Why are they afraid of Iran?
For our holy friends from the sacred lands of Hejaz, and for some of our other friends from the Gulf, Daesh or the Islamic State is a problem but it is not the real enemy. The real enemy, the one that brings out all the anger in them, is Iran.
They see Iran dominant in Iraq, Iran propping up Bashar al-Asad in Syria, Iran backing Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Iran standing behind the Houthis in Yemen and they fret about the rise of Iran as a regional power. Daesh for our Saudi friends is a concern but a distant one. The immediate and more pressing concern is Iran.
Our friends are good at writing cheques. The hard stuff they much prefer that others should do.
And our friends didn’t like the nuclear deal with Iran one bit. They were content with Iran’s international isolation set off by its nuclear programme. The prospect of Iran coming in from the cold as a result of the deal they found unsettling.
Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric was another source of concern. For almost 70 years the Saudi-American security relationship was one of the pillars of American foreign policy. Here was a maverick candidate questioning its efficacy and saying that the Saudis should be doing more for their own security.
The Saudis were left with no choice but to wait on events. Soon after Trump’s inauguration, Prince Muhammad, King Salman’s son and the kingdom’s rising star, went to Washington and had a warm meeting—the photos show it—with the newly-elected president in the Oval Office. The invitation to Trump to come and give his blessings to the gathering of Muslim leaders in Riyadh comes after that.
The Saudis have got what they wanted: Trump not mincing his words and taking direct aim at Iran for promoting terrorism and spreading “destruction and chaos across the region”. This must have been sweet music for Saudi ears. And the Americans have got what, it is fair to say, they would have wanted: a massive arms deal worth more than 100 billion dollars which should be good for the American arms industry. With smiles all around, a relationship showing signs of strain not too long ago has been reset.
Will the Saudis be satisfied with this or would they want more? Syria remains an obsession, as much for them as for our other friends, the Qataris. Assad they want out but with the Syrian president standing his ground and proving more tenacious and resilient than any of his enemies had bargained for, they don’t know how to bring this about. It is not just Iran backing Assad but Russia too, and Hezbollah forces are in the field fighting alongside the Syrian army.
It is worth asking what the Saudi quarrel with Assad is. What do they have against him? Little more than this that he is an Alawite Shia and is backed by Iran. The borders of Syria and Saudi Arabia do not meet. There is no other dispute between them. But Assad is anti-Israel, he is not friends with the United States and he has a close relationship with Iran, all compelling enough reasons to condemn him in Saudi eyes.
Another question worth asking: who is responsible for Iran’s dominant influence in Iraq? Saddam Hussein was a Sunni and he was staunchly anti-Iran. After all he and the ayatollahs had fought a deadly war for eight long years. But then the Americans had to go about invading Iraq, in the process toppling a Sunni-led regime and creating conditions for the empowerment of the Shia majority. Iran could not have been done a bigger favour. From a hostile regime it suddenly had a friendly regime on its crucial western border and one with which it shared the bonds and emotions of Shia brotherhood.
When the Americans were planning their invasion of Iraq—and the whole world knew what they were about—there was not a word, not a squeak of caution or protest, from our Arab friends who are now wringing their hands over the Iranian presence in Iraq.
The American invasion led to another and far deadlier consequence: the rise of Daesh. In its time the Afghan jihad had brought about the birth of Al Qaeda. The American invasion of Iraq, among other things, brought about the birth of Daesh. When Daesh after the capture of Mosul was on the march and threatened Baghdad, Iranian revolutionary guards under the command of Gen Qasim Soleimani stood guard outside the Iraqi capital. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates had no role in any of this…events with which they had no connection were sweeping past them.
Iran did not create these circumstances. It has profited from them for sure but only by displaying courage and resolve. In the teeth of Israeli and American hostility it is no easy task to stand by the side of Hezbollah. It is no easy task to defend Bashar al-Assad in Syria and help stem the Daesh tide in Iraq. So any influence they have has been paid for by blood and sacrifice. Furthermore, they have not kowtowed to anyone.
Look at the rest of the Muslim world. Trump may be a developing disaster in his own homeland but here in Riyadh he was being feted as if the holy citadels of Islam depended upon him for safety and survival. Far from being worried by what was said about it at this gathering, Iran should feel flattered by the attention it got. On the surface the themes bandied about at this grand conference of the worried and the sick-at-heart were terrorism and extremism but the undercurrent was all about Iran.
Gen Qasim Soleimani is a hero in Baghdad and Damascus. Our former army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, who won his share of laurels for successfully leading the fight against the Pakistani Taliban has gone to take command of a force existing still largely on paper but which even when it assumes a more tangible form will have as its primary aim not the elimination of the Islamic State but protecting the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The frontline of the battle against the Islamic State extends from Syria to Iraq. That is where the real battle against extremism is being fought. The US is a factor in this conflict although it has no very clear idea about how to end this war and bring peace to Syria. But the Muslim states represented at the Riyadh summit have no role whatsoever in this struggle. They are bystanders and nitpickers, unable to do anything on their own and unhappy with the leadership role Iran has assumed.
These states stood by when Iraq was being attacked and destroyed. They lifted not a finger when Libya was subverted and destroyed. They hate Iran because it has prevented the downfall of the Assad regime.
Courtesy : Dunyanews.tv