Tiran, Sanafir, Syria, Yemen and Vision 2030
Why does Saudi Arabia insist on expelling Iran from Syria at any cost, and possibly from Iraq and Lebanon?
Everyone is asking about the secret behind the recent enthusiasm and vitality of Saudi foreign policy. The kingdom launched its first airstrike from Khamis Mushait airport over a year ago against Houthi positions in Yemen, declaring Operation Decisive Storm, which is still gaining momentum.
Why does Saudi Arabia insist on expelling Iran from Syria at any cost, and possibly from Iraq and Lebanon? Why was Riyadh keen to regain the islands of Tiran and Sanafir now, after they were placed under Egypt’s custody for decades?
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, answers both questions. “We have three areas of strength with no competitors,” he told Al Arabiya TV, citing Islam, the kingdom’s enormous investment capacity, and its geographic location.
In a closed meeting with a small group of Saudi writers and religious scholars, the prince explained how the kingdom was the promoter of real moderate Islam, and it was unacceptable that the religion be represented by Iran, Al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The intellectual war on the latter two will take a larger dimension with support from official and prestigious Islamic institutions in Saudi Arabia. There is no “Saudi Islam,” as alleged by US President Barack Obama, just Islam.
This reminds me of a Saudi radio program in the 1960s and 1970s called “Muslims and Enough,” which carried a message of Islamic solidarity formulated and managed by the late King Faisal at a time when the country occupied a privileged position among Muslims as caretaker of moderate Islam. The concept of moderate Islam is mentioned many times in Vision 2030.
Saudi investment capacity is considered a substitute to its oil-dependence. Prince Salman wants to invest for the benefit of the kingdom and the region. However, this vision will clash with a parallel Iranian project that does not aspire to good neighborliness, mutual benefit, or regional peace and stability.
Saudi Arabia is blessed with this stability, which will enable the success of Vision 2030. This will benefit the whole regionJamal Khashoggi
This Iranian vision is executed via militias, weapons-smuggling, conspiracies and coups. It will not be based on participation, but on the suppression of others and subordination to Tehran. We do not do this in Saudi Arabia; instead, we sign contracts and strategic alliances in the light of day with governments, not with secret parties or militias.
If the kingdom succeeds in being the main crossing point for trade between Asia, Africa and Europe, it will need neighbors that share the same vision, not Yemen’s Houthis or an Iran-dominated Syria. To that end, agreements have been signed with Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Djibouti, and potentially Pakistan, which will revive an old bilateral alliance.
The most important issue in the prince’s announcements is the need for stability for long-term development, citing the examples of South Korea and Japan, which have been ruled by one party for decades. Saudi Arabia is blessed with this stability, which will enable the success of Vision 2030. This will benefit the whole region, as Saudi prosperity will positively impact that of its neighbors.
Similar examples in the region are Dubai, Duqm port in Oman, Lucille economic city in Qatar, and Abu Dhabi. All these examples will be linked in Vision 2030. This will be complemented by King Salman Bridge, which will pass over Tiran island and will be the most important land crossing in the world, as described by the prince.
All these sites and future projects will offer hundreds of thousands of jobs for Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Africans and Asians, but not Syrians, who are controlled by Iran. Tehran has opted for confrontation rather than being an integral partner such as Turkey.
Riyadh is preoccupied with using its army and diplomacy to prevent the collapse of regional security. People aspire to a decent quality of life - all regimes incapable of providing that must leave and not return.
This article first appeared in Al Hayat on Apr. 30, 2016.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi