the Middle East, and the subsequent occupation of Iraq in 2003, were major shocks to the Arab world and its identity. Talks about the Greater Middle East plan in 2006 provided grounds for Arab Spring developments and the third wave of democratization in the Arab world in 2011, and the all-out civil war in Syria is just one consequence of this social and political phenomenon.

The beginning of Russia’s military operations in Syria at final months of 2015 has led to a situation in which the number of challenging actors in the Arab world has increased as a result of which security, cooperation, as well as national and regional interests in this region will undergo fundamental developments causing those actors to fight among and against themselves to create a new wave of critical discourse within global civil society.

Kenneth Waltz (1924-2013) believed that increasing number of actors that influence regional developments will lead to increasing instability and anarchy, while exacerbating intraregional conflicts. Under new conditions that have been brought about since late October 2015, the Arab world has no option to overcome these limitations other than coalition building in order to get over the existing obstacles. Therefore, a solution offered to the Arab world by new conditions is to move on the basis of coalition building solutions. West-centered coalition, Arab-centered coalition, Russia-centered coalition, Egypt-centered coalition, Saudi-centered coalition, Israel-centered coalition, Turkish-centered coalition, and Iran-centered coalition, are some examples to the point.

History has shown that recourse of the Arab world to Russia-centered, West-centered and Arab-centered coalitions has not been sustainable and has failed to be beneficial to the Arab world while Israel-centered and Turkish-centered coalitions are also unacceptable to most people in the Arab world. The Saudi-centered coalition has already undergone serious failures in the “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen as well as in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Now, the question is will we witness a more serious and new paradigm shift in the Arab world’s approaches to an Iran-centered coalition under new conditions that have been brought about by the emerging regional order?

It seems that after the beginning of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, returning to Iran's option will take place in the Arab world, though belatedly, and in the light of the strategic crisis in Syria, Saudi Arabia will practically adapt to this as a strategic option in the course of time. As long as the current chaotic situation continues in the Arab world, the willingness and motives of Saudi Arabia and the Arab world in general, will move toward a new regional order beyond such security models as the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] through participation of intraregional actors, and will become inclined toward creation of newer, more cooperative and more effective coalitions in order to overcome the current disorderly conditions. The past experience of France and Germany for creating European coalitions following World War II can be taken into account by Saudi Arabia and the Arab world under new regional conditions. The time and cost of changing course by Saudi Arabia and the Arab world under new conditions and accepting the role of regional powers is one of the most important points that must be taken on board for the establishment of order and stability in the Middle East during the forthcoming years and decades.

Key WordsSaudi Arabia, Crossroads, Syria’s Future, Arab World, Coalition, Adel al-Jubeir, Iranophobia, Middle East, Arab Nationalism, Russia, Military Operations, Iran-Centered Coalition, Regional Powers, Khoshandam

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*Photo Credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP