14.10.2013 Author: Alexander Orlov

Saudi Arabia’s pained reaction to the US-Iran rapprochement

aptopix-mideast-iran-saudi-arabia-bahrain-protest-2011-3-17-9-0-11The renewing relations between the United States and Iran which are quickly gaining momentum have incited a sharp disgruntled reaction among the Arab nations, primarily from Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies. It has also spawned heated disputes among the Arab intellectual elite, especially in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, due to their geographical proximity to Iran and their multitude of problems with respect to Iran’s political and military plans, which at times spill over into open rivalry or even hostilities.

The roots of this conflicting reaction and the differences of opinion between Arab analysts lie both in the longstanding western geopolitical interests in the Middle East, which are confirmed even in the theoretical plans for dividing the region, and in the question of timing, inquiring as to why the political flirtation between the U.S. and Iran was initiating exactly right now. They are clearly tormented by the question of why this happened precisely during the most intensive part of the Syrian crisis and the heightened tensions in Iraq as well as the increasing disagreements in Turkey?

In supporting their claims, many Arab researchers are now referencing the papers of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1907) and the Bernard Lewis Plan (1979). Both of these documents explain the creation of the current borders in the Near and Middle East, as well as India, among ethnic, regional and linguistic lines of “division”. The goal of this type of “demarcation” of borders, it seems, was to establish Western hegemony within the region. After all, it is very clear that a Near and Middle East united on the basis of the common interests of its people with their full control over their own natural resources would be extremely dangerous for ensuring western interests within this vast expanse of land, while at the same time threatening the implementation of their main projects here, primarily within the economic, or, more precisely, the energy, and geopolitical spheres.

The creators of these theoretical studies are not just some mediocre specialists, they are brilliant experts on the Near and Middle East, Central Asia and India. Bernard Lewis even worked for the British intelligence during the Second World War. He was also presumably one of the more influential figures who, as consultants, presented the former President George W. Bush with the historic, regional and moral arguments to at least attempt to defend the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Furthermore, their views were based on a reputable academic and methodological approach, which allowed their theoretical sketches to be transformed into effective plans of action.

The successful implementation of their proposals in the Middle East and in the former Soviet Union makes their research relevant and attractive for Arab analysts even until today. At one time, it was specifically their ideas that essentially laid out the path towards the creation of Israel, while, of course, relying on the views of the founders of Zionism. Meanwhile, B. Lewis, with his idea of splitting the USSR among national and regional features, greatly helped American and English policymakers organize the collapse of our country.

With the memories of the American invasion in Iraq still burning fresh on everyone’s minds, the budding reconciliation between Iran and the U.S. in many way resembles the former U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s theory of “constructive chaos”, which calls for the use of violence and war everywhere in the region in order to let the U.S., Great Britain and Israel redraw the map in the Middle East to suit their own interests. This theory is mostly based on the two abovementioned theories and plans.

It is important to note that the so called “breakthrough” in the relations of Washington and Teheran comes exactly at a time when the entire Middle East is gripped with war, conflict and chaos. The so called “Arab Spring” encompassed a few of the leading and densely populated Arab countries, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. These “revolutions”, as they were called at the outset, have accomplished almost nothing to improve the quality of life for the people and the masses are still waiting for the democratic triumph that would lead to the prosperity of their nations.

As for the “constructive chaos theory” of Abdel Rahman al-Rashid, former chief editor of the London newspaper “Al-Sharq Al-Awsat”, he wrote in January of 2012 that, “Now we are without the regimes of Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), Muammar Gaddafi (Libya) and Zein Al Abdin Bin Ali (Tunisia)… The regimes that have formerly led over 100 million Arabs are now gone and the Middle Eastern map is now full of gaping holes which are waiting to be filled… The winds of change are still moving the sands in this region”.

On the basis of the historical twists and turns that have occurred in the Middle East, the worries within Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries were caused by, primarily, the fact that the U.S. could win over Iranian trust at the cost of Arab interests, especially those of conservative Arabian monarchies, which have long aged inwardly and outwardly with their 17th century ideological foundations. Moreover, this should happen precisely by implementing the abovementioned plans, where the West, mainly the U.S. and Great Britain, would be ensuring their absolute hegemony in this energy-rich region through further dividing it into small state and political enclaves, be it Shiite, Sunnite, Kurd or others.

In the opinion of many Arab intellectuals, Iran could be supported by the U.S. and their western allies, as well as Russia, because these countries have their own growing risk of terrorist attacks, which are perpetrated primarily by Sunnite extremists who are financed by the private funds in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other members of the GCC.

This way, there is nothing particularly new in this turn of Middle Eastern politics within the U.S. and the West. This was theoretically justified and developed many years ago and now it is simply being put into practice. Due to the fact that the main oil regions of the Persian Gulf are populated primarily by Shiites, Shiite Iran could very well be dominating over the Arab world in the foreseeable future. These are the reasons behind the nervous reaction of Saudi Arabia and Arabians in general towards the burgeoning US-Iran relations. At the same time, the fact that Saudi Arabians, during these events, are also trying to feel out a common ground for mutual relations with Israel on an anti-Iran basis, which supposedly includes opposing its nuclear programme, is also not surprising. After all, they need to find someone to build an alliance with against Iran, while at the same time trying to manipulate the U.S.. Riyadh is only mistaken in one thing, which is that the Israelis trust the Wahhabis the least, but they can play on their fears, especially if Saudi Arabia and Qatar are going to pay a pretty penny for the whole thing.

Alexander Orlov is a political analyst and an expert Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”