Saudi Arabia’s Problems with Iran

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Seyed Ghasem Zakeri
Middle East Analyst

Although Saudi Arabia has never been happy about the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and despite its full cooperation with former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, during his invasion of Iran, Iranian officials have been trying not to raise their grievances of Saudi Arabia both in words and in deed. In doing so, they have opted for interaction and cooperation with this neighboring and Muslim country as a result of which all Iranian presidents, with no exception, have attached special importance to working with Saudi Arabia following the end of the imposed war with Iraq. Of course, Saudi Arabia’s indignation with Iran during past years has been mostly not related to bilateral relations between Tehran and Riyadh, because issues of difference have in most cases been related to geopolitical rivalries between the two countries. Therefore, it is important to answer this question: why despite the consensus that has existed at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic of Iran's government to cooperate with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi side has not only made no effort to take advantage of this opportunity to boost regional cooperation with Iran, but has also rejected the offer of cooperation and interaction from Iran?

It would not be wise to blame all problems on a small group of adventurous people inside Iran because the likes of such people also exist not only in Saudi Arabia, but on a larger scale across region and even outside the region; groups and people who, for their part, have spared no effort to not only scuttle relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but to cause escalation of situation across the entire region. In reality, Saudi Arabia’s problems are not very much related to Iran. Therefore, Saudi Arabia’s expectation from the Iranian side to help remove problems facing Riyadh seems to be irrational and  unfounded because Iran has not been behind Saudi Arabia’s problem, but has been doing its best during past years to prevent further intensification of those problems. It seems that in order to project its problems and reduce their pressure, Saudi Arabia has no choice, but to manufacture an imaginary enemy and try to foster Iranophobia. Since terrorist attacks occurred in New York on September 11, 2001, and also since Arab revolutions broke out across the region, Saudi Arabia has been grappling with a host of domestic and foreign problems and these problems have become more and more difficult and complicated.

Rifts and rivalries within the Saudi royal family in addition to emergence of new demands and expectations in the Saudi society have faced the country’s government with a crisis of competency and efficiency. Major instances of this crisis have been manifested in the ongoing Yemen war, the sad tragedy of Mina, and an unprecedented budget deficit of USD 100 billion. With regard to foreign relations, Saudi Arabia has been surrounded by all kinds of serious crises and centers of instability in its peripheral environment. However, perhaps, the most important problem facing Saudi Arabia in its foreign policy is the loss of the all-out support of the United States and the West, which was a major asset for the Saudi government. The results of this loss of support have been evident in such cases as the West’s nuclear deal with Iran, continued criticism of Saudi Arabia by the West – including over Riyadh’s support for terrorism and extremism – and the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia is witnessing major changes in regional equations and is trying to guarantee its presence in future regional arrangements by fomenting tensions in the region.

The current situation of Saudi Arabia is very much like the situation of Saddam’s government in Iraq. According to undeniable documents and evidence, Saddam had to embark on military adventurism against Iran in 1980 in order to strengthen its rule inside the country. In line with this policy and after the end of the war with Iran, Iraq used the same reasons and argument it had used to attack Iran, to invade its southern neighbor, Kuwait. Although the leaders of Saudi Arabia have rejected the possibility of any form of recourse to military option against Iran, recent actions taken against the Islamic Republic by Saudi Arabia and some other regional actors indicate that Riyadh is gradually inclining toward unpredictable and even irrational behavior, and the consequences of such behavior and policies could be even more dangerous when they are adopted by a conservative regime.

At the present time, the best policy to be adopted by the Islamic Republic is to make an effort to reduce friction with Saudi Arabia. The reality of Saudi Arabia is such that even if it did not have the Iranophobia project at hand, it would have to target another state, which could have been Turkey, Qatar or even another country. Throughout history of Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia, the issue of oil and Iranian pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia have always enjoyed the highest potential to cause crisis in bilateral relations, and in the wake of the Islamic Revolution, in Iran, geopolitical rivalries have been added to them. Therefore, it is necessary to think of solutions in order to manage these three bones of contention between the two countries. Preventing Iran's differences with Saudi Arabia from taking a Shia – Sunni or Arab – non-Arab turn has now become an essential and strategic need for our country. Focusing on such issues is exactly what Israel, warmongering parties in Saudi Arabia, and other parties that have joined hands in animosity with Iran need. Now that Iran has extended its hand of friendship toward all Muslims, including Saudis, there is no need to get involved for no good reason in some verbal argument with people who lack any logic. The most important point is that while it is quite necessary for Iran to show its strength, might and deterrence power to Saudi Arabia and other countries in a suitable manner, at the same time, it must not ignore its most important responsibility which is to safeguard security and stability in the region. This is true because there is a theory that any substitute to Saudi Arabia’s Al Saud family after possible collapse of this country would be much more dangerous to regional security and interests than the current situation.

Key WordsSaudi Arabia, Problems, Iran, Cooperation, Interaction, Iranophobia, Rifts, Rivalries, Terrorism, Extremism, Regional Security, Zakeri

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*Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency

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