Iran at Saudi Arabia’s frontiers

Despite the enthusiasm and propaganda, it took Iran 34 years to expand

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Iran’s fingerprints are everywhere. Its activities expand throughout the region, mostly around Saudi Arabia, in Iraq, Yemen, the Gulf, Syria and Lebanon, where it is involved in politics, media, oil, weaponry and religion. So is it an expanded confrontation, or are the region’s disturbances, resulting from the Arab Spring and its collapses, the only reason for what is happening?

The dispute with Iran is old. Some of it has been inherited, and most is the result of a policy followed by Iran’s leadership, which does not hide its aspiration to expand and export its revolution to the region. Despite the enthusiasm and propaganda, it took Iran 34 years to expand. As such, its gains have been humble given the long time period.

Riyadh and Tehran previously met in the wake of confronting Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and reached a reconciliation agreement under Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tensions did end, but reconciliation did not last more than five years, after the Saudis realized that Iran had not stopped its expansionism.

Amid the silent battles between Riyadh and Tehran, the region calmly forms into alliances

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Iran is currently in an offensive state, the likes of which we have not seen in modern history. It is directly fighting in Syria and Iraq, and has proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and Bahrain. It also has a presence in Sudan, although President Omar al-Bashir claims he has shut down all Iranian offices.

It is due to Iran’s clear offensive actions that we see Saudi Arabia in a state of defense of its traditional areas - once directly, in Bahrain, but mostly by supporting allies, such as in Yemen and Syria.

Yemen’s cost to Iran

Yemen is the latest Iranian venture, but Tehran is incapable of succeeding there. Regardless of how much effort it makes via the Houthi rebels and ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen remains socially and politically close to Saudi Arabia.

Yemen will cost Iran more than it thinks as time passes and as the struggle worsens. Foreign parties, such as Western countries, will realize that Iran’s expansionist appetite is not only a threat to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the rest of the region, but it also targets areas of stability and supports violent groups that threaten the world.

This has been the nature of the Iranian regime since the 1980s. It imitates the old Soviet model by supporting what it calls “liberation movements in the third world,” for the sake of harming regimes that do not agree with its political path.
Regional interference
Iran also focuses on supporting certain groups in the region against central governments. In Lebanon, it supports Hezbollah and has weakened the central government, although the latter does not oppose Iran in Lebanon’s surroundings.

Similarly, Iran has supported Hamas against the Palestinian Authority, although the latter was never against Tehran. Iran has supported the Houthis for years, although Saleh’s regime then had good relations with Tehran.

In Iraq, Iran’s policy and involvement is much clearer. It supports militias and parties more than it supports the central government. Tehran supports the so-called popular mobilization forces in Iraq as an alternative to the national army, parts of which do not agree with Iran.

Amid the silent battles between Riyadh and Tehran, the region calmly forms into alliances. In this context, and that of an arms race, all parties are re-evaluating their military capabilities and looking to strengthen them. If Iran does not end its incursions in the Gulf and beyond, and if it continues to reject solutions to major struggles such as Syria’s, then confrontations will increase and their severity will worsen.

It will become harder to control disputes and their repercussions. Why do we ask Iran, and not Saudi Arabia, to stop? Because Tehran is always on the offensive while Riyadh is on the defensive, just like what is happening in Yemen.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 2, 2015.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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