By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
During the past few days, the US media have gone berserk over the Saudi role in the region.
In the past, they concluded that the Kingdom does not play any role outside its borders. So what happened? Are they dismayed that the Kingdom is overtly supporting the regime change in Egypt? Or maybe it is the visit of the Saudi chief of intelligence to Moscow that prompted such an attitude, especially amid rumors about growing Saudi-Russia ties. Or maybe, when there was a change in command of the Syrian revolutionary forces earlier last month and some people said this was cooked in the Saudi kitchen?
Naturally, all these events happen within the Saudi neighborhood and it’s not out of the ordinary to expect Saudi influence over them.
Not everything written is worthy of a response. But there are two opposing views in the New York Times, one by Dennis Ross, and the other by Bruce Riedel. Both of them know the region very well. Ross, a former State Department and National Security Council official, is asking: “Does our policy make Saudi Arabia a strategic ally for the US in the region, or a dangerous ally against us?”
He then goes on to place the crisis in its proper context: Saudi Arabia, flanked by a nuclear Iran in the east and a Brotherhood Egypt in the west, feels threatened as a result of American absence. The Muslim Brotherhood, a longtime ally of Iran, took power in Egypt. As soon as it seized power through democratic means, Saudi Arabia reached out to Mursi’s government and gave the Egyptians $3 billion, and Mursi was warmly received in Jeddah that surprised even the Brotherhood. The chill came only Mursi went to Iran and invited Ahmadinejad to visit Cairo, the first Iranian head of state ever to visit Egypt after Khomeini’s revolution.
The US can switch its allies, just like it did with Iraq, but the countries of the region cannot afford this luxury. And for Riyadh, the situation became more ominous, with Khamenei to the east, and a pro-Iranian Brotherhood government to the west, not to mention an Iranian-backed Al-Maliki’s Iraq to the north.
An unprecedented siege of Saudi Arabia! And if the Syrian revolution were made to fail, then Iran would have almost absolute dominance over the region. So there you have Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt and Sudan circling the Kingdom, something to which Saudi Arabia will never surrender, even if it caused the utmost strain in the US-Saudi relations.
If I understand Ross correctly, I think he understands this concern, and so he believes that the solution does not lie in expanding the dispute with Riyadh, but in making it use the best leverage that the Saudis can give, with their immense influence in the region, it they can persuade the military in Egypt to be smart by accepting democratic transition of power. Riedel, a former CIA official, whom President Obama appointed to do important works, wrote very briefly the best analysis of this ambivalent relation.
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