The Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ebrahim Mottaqi
Faculty Member, University of Tehran

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been regular rivals throughout their history and the general course of that rivalry has been usually set by the regional balance of power. That situation has clearly changed after 1980 and the signs of that change are evident in the political literature used by Saudi officials on Iran. They have been trying to blame Iran and the Islamic Revolution for regional and their own domestic problems.

A similar pattern was seen in 2006. Shias have been able to stabilize their position in places where they are a majority. This process began soon after the termination of the Cold War and was met with more animosity after 2003. After resistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah against Israel in 2006, it gained renewed momentum. At that time, the Islamic resistance targeted regional conservatism, US interventionism and Israeli hegemony. As a result, Sharm el-Sheikh conference took anti-Iran stances in November 2006. The conference had been convened by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the United States to counteract the search for Islamic identity.

1. Backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s Cold War against Iran

Continuation of the above process provoked Saddam Hussein to attack Iran. Although Saddam had enough motives to attack Iran, taking that measure was only possible through blessings of regional countries and big powers. Under those circumstances, Saddam Hussein was fighting with his own preoccupations about revival of Mesopotamian civilization and was also under the influence of regional and international temptations.

The result of that mindset was subsequent military attack against Iran, which started in September 1980. A review of historical backgrounds of the assault against Iran will prove that the United States, western countries as well as regional states had started using a common literature toward Iran. To justify the military attack, they were looking for a suspect to inform him of his charges and punish him by using the military force. Their discourse and the dominant literature used to incriminate Iran were based on Iran’s intervention in regional affairs.

They never cared about illegitimacy of their own political structures. They thought that political stability could be maintained by relying on tribal and authoritarian methods. Therefore, they blamed Iran for any protest within their borders. If a political group objected to unfair policies of the Persian Gulf littoral countries, they pointed an incriminating finger at Tehran.

That literature further developed after 2006, was intensified between January and February 2011, and reached its acme in late June 2011. Review of the causes which made Iraq attack Iran will show similarities to the current policies which are adopted by the regional states, especially Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials are trying to strengthen their position by suppressing their own people, instigating regional military intervention, forming a security alliance with the United States and intensifying hostile literature of the Cold War era against Iran.

A similar pattern was used by Saudi Arabia and its tiny allies in the Persian Gulf in 1980. Saudi Arabia is trying to fill the void of Saddam Hussein and complete the part that he could not play to the end. This is, of course, at odds with regional expediencies. The literature used by Saudi Arabian leaders, shows that they are trying to turn the ongoing cold war into a full-blown regional conflict.

2. Literature and Nature of Saudi Arabia’s Cold War against Iran

Saudi Arabia and other Arab states of the Persian Gulf use incriminating literature which further exacerbates the cold war atmosphere. Saudi officials are thus trying to make Iran take opposite positions. This is why they have made frequent use of “Iran threat” in their interviews and diplomatic literature. Saudi Arabia uses such terms to charge Iran with interfering in internal affairs of the regional countries. They constantly see Iran’s hands in democracy seeking movement of Bahraini people and Saudi Shias.

In other words, Saudi officials try to keep the situation inflamed and this is why they use the present instigating literature. They believe that the western militaries will support them and their self-centeredness has made them arrogant. Rivalry under conditions of self-centeredness and regional hegemony will lead to a catastrophe similar to what Saddam Hussein and other regional leaders did many years ago.

History has proven that those who initiate catastrophes are entangled in them. What happened to Mubarak, Bin Ali, Abdullah Saleh and Saddam Hussein was result of their arrogance, hostility and projection of legitimacy crisis.
Political and security history of the Persian Gulf has shown that the west is not willing to be involved in a military confrontation in the present economic situation and this is why they are fanning the flames of regional conflicts.

3. Turki bin Faisal’s Threat to Hit Iran’s Goals and Interests

Literature used by Turki bin Faisal against Iran proves that new threats are in the offing. Saudi officials are trying to intensify the cold war against Iran. This is why Turki bin Faisal has been negotiating with a group of the American and British citizens and statesmen on the suburbs of London. It is noteworthy that Turki bin Faisal has spent most of his leisure time in London following September 11, 2001.

In that interview, he used provocative literature against Iran. On the one hand, he followed suit with the western diplomats and security agents by charging Iran with efforts to build nuclear weapons. On the other hand, he has noted that Saudi Arabia would do what it can to oppose Iran. Such remarks will certainly have a negative impact on Iran’s understanding of Saudi Arabia. Iranian officials have constantly tried to control crisis. Such a process, that is, influence of irresponsible people on Saudi Arabian diplomacy will be dangerous to that country.

4. Signs and Consequences of the Policy of Threat and Regional Imbalance

At present, military forces of Saudi Arabia are based in Bahrain and Yemen. This is an effort by Saudi Arabia to change the regional balance. When political units decide to play hegemonic roles, it is natural for them to take advantage of such means. Riyadh has not only used the military to control regional security, but has tried to imbalance diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia and to create a new crisis.

Continuation of this trend will only intensify political conflicts in the region. Strategic rationality of international system and its major players was the main reason which enabled those political players to control every possible crisis throughout the years that the world was dominated by a bipolar international system. Those players had clearly defined their spheres of influence and never tried to further expand that sphere. Strategic rationality was such that even the then US President Harry Truman deposed General MacArthur who commanded US forces in the Pacific Ocean.
MacArthur merely relied on the US military capabilities in confrontation with North Korea. Truman, however, tried to prove that by using other models, such as crisis management, it would be possible to create balance among various players.

Political backdrop of Turki bin Faisal is known to all regional analysts. He was in charge of the Saudi intelligence and helped with creation of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. When Mujahideen were fighting against the Soviet military, he organized Arab-Afghan groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those groups had enough motives to start a jihad against Communism.

Following 9/11, Faisal was prosecuted by FBI and the British intelligence assured FBI that it was quite easy to control and steer Faisal. This is why they accepted him as Saudi ambassador to Britain in 2002. He played the same role in the United States in 2006. Therefore, instead of defending the interests of regional countries, Faisal can play the role of a western agent in order to help with the escalation of regional crisis.

Provocative literature used against Iran by the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League represents positions of certain people who are ignoring the existing regional balance. Such literature will provide grounds for reactions from other states and a lead to a final confrontation. Now, the question is what future outlook awaits Saudi Arabia’s cold war against Iran both in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East? Will the current trend be somehow controlled? Or Saudi leaders will follow suit with Saddam Hussein’s model and come to loggerheads with the Islamic Revolution?

Source: International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC) 
 Translated By: Iran Review

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