Fear and loathing in Riyadh--of Tehran.
Mar 23, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 26 • By OLIVIER GUITTA
To counter Iran, Saudi Arabia has built a Sunni axis, cultivating relations with the six Gulf monarchies (though Qatar is wobbly), Jordan, and Egypt. This development was supported by the Bush administration and even implicitly by Israel. (High-level "secret" meetings between Saudis and Israelis have taken place since 2006, and it is not by chance that Riyadh publicly supported Jerusalem in its war against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.)
At this point though, the Saudis are concerned about the Obama administration's overtures to Iran and are afraid that a deal will be done to their detriment. Hence the Saudi diplomatic offensive to rally support in the region. Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal recently exhorted his Arab counterparts to stand up to Iran's regional and nuclear ambitions. And Riyadh is courting Iran's main ally in the Middle East, Syria, in the hope of isolating Tehran: The March 11 meeting in Riyadh between King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, along with the heads of state of Egypt and Kuwait, suggested a rapprochement.
Tehran's two-pronged strategy of military/terrorist expansion and Shiite proselytizing is aimed at controlling the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia is seeking to defend itself, both physically and spiritually. Riyadh's jitters are a reminder that the Iranian regime remains a source of concern not just in Western capitals but also in large portions of the Muslim world.
Olivier Guitta is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism