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New Saudi Arabia seen in a foreign ministry statement

A different Saudi policy has crystallized since intervention in Bahrain was launched to end Iranian ambitions

Khairallah Khairallah

Published: Updated:

For anyone wanting to know whether a new Saudi Arabia is emerging, this can be seen in a recent statement its foreign ministry issued regarding “Iran’s hostile policies over the course of 35 years.”

For the first time ever, the country presented an accurate description supported by facts and dates of terrorist activities reportedly committed by Iran since the revolution which Ayatollah Khomeini led in 1979. The statement was long enough to address several cases. It had 58 paragraphs, each on a certain terrorist incident.

The statement, which went beyond terror operations targeting Saudi Arabia, provided accurate details of the circumstances of each attack. The statement noted that during this period, the kingdom has maintained a policy of restraint despite suffering – just as other neighboring countries have – “from the consequences of Iran’s continued aggressive policies.”

A different Saudi policy has crystallized since intervention in Bahrain was launched to end Iranian ambitions

Khairallah Khairallah

The ministry also explained its position on the Iranian nuclear program. It maintained that Riyadh doesn’t object to this program if it is peaceful and has not opposed the nuclear deal which the West signed with Iran. It says that Saudi Arabia “publicly supported any agreement which prevents Iran from attaining nuclear arms and which includes strict and permanent inspections with the possibility of imposing sanctions on Iran again if the agreement is violated – a condition which the U.S. has imposed.”

In the end, it seems legitimate for Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region to ask a very simple question: Is Iran a normal country that wants to live with its neighbors in peace and security? Or does it consider itself a regional power with an exposed expansionist project?

The statement says Iran must determine whether it will attempt to violate international laws or whether it’s a country that respects international agreements and treaties and good neighboring principles and one that does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

The ministry’s statement not only targets Iran but also reminds the U.S. administration of terrorist attacks on its citizens, civilians and army personnel. Is there anyone in Washington who needs to be reminded of this and, at the same time, comprehend that the Iranian nuclear program does not sum up all of the region’s problems?

Change or the lack of it?

The American administration should ask itself a question Gulf countries are asking: “Has anything changed in Iran after it reached an agreement with the P5+1 group regarding its nuclear program?”

It is as if the U.S. administration lives in another world. It was therefore important to remind it of the 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut. Many Americans died as a result of this terrorist operation, which Iran reportedly stood behind.

What the U.S. State Department does not mention is that among those killed in the bombing were senior CIA officers in the Middle East. The most prominent of them was Bob Ames who at the time was the CIA’s Near East Director. He had previously worked in Iran and was allegedly the first to caution the Iranians of the possibility of an Iraqi attack against them in 1980.

This is at least what Kai Bird stated in his book "The Good Spy," which narrates Ames' story.

Amid Saudi Arabia’s new policies, it’s no longer possible to cover up facts, including Iran’s reported involvement in the Khobar explosions in 1996 as well as its links to terrorist organizations.

It is no longer possible to only include half the facts and take this or that party into consideration at a time when Saudi Arabia, in the era of King Salman, is under attack from different parties, primarily Iran.

Turning points

A different Saudi policy has started to crystallize ever since intervention in Bahrain was launched to end Iranian ambitions. It took a new dimension when the kingdom stood by the popular revolution in Egypt – the revolution which ousted Muslim Brotherhood from power in June 2013. Middle-ground solutions were no longer possible when it emerged that Iran was beginning to sneak into Egypt via the Brotherhood.

However the moment of real transformation came in Yemen towards the end of March 2015. King Salman and deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman decided to intervene to put an end to Iran’s expansionist activities in the country. All we are witnessing today is linked to the Saudi-led "Operation Decisive Storm" against Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.

Cutting ties with Iran following the raid on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and its consulate in Mashhad, proved to be another defining moment. Operation Decisive Storm cannot end unless it achieves the desired objectives in Yemen regardless of the sacrifices being made to achieve them. In other words, Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries cannot accept Yemen as an Iranian proxy, as is the case with Lebanon.

New beginning

The Saudi foreign ministry statement came around the same time an article by Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was published in The New York Times in response to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. The response marked the beginning of a new phase in which Riyadh does not hesitate to respond. On the other hand, the article which Zarif published revealed that his laugh is a mere mask that covers up a part of an expansionist project.

This new phase is characterized by courage and clarity. This is not just about calling a spade a spade and just restoring order in Yemen but also includes an economic policy, which harmonizes with this current phase, as well as reforms which take into account the war on terrorism, in all its forms against the Shiite and the Sunni. This is likely to be a very long war.

This war on terrorism is being waged amidst a sharp decline in oil prices, which have made the Russian economy reel. It is difficult to bet on American policies as they are characterized by a minimal realist approach and minimum comprehension of what’s happening in the Middle East.

Is there bigger proof of the extent of American naivety or bias towards Tehran than overlooking crimes which sectarian militias linked to Iran are committing in mainly Sunni-populated areas of Iraq or Syria?

Why does the American administration refuse to hear anything about, for example, what’s happening in the Iraqi Diyala province or in the Syrian town of Madaya?

We are looking at a new Middle East but we’re also looking at a new Saudi Arabia. What is certain is that the statement issued by the foreign ministry in Riyadh will not be the first of its kind.

This article was first published in Middle East Online on Jan. 20, 2016.

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Khairallah Khairallah is an Arab columnist who was formerly Annahar’s foreign editor (1976-1988) and Al-Hayat’s managing editor (1988-1998).

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