By Ali Morshedizad*
A recent visit to the Middle East by US President Donald Trump and his meetings with officials of a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, are still a hot topic for political observers and media outlets, and various analytical material has been written on them. During his visit, Trump talked about selling 110 billion dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which was allegedly aimed to boost Riyadh’s deterrence power in the face of Iran’s effort to develop its missile technology.
Since fifty Arab and Islamic countries were supposed to come together at the same time in Riyadh, the US government invited heads of fifteen Arab states in addition to leaders of Turkey and Pakistan to take part in meetings with Trump in Riyadh. Iran was the main topic of those meetings. In fact, it seems that the main focus of attention for the United States foreign policy in the Middle East under the new Republican rule is to limit, or as they themselves say, to change Iran’s behavior. Middle East experts and analysts have described this process as the emergence of a so-called Arab NATO in the face of Iran. The question that is raised here is what goal does the United States pursue in the Middle East? Is there a new war in the offing or another goal is being pursued? Our hypothesis is that these measures do not seem to be taken with the goal of planning a new war. If a new war is going to happen in the Persian Gulf region, arming Saudi Arabia will not be of much help to war in this region. However, one can have his own predictions and interpretations in this regard and enumerate certain goals for these measures.
The US government has been always considering three options when it comes to Iran: 1. war and regime change in Iran through direct US military intervention like what happened in Iraq; 2. inciting civil war through intensification of domestic differences; and 3. facilitating collapse of Iran’s government.
The first option does not seem to be imaginable and possible taking into account the geographical, political and even cultural conditions of Iran and even if it takes place, it is not likely to lead to desirable results for the United States. Xenophobia is very strong among the Iranian nation and a foreign assault would serve to solidify unity among domestic forces and cause them to resist any aggression by a foreign force. Therefore, the other two options, especially the third one, seem more possible at this juncture.
It seems that dragging Iran into an arms race is a goal of the recent US weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. This policy has been long used by those governments that produce weapons in order to sell their arms. That is, they encourage a country, which poses a relative threat to another county or other countries in a region, or is even subject to threat from another country or other countries, to buy their weapons. Following that encouragement, other countries in that region embark on selling more arms as well and in this way an arms race gets underway in that region in full swing. The imperialistic economy of the United States has always needed markets far beyond the country’s borders at the four corners of the world. However, in this specific case, marketing of American arms is not the sole goal, though it is of special importance.
However, more important than that is to encourage Iran to enter an arms race in the region. The main goal of this race is the same goal that the West pursued and achieved in its arms race with the former Soviet Union. During the Cold War period, the West managed to direct the Soviet Union’s limited economic capacity toward militarism through the previously mentioned arms race and finally, the government of the Soviet Union collapsed without any need to mount a military aggression. The unproductive and static economic system of the Soviet Union was facing dire problems from the time that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics came into being. A governmental and noncompetitive economy made the Soviet Union so weak and debilitated that Lenin was forced to put his plan, known as the New the Economic Policy (NEP), into action. In fact, economy was the Achilles’ heel of the Soviet Union. In this way, the Soviet Union’s leaders fell into the West’s arms race trap.
It seems that a similar policy is in gears with regard to Iran as well. Intensification of non-nuclear sanctions related to situation of human rights in Iran, its alleged support for terrorism, and also its missile tests, which has been under discussion in past days, aims to help this policy and further weaken Iran’s economy. In fact, the main goal that has been set for this policy is that all the budget and capital that is available to the Iranian economy should be directed toward the military sector instead of being spent on infrastructure as well as development of the country. The final result of this state of affairs would be lack of development, poverty and economic weakness of Iran, which in the long run, will put the government in a position that it would not be able to provide its people with the lowest level of livelihood let alone going ahead with its development drive. Finally and under mounting economic pressure and public dissatisfaction, the Iranian government will collapse. Of course, Iran is not falling into the trap of this arms race, but is trying to spend its energy on removing other forms of unjustified and unjust sanctions against the country.
Another goal is to change the confrontation of Arab and Islamic countries with Israel into a confrontation between Shias and Sunnis. Israelis are very hopeful that this shift will take place, because it would help them heave a sigh of relief and watch what is going on in the region without being affected by it. The United States, on the other hand, hopes that the differences between Palestinians and Israelis would be resolved through the Palestinian self-rule and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, in order to create a security margin for its main ally in the region. American leaders are hopeful that intensification of differences between Shias and Sunnis will divert attention of Arab countries from the issue of Palestine and even pit Palestinians against Iran. Of course, there are signs that show how diligently this policy is being pursued by the United States, but Iran has been smartly monitoring these changes and is trying to increase awareness across the region about this situation and warn leaders of Arab countries against this policy.
It seems that the best way to oppose this policy is not Saudi Arabia’s warmongering positions, but is to reduce tensions with regional countries by laying emphasis on Islamic commonalities and this is the policy that Iran is currently following. A recent message by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in response to Saudi defense minister’s remarks, who had said that Riyadh would take the war to Iran, was a clear sign of Iran’s diplomatic effort to restore stability to this region.
* Ali Morshedizad
Assistant Professor of Political Science; Shahed University
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