After “Israel”, Saudi Arabia is known to be the most vocal Middle East cheerleader for provocative policies against Iran. But while anti-Iranian rhetoric ranging from the outright aggressive to the factually bizarre is as much a staple of official Saudi propaganda as it is in respect of that which spews from the Tel Aviv regime, in reality, Saudi Arabia does not actually seek a regional war against Iran for the simple reason that no matter who wins such a war, Saudi Arabia would suffer in one form or another.
1979 Looms Large for Saudi Arabia
While Riyadh has always maintained good relations with western imperial powers, after 1979 the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia became all the more important for the very reason that after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the United States lost not only one of its closest regional allies, and in so doing, lost a highly sophisticated state as an ally. From then on, the US had to make due with Saudi Arabia as a ‘best friend’ in the Persian Gulf, a state which far more so in 1979 than now, was merely an oil well with a government attached to it.
Black gold and the “Israel” lobby
While in 1973, Saudi Arabia used the defeat of the allied Arab forces in the Arab-“Israeli” war of that year to inflate oil prices much to its own benefit, in 2018, even forgetting the fact that global energy markets are far more geographically diverse than they were in 1973, it would be hard to fathom Riyadh using anything to do with Palestine to justify any of its geo-economic moves.
In many ways, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, gave Saudi Arabia an opportunity to reconfigure itself from a friend of the US that still identified as an Arab state, to becoming a state which consistently positioned itself against any pan-Arab expansionism (both secular and non-Saudi derived Islamic expansion) except for that which had a tacit (spreading Wahhabism in the north Caucasus, Balkans and South East Asia) or overt (mobilising the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan) approval from the United States. Furthermore, since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Saudi Arabia has gradually developed a close, however unofficial relationship with Tel Aviv.
The Saudi-“Isarel” de-facto alliance is in fact becoming far more important to Saudi Arabia than its partnerships with any Arab state including el-Sisi’s Egypt. This is the case because as Riyadh looks to diversify its economic portfolio away from oil as part of the ambitious Vision 2030 programme, the Kingdom will likely need the help of new partners including and especially China and Russia. While the US is more or less contended with the status quo of Saudi Arabia buying expensive weapons from the US after which Washington will kickback the money back into the pockets of the Saudi elite, for Russia and China, Saudi Arabia represents a wealthy socially developing country willing to pay top Yuan for much needed development programmes.
China and the Petroyuan
And then there is the Petroyuan itself. Recently, China’s main oil company Sinopec cut Saudi crude imports by 40%. While Beijing and Riyadh remain on good overall terms, China is clearly demonstrating its ability to leverage the de-facto OPEC leader over the issue of artificially inflated oil prices. This move itself is the beginning of China’s gradual campaign to ‘convince’ through example, the benefits of Saudi Arabia gradually shifting towards selling its oil to China in a Beijing friendly Petroyuan. As the inevitable global shift from the Petrodollar to Petroyuan will likely accompany China’s ascent to the undisputed strongest economy in the world (by which time the Yuan will almost certainly be un-pegged from the Dollar), Riyadh will have to sell its oil in Petroyuan anyway, just as the rest of the world is.
At such a time, the US may seriously consider regime change against its prodigal Saudi ally. To compensate for this, Saudi Arabia has decided to ingratiate itself to America’s top partner in the region, “Israel”. To this end, the notoriously secretive Riyadh establishment appears to be allowing leaks of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s pro-“Israel” statements to the US media and what’s more is that in some cases his statements are more harsh towards the Palestinians than those made by so-called liberal Zionists.
Thus in advocating for “Israel”, Riyadh wants to make itself an indispensable Arab power to the powerful US based “Israel” lobby in the hopes that when the Petroyuan comes, groups like AIPAC will be able to convince Washington that the Saudi regime must stay because it is “Israel’s” best regional friend.
Worthless propaganda meets bad military strategy
As part of this campaign, ant-Iranianism is one sure fire way for Saudi Arabia to both ‘dog whistle’ to the US “Israel” lobby while also trying to increase its soft-power prestige in elements of the Iranophobic Sunni Arab world.
But in reality, Saudi Arabia is not going to convince the Shi’a Arab world to hate Iran any more than it can convince the Arab Sunni world that it is a stronger advocate for them than Turkey. Except in Egypt which has a specifically fraught recent relationship with Turkey, most Sunnis who are inclined towards democratic Islamic politics take Turkey’s President Erdogan seriously than a reactionary Wahhabi who happens to love “Israel” almost as much as the occasional female driver. Even in Pakistan whose recent and some current leaders have a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, Turkey is viewed with more geopolitical and cultural prestige in Pakistan than is Saudi Arabia. The more Saudi Arabia demands of Pakistan in terms of military cooperation at a time when Turkey is looking to expand its economic partnerships to the east, the more this reality of Turkey leading the ‘Sunni debate’ will become ever more apparent to Riyadh and to Saudi watchers.
But most importantly, if a war breaks out in or around Iran, one of the first countries to experience blow-back will be Saudi Arabia. Just a short fishing boat ride across the Persian Gulf, if there is any country Iran would want to and could easily retaliate against in the event of a colossal regional war, that county would be Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, while Iran has threatened “Israel” with retaliation if the Tel Aviv regime attacks Iran directly, because of Tel Aviv’s infamous illegal nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would be both a safer and militarily easier target for Iran to push back against any war.
Finally, even if (and its a big if) Iran were to be defeated in a would be regional war, this would likely result in the US re-establishing the old pro-US Pahlavi regime in Tehran which would effectively turn back the clock, thus giving the US a far more socially sophisticated and culturally developed regional ally than Saudi Arabia. With the US more energy self-sufficient than it was in the 1970s, Saudi Arabia would no longer have much leverage against the US if a pro-US regime took power in Tehran and this is before one remembers that Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus in such a situation, Saudi Arabia could be relegated to third Middle East fiddle behind “Israel” and Iran.
Thus, while Saudi Arabia is keen to play up its eagerness to fight Iran, when it comes to fighting, Riyadh will likely constrain its anti-Iranian position to rhetoric, including in the strangest of forums, WWE professional (aka fake) wrestling where in a recent “match” in the Wahhabi Kingdom, foreign athletes pretending to wrestle made it appear as though a Saudi wrestling team beat their Iranian opponents. It seems the fact that Iranian athletes excel at real wrestling while Saudis most certainly do not, was an irony lost on both WWE’s American script writers and their Saudi audience.