Saudi Arabia is, to use a term the royals would, “greatly displeased” with the United States. Displeased with U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran and equally displeased with the decisions the White House is making about Syria.
From the Saudi point of view, the United States coddles Iran and indulges Syria. And the Saudis want the United States to suffer for that.
The current U.S. policy of advancing talks with Iran is seen by the Saudis as nothing more than another way of giving the Iranians more time to enrich their uranium and develop nuclear weapons. And the “wait and watch’” policy the U.S. has adopted toward Syria is, according to Saudi Arabia, destructive to the region.
Saudi Arabia believes that what is best for Syria right now is to oust Bashar Assad. It would save the lives of innocent Syrians and, just as important, it would send a message to Assad’s best friend and ally, Iran. The Saudis believe it should be incumbent on the U.S. stop Iran. But if the U.S. is unwilling to accept that mantle, Saudi Arabia will do it together with other players in the region. And that move might be very upsetting to Washington.
The Saudis’ frustration is so intense that it may even drive Saudi Arabia into some kind of defense and intelligence alliance with Israel.
On February 24 a meeting called The Friends of Syria was held in Tunis. The U.S. joined Saudi Arabia and more than seventy other Western and Middle East countries and international organizations to discuss the future of Syria and offer support for the opposition forces there. Hillary Clinton spoke to the group and gave voice to the U.S. view in support of continuing discussions with Iran and against military intervention, even limited, in Syria.
Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was so livid that he walked out on Clinton’s presentation.
Al Faisal only a short while before had reviewed with President Obama what the Saudis consider America’s gross misunderstanding of events in the Middle East. The Saudi had attempted to persuade the American president that Iran wants to topple Middle East regimes and harm the U.S. He explained that the U.S. need look no further than the strings Iran pulled in Bahrain just a few months ago and the strings they are pulling right now in Syria. As he walked out on the secretary of state, he reportedly said: “If that is the case then I can only assume that you will not take any action. We will find ways to solve these to problems.”
When it comes to Iran and to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel are now on the same page. The ideal alternative for Saudi Arabia right now is to resume the intelligence cooperation with Israel that had been broken off. Several months ago the Saudis gave tacit approval to Israel to fly over Saudi Arabia in order to strike Iran. That permission was later rescinded. Today, it looks like Saudi Arabia with again give Israel the green light.
The Saudis see the Iranians as mortal enemies. They are religious and cultural enemies. The Iranians are not Arabs. The Saudis and the Iranians share neither the same religion nor the same culture. Because of this tension the Saudis regularly work to undercut and even topple Iran’s Shiite regime.
The U.S. is not the only world power not in sync with Saudi Arabia on issues concerning Iran and Syria, but it is the only power Saudi Arabia thought it could work with. The Saudis have thrown up their diplomatic hands when it comes to Russia. While the Saudis want to oust Assad in Syria to teach Iran a lesson, the Russians want just the opposite. The Saudis feel that if they can neither unseat nor destabilize Iran itself, they must unseat Iran’s proxy in Syria. That policy is a direct tit-for-tat for Iran’s effort last year to oust Bahrain’s Sunni leaders and Saudi Arabia stepped in to save them.
Russia is, both militarily and scientifically, deeply invested in Syria and has no intention of jeopardizing that investment. Saudi Arabia does not care about Russia investments; for the Saudis, it is all about pride. The Saudi investment goes toward sponsoring all anti-Assad activity in Syria – even sponsoring al Qaeda in Syria. Russia recently reported that 15,000 foreign al Qaeda fighters have entered Syria. Their objective is to oust Assad at all costs.
The Saudis are so upset by with what they consider to be immature diplomatic decision-making by the White House that the royal family is threatening Washington with exactly what Washington fears most from Iran – skyrocketing oil prices. The Saudis have said the U.S. must act seriously on the Iranian issue or the price of oil will hit $150 per barrel. Everyone, including the Saudis, knows this is a presidential election year in the U.S.. And they all know that higher gas prices may just be the kiss of death for Obama’s reelection campaign.
Go easy on Iran by advancing dialogue and upset Saudi Arabia, which will increase the price of oil – or please the Saudis and go hard on Iran, which will increase the price of oil. This is the no-win situation into which Barack Obama has maneuvered the U.S.
Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and social and political commentator. He maintains The Micah Report website (www.micahhalpern.com). His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).
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