The Question Of Iran For Saudi Arabia – OpEd


By Ali Shihabi

As Iran and Israel enter an era of direct confrontation, a lot of attention is now being paid to the position of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council states, particularly to where they stand on this crisis and how they will behave if it escalates, as it may.

The Iranian regime, with its ongoing support of proxies hostile to the Kingdom, has failed to build trust about its good intentions in the GCC. Because of this, it cannot expect the GCC states to avoid further integration into a US-led defensive alliance against Iran, despite serious criticism of Israel’s actions.

Israel, with its horrific behavior in Gaza and its shortsighted failure to put in place any building blocks toward a two-state solution in Palestine, is a source of grave concern for the Kingdom. Unless material progress is made toward a peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, it is difficult to imagine a breakthrough in relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

At the same time, Iran is an aspiring regional hegemon that is very difficult to trust despite a recent diplomatic detente that saw a Chinese-sponsored reestablishment of relations between the Kingdom and Iran. Iran has worked since the revolution in 1979 to export its ideology and expand its influence throughout the region. It has had the GCC in its crosshairs despite public claims to the contrary.

GCC countries have long since learned to watch Iranian actions, not listen to its words, when judging its behavior. And Tehran’s actions in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and particularly in Yemen, even after the reestablishment of diplomatic ties, have confirmed its malign intentions toward the Gulf. Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei have often and directly criticized the governments of the GCC as being illegitimate, as do their proxies across the Arab world.

Moreover, Iran’s pretensions of supporting the Palestinian cause are recognized in the Gulf for what they are: a naked attempt to grab Sunni market share in public support, while enabling Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to act as continuous spoilers (with the tacit cooperation of Israel’s right wing) of any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to move forward on a two-state settlement.

Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 — one it knew would rain terror and destruction down on Gaza’s unprotected and exposed population by an Israeli government that has no compunction about committing war crimes or even ethnic cleansing — is just the latest example of Iran empowering spoilers that gain nothing for the Palestinians but misery and suffering.

Ultimately, the Kingdom and the other GCC states see Iran as a dangerous adversary that dreams of bringing down the ruling order in the Gulf, establishing its hegemony over the region and cynically using the Palestinian cause to foment instability and anger throughout the region toward that final objective. Iran does not want to, and it knows it can never, “liberate” Palestine, as it loudly and noisily claims. Rather, it cynically wants to liberate the GCC of its US presence and establish its own hegemony over the Gulf and its oil wealth.

Until Iran’s actions show otherwise — such as, for example, its complete termination of support for the Houthis in Yemen — all its pretensions of friendship and cooperation toward the Gulf will be taken for what they are: cynical attempts to disguise wolfish behavior in sheep’s clothing. As it does this, Iran should expect the GCC states to move ever closer to the US-led alliance, with all that that entails. They will do so to protect themselves from what they see as Tehran’s malign intentions and to ensure their own national security.

  • Ali Shihabi is an author and commentator on the politics and economics of Saudi Arabia. X: @aliShihabi

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *