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Saudi Arabia and Iran: Striking balance

Yasser Abdel Aziz

Published: Updated:

Many of the political developments currently unfolding in the area of regional relations in the Middle East can be rationally according to the “balance of power” theory.

Power is a fundamental and inherent concept in political science; in fact, it is at its crux and its main component. Power is behind making decisions and putting them into effect; power tests willpower, defines spheres of influence, and secures the state’s strategic interests or undermines them, giving rise to a state of instability, which may culminate in worse outcomes.

When a regional power tramples on all UN resolutions related to the consequences of that power’s political and military actions towards its neighbors, and insists on moving forward with expansion and regional hegemony, and nibbling and annexing the territories of others; it has thus created a reality out of which instability is born.

When another regional power says that it has control over five countries in the region and that it is about to declare an empire to reclaim its historical glories, by this it sounds the alarm and mobilizes the potentials of its neighbors in order to defend their interests and security.

And when a third regional power decides to deploy its army and mercenaries in the countries of the region - thousands of miles away from its territory - and sets itself up as a custodian of the legitimacy of ruling regimes in neighboring countries, it thus causes a state of strategic imbalance.

The theory of "balance of power" predicts that when a major regional power achieves its strength capabilities and begins to exploit them in order to pressure others and maximize its interests, the other major powers in the region rush to balance this out, either by reinforcing their full internal capabilities to confront the threat or by resorting to ally with other powers to bridge the gap and redress the shortfall in their internal sources of strength.

The aforementioned clarification explains to us many of the swift and sudden regional moves that we are currently witnessing. Three non-Arab regional powers are manifesting a desire to expand and dominate at the expense of Arab countries, while the latter are striving to enhance their internal capabilities on the one hand, and formulate interim or strategic alliances to balance out the mounting pressures on them on the other.

No country in the region should be deceived by the state of calm and stability that prevails on the border with one of its neighbors, unless it is able to strike a strategic balance with that neighbor.

The presence of a neighbor that is militarily, technologically, or economically superior on the border does not guarantee peace or a balance of interests, but rather entices pressure, extortion, and the likelihood of aggression.

For example, Israel's possession of a superior military or technological power that surpasses a country like Jordan can only allow this brotherly country to maintain its interests by developing its full internal might or forging alliances that enable it to strike a balance.

In another example, Iran's success in acquiring a nuclear weapon will deepen the imbalance of power between the Islamic Republic and its Gulf neighbors.

For this reason, we heard Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaking in March of 2018, saying, “If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia will respond in kind as soon as possible.”

Last week, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence, said his country should “do whatever is necessary, including obtaining the know-how to develop a nuclear bomb, in order to defend ourselves against the possibility of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Saudi Arabia has persevered in complying with international standards and treaty obligations that regulate the use of nuclear know-how, in a way that maintains both transparency and security, and away from military applications. However, the Kingdom will not stand idly by if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which will further exacerbate the imbalance prevailing in the region.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Yawm.

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