Iran vs. Saudi Arabia: War on the Horizon?
Saudi Arabia was not surprised when U.S. authorities uncovered the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Abdel al-Jubair. According to Saudi intelligence, Teheran in the last months has started a campaign of chain murders targeting Saudi diplomats to destabilize the Royal family.
In May 2011, gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed Hassan al-Qahtani, a Saudi diplomat working in the consulate in the Pakistani city of Karachi. The murder came after a previous attack on the Karachi Consulate with Russian-made HE-36 hand grenades. At first the media linked the assassination to Al-Qaeda groups trying to revenge the killing of Osama bin Laden, but further investigation revealed that the murder was planned by the Iran's Quds Force. Pakistani intelligence identified the Saudi diplomat's killer as a member of a Shi'ite terrorist organization, Sipah-e-Muhammad [the Army of Muhammad], which maintains close links to the Quds Force. The link to the killing was allegedly proven by recorded messages between Iranian officials in Islamabad and members of the terrorist group.
In September 2011, the Saudi online newspaper Elaph revealed that the Saudi Ambassador to Cairo, Ahmad Abdel-Aziz Kattan, survived an attempted assassination by poison, allegedly staged by Iran.
Elaph states that the Saudi diplomats, al-Jubair included, are all linked to prince Bandar bin Sultan, Secretary-General of the National Security Council, and former Ambassador to the U.S., 1983-2005. Prince Bandar, a strong opponent of Iranian influence in the Middle East, is at the center of an Iranian smear campaign to discredit him and tarnish his image. Recently, Iranian media have gone so far as to circulate fake "news" according to which Prince Bandar would have been arrested by Syrian security forces at Damascus Airport and would have confessed that he was involved in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri - for which, instead, the Syrian government has been indicated by international investigators.
Saudi Arabia: The Obstacle to Iran's Ambitions in the Middle East
Sunni Saudi Arabia is generally perceived by Iran as possibly the greatest obstacle to its ambitions in the Middle East, in that Iran has been trying to export its Shi'te Islamic revolution both culturally and militarily throughout the Middle East, according to Ahmed Jarallah, editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti paper, Al-Seyassah.
Saudi Arabia tried to do everything it could, both politically and militarily, to stop a recent Shi'ite uprisings in Bahrain -- an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia that is predominately Shi'ite but ruled by Sunnis -- which Iran has been claiming belongs to Iran, and which is separated from Saudi Arabia by only a small causeway a few miles long. The Saudis were concerned that the Shi'ite uprising in Bahrain might embolden Saudi Arabia's own minority Shi'ite population -- located by the oil fields, far from Riyadh, Mecca and Medina -- thereby increasing Iran's influence over the Arabian Peninsula.
Saudi Arabia must therefore have been alarmed by the announcement that the U.S. would be leaving Iraq. Saudi Arabia might well assume that even though it managed to thwart Iran's influence in Bahrain, Iran will nevertheless manage to try to take control of the oil-rich region by way of Iraq. The Saudis have desperately been trying to find strategic ways to prevent such a scenario, including probably hoping for a change in the U.S. administration in next year's election.
"The facts on the ground say that Tehran's influence in Iraq has increased under the eyes of the current US administration," writes Tareq Al-Homayed, editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, "whilst Iranian influence [in Iraq] also benefited from the mistakes made by the previous US administration. This is not all, for now we see Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad […] appear in an interview on CNN saying that he does not expect any change in his country's relations with Iraq following the withdrawal of US forces. Indeed Ahmadinejad went on to confidently state – and this is the crux of the matter – that 'the government of Iraq, the parliament, we have a very good relationship with all of them…and we have deepened our ties day by day.'" Al-Homayed adds, "This 'day by day' is true, and it has happened before the eyes of the Americans, therefore the extent of Iran's influence in Iraq is no surprise, nor is Tehran's support for the Shiite militias there. It is enough to listen to the complaints of the honorable people of Iraq – Sunnis and Shii'tes and others – who do not accept their country becoming a proxy in Iranian hands or ruled by Qassem Suleimani and his Qods Force."
Iran Would Like a War in the Middle East
As the Kuwaiti paper Al-Seyassah pointed out, Iran might soon start a war in Middle East as the only way to show that Tehran still has influence in region and can threaten whoever opposes its plans. If Bashar al-Assad is removed from power in Syria, Iran could be concerned that the world might perceive Iran as isolated; it could therefore want to make the point that even if Syria might be lost for now, Iran can still take control of Iraq, and fight proxy wars by means of its proxy group, Hezbollah. To Iran, the main enemy that stands in its way is Saudi Arabia, which has already fought Iran's influence in Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Iraq.
As Saudi Arabia is the first new superpower in the Arab world, Iran might well have designs on replacing it. Al Seyassah's editor in chief recently noted that Iran's conspiracies necessitated constant caution and that Teheran is trying to make a conflict zone out of the Middle East. He then differentiated between the Shi'ite faith in the Arab world, which does not pose any threat, and what he labeled "Persian Safavi Shi'ism" --- referring to the most significant Persian dynasty that controlled "Greater Iran," when it stretched from the Caucasus to the Indus River, and represented Iran's aims and ideologies to exercise its influence throughout the Arab world.
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