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How Saudi Arabia wants to Finish of Iran


Feb 12, 2012
The Saudi endgame for Iran

Wars bring together states in common purpose and create myths of unity and friendship. Such myths are eagerly bought by the media and general publics alike. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there is considerable squabbling that only becomes apparent when the war is over and long-standing differences arise, memoirs are published, and accusing fingers are pointed.

Today there is an international effort to pressure Iran to abandon or limit its nuclear research program. Not all powers in this effort have the same goal. Some want to bring regime change to Iran; others want to gravely weaken Iran. Saudi Arabia is in the latter camp. It wishes to cripple Iran and establish itself as the dominant power in the region. The United States and European Union must be cautious about just where the Saudis are leading them.

International opposition will lead to change inside Iran. There are three groups in Iran that will seek to enhance or retain their power as the crisis unfolds. Saudi Arabia is unlikely to be content with any likely scenario of political change.

A theocratic elite at present holds power in Iran. A protracted crisis or an attack will bring Iranians, pious and relatively secular alike, to the side of the government. Embattled nations enjoy substantial centripetal forces. This is undesirable to Riyadh as it would strengthen the Iranian state and enhance its prestige among Shi'ites from North Africa to Afghanistan, resonant as injustice and suffering are in their beliefs.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has risen in power since the long Iraq war (1980-88), after which it created legends of its central role in defeating Saddam Hussein's army. These legends are not widely credited in the regular army or by outside observers, but their power is unmistakable, as is the mythmakers' ambition. Like military counterparts in Egypt, China, and Pakistan, the IRGC has diversified from a purely military orientation and delved off into industry, banking, and government. The IRGC may use the nuclear crisis to further its interests, converting Iran from a theocratic regime with a zealous bodyguard to a military regime with a supportive clergy.

This would not sit well in Riyadh either. A military regime could well be stronger than today's theocracy by replacing scriptural reasoning with practical expertise then bringing it to bear in the economy and geopolitics.

The US, EU, and Israel would like to encourage democratic political change in Iran, replacing the mullahs and generals with fairly elected figures. As appealing as this is to Western sensibilities, it has no such appeal to the Saudis. Democracy is antithetical to Saudi views of proper authority.

Indeed, Riyadh is seeking to roll back democratic movements in the region lest the contagion spread south from Egypt and north from Yemen into the kingdom. Further, a democratic Iran would still be a geopolitical and sectarian enemy. As for the thesis that democratic countries do not start wars, Riyadh could indelicately point to recent counter-examples. In any case, democracies certainly have been known to develop nuclear weapons.

Protracted weakening
From the vantage point of the House of Saud, none of these scenarios of change is attractive. They all leave a religious and geopolitical enemy intact with considerable power, resources, and potential. Saudi Arabia does not have the ability to destroy Iran. Its lavishly funded military is mainly for show and its effort to get Iraq to do the job back in the eighties failed badly. Israel can hit Iranian targets repeatedly but not with devastating effect. The US of course can but is balking at the undertaking and in any case might not want to create more instability in the region.

Saudi Arabia, then, will likely seek a three-tiered policy of protracted weakening of Iran. First, Iran will be hit by continuing sanctions, by lower oil prices from boosts in Saudi production, and by currency manipulation that makes Iranian imports all the more costly. Second, Iran will continue to be struck by assassinations and bombings and perhaps by periodic air strikes by Israel and the US - perhaps with token participation by planes from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Third, Iran will endure insurgent movements, supported from without, aimed at drawing off resources and threatening the territorial integrity of the country. Specifically, the Kurds in the northwest, the Baluchs in the southeast, and the Arabs in the western province of Khuzestan will be encouraged to resist, rebel, and otherwise oppose the regime and its IRGC enforcers.

Such efforts have been tried before, from Wilhelm Wassmuss's efforts to lead pro-German tribal revolts during World War I to Saddam's efforts to bring the Khuzestani Arabs to the Arab side. None has met with great success.

Again, the Saudis are unable to destroy Iran, nor can they get anyone to do it for them. Protracted weakening of Iran is, however, nearer to its reach and it can make Saudi Arabia the only significant power in the Gulf - one that other Gulf states will fall in line with even more readily than they are today.

The strategy, like any such effort in world affairs, has problems. First, low oil prices from increased Saudi output hurt not only Iran but all oil producers. This is especially true of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which have doled out immense amounts of oil revenue to keep their populaces content. Generous disbursements of oil revenues constitute a principal basis of state legitimacy, and cutting back on state largesse is not without risks.

Second, states do not always use new power and hegemony wisely. All too often they act foolishly, arrogantly, and belligerently - to the dismay of other states in and out of the region. Saudi Arabia lording over the Gulf might become the newest case in point.

Third, encouraging terrorism and insurgency inside Iran could of course lead to Iranian repayments-in-kind inside Sunni states. All of them have appreciable Shi'ite population; some have Shi'ite majorities. In all cases, the Shi'ites are increasingly restive over lower status and limited opportunities. Minorities on both sides of the conflict may become problematic.

Curiously, Saudi oil reserves are concentrated in a Shi'ite region and Iran's are in an Arab region. Surely, the gods of geology and geopolitics have a sense of mischief.

Asia Times Online :: The Saudi endgame for Iran (it isn't everyone else's)


May 9, 2007
Well, agree with some points and disagree with many others. But in general, it's unreliable and shouldn't be considered as a good analysis of ME political situation.


Jan 28, 2012
Well, of course Saudi Arabia wants less Iranian influence in the Middle East - and probably have plans for it - just like Iran wants less Saudi influence in the Middle East and have plans for that to. It's all a geo-political thing.

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