Why does Saudi Arabia need to improve relations with Iran and Cui Bono?

Brussels, by Elijah J. Magnier:

After the Iranian-Saudi meeting in China and their agreement to restore diplomatic relations and de-escalate in the Middle East, the Middle East faces a new challenge to reset the past and open a new page in relations between nations. Peace or de-escalation in the region is possible if agreements are translated into a positive approach, followed by practical steps and measures to build trust and reduce long-standing tensions. China’s role as a guarantor came as a surprise that should not be underestimated when Saudi Arabia chose Beijing, confirming what was evident to Iran that the US is no longer a viable peace broker. 

As a trusted superpower, China was the culmination of prolonged efforts by the Saudis and Iranians, who had met eight times in recent years in Iraq and Oman. But the shift towards positive Saudi enthusiasm is because confronting Iran is no longer a viable and realistic option, and stability is essential to Saudi plans for the future. Moreover, the aftermath of the US-Russian war on Ukrainian soil has dramatically accelerated the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.

For many years, Saudi Arabia has sought to destabilise Iran, mainly through its involvement in regional conflicts and support for opposition groups within Iran. It began when Saddam Hussein declared war on Iran, financed by the West and many oil-rich Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. After the war ended, Saudi Arabia focused on changing Iran’s ruling system and supported US efforts. In 2008, Crown Prince Abdullah urged the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake”, referring to Iran. One of the main ways Saudi Arabia has sought to counter Iranian influence has been through its involvement in the conflicts in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine. 

In Lebanon, the crisis began in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Sunni pro-Saudi prime minister, Fouad Siniora, demanded that Hezbollah disarm, but the group refused, arguing that its weapons were necessary for Lebanon’s defence against Israel. In May 2008, the crisis came to a head when the government moved to shut down Hezbollah’s private telecommunications network, which the group used for military purposes to evade Israeli and Western surveillance and pinpoint the location of its units. The move was seen as a direct challenge to Hezbollah’s security and its struggle against the Israeli occupier. Clashes broke out in the capital Beirut between Hezbollah and pro-Saudi forces, who could not gain the upper hand in the conflict. A few years after coming to power, Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman stopped funding the Lebanese Sunni groups after spending $13 billion in a failed attempt to defeat Hezbollah, one of Iran’s strongest organic allies.

After the US invasion in 2003, Saudi Arabia also provided financial support to insurgent groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq, later known as the Islamic State (ISIS – Daesh). These groups have been responsible for attacks against Iraqi security forces and Shia, Sunni and Kurdish civilians. Saudi Arabia has created severe tensions between the two countries and contributed to regional instability. The scale and impact of this support have been devastating. In 2007, the US military issued a report accusing Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states of providing financial and material support to Sunni militants to destabilise the Iraqi government and undermine Iran’s influence in the region. 

Saudi Arabia has also supported various opposition groups, including Islamist and jihadist groups, since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. These groups have been involved in some of the most intense fightings in the contest and are responsible for numerous atrocities against civilians. One of the most significant effects of Saudi Arabia’s support for jihadists in Syria has been the strengthening of extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. These groups have benefited from Saudi support in the form of funding, weapons and training, which has allowed them to gain ground and expand their influence in Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s support for jihadists in Syria has also contributed to the fragmentation of the opposition, as different groups have competed for resources and support from foreign Muslim and Western backers. This has made it more difficult to find a negotiated solution to the conflict and prolonged the violence and suffering of the Syrian people. Saudi Arabia’s support for jihadists in Syria has broader regional stability and security implications. The rise of extremist groups in Syria has contributed to the spread of terrorism and instability and has fuelled sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Arab states fighting Houthi Ansar Allah in Yemen. The conflict has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in history, with thousands of civilian casualties and widespread destruction.

Determined to join the West’s goal of destabilising the ‘Islamic Republic’, Crown Prince bin Salman has vowed to fight inside Iran. Saudi Arabia has supported opposition groups inside Iran, such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a terrorist group listed by several countries and responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. The MEK has been involved in various acts of violence and terrorism against the Iranian government and has received support from some members of the Saudi government. Weapons and money have poured into the ‘Islamic Republic to fund rioters and saboteurs hoping to change the ruling system.

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