Saudi Arabia's folly, Iran's smart diplomacy

MOJTABA BARGHANDAN
Published 14.12.2017 00:41
Updated 14.12.2017 02:25

Trump's diplomacy of tension signifies a significant turn for the worse in the region and a flash point for the escalation of existing rivalries, and having supported Saudi Arabia's folly, it will kneel down before Iran's smart diplomacy

Now the president, Donald Trump has adopted diplomacy of tension since the first days of his presidential campaign. On March 9, 2016, Trump said on CNN: "I think Islam hates us. There's something there that, there's a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us." Trump equals radicalism to holy Islam. Similarly, during a presidential debate, Trump said Saudis were "people that push gays off buildings" and "kill women and treat women horribly," according to the Washington Post. He also pointed out that the Saudi government had ties to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Trump described Saudi Arabia as "the world's biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petrodollars, our very own money, to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people." And now, the U.S. diplomacy of tension ignited Lebanon under the Saudi umbrella supported by Israel.

After hitting the 100-day milestone in April, Trump set off on his first overseas trip as president in May, with his first stop in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia and Israel, and then off to Europe in Belgium and Italy. His first trip abroad was seen as an opportunity for him to reaffirm the country's leadership role in the world and convey a message of solidarity to allies and build on vital relationships. His visit to the Middle East could be seen either as a traditional convention in the White House or a new enmity start-up against the whole Middle East and Muslim world.

Then came harsh policies banning people from many Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S., and a series of events followed employed and supported by the U.S, which directly or indirectly affected the existing order of disorder in the region.

After Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia to promote moderate Islam as firmly favored by Saudi Arabia, the evil seedlings of his antagonistic diplomacy toward the Muslim world began. He pushed the button by designing a chain of interconnected events, which seem to have started with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's unexpected resignation, which was very unnatural. It seems that Saudi Arabia, like Hariri, had only two choices to lose or cooperate. It is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's end. However, the resignation has already seriously affected the existing balance in Lebanon's domestic issues and the whole region. It demonstrates the formation of new anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah policies. Evidence for this argument is that Representative Edward R. Royce, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, recently issued a veiled threat to Lebanon over Hezbollah's role in government, according to Foreign Policy. Royce called Hezbollah's presence in the government as a political party one of the great misgivings he has on Lebanon because this has increased their political and diplomatic influence. Similar were Trump's efforts to persuade U.S. Congress to approve a bill to intensify new sanction on Hezbollah and Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and pay compensation to the families of the 241 U.S. service members killed in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, as U.S. President George W. Bush did in 2008, aiming to renew accusations of Iran and Hezbollah with some other evidence.

Thus, some basic scenarios can be raised. First, all these events indicate the beginning of a cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Second, a policy of threats as the sword of Damocles over Iran's head to push it back to a pre-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) atmosphere and to lessen Iran's influence in the region. Third, it is the beginning of a long-term policy regarding the Middle East, considering Trump's four-year term in office until 2020. Fourth, it is deepening the existing gap in the region through some new, emerging states, which is reminiscent of Arab nationalism and, fifth, the question arises here whether the evil United States-Saudi Arabia-Israel triangle is seeking a way to form a new political coalition in which Hezbollah has no place.

Whichever scenario one picks, there is a single message: Saudi Arabia's folly, and the West and the U.S. moving closer to their decades-long ambitions for the Middle East. However, it stimulates Iran's smart diplomacy.

On the other hand, the nature of Trump's carrot and stick diplomacy with Saudi Arabia has been unconventional and unseen, at least in previous U.S. administrations. Trump considers it necessary to not play chess like his predecessor President Barack Obama, and rather take harsher stances both in rhetoric and action. Not being able to convince and satisfy different parts of society and even his supporters on American domestic policy, according to PBS News Hour, "70 percent of Americans think civility has gotten worse since Trump took office, and independent voters (49 percent) soured on Trump's handling of the economy."

Trump's job approval rating remains stuck at historic lows. "In March, only 38 percent held a favorable view," as reported by PBS News Hour. Similarly, "61 percent of adults in the U.S. believe the country is headed in the wrong direction." The best choice for Trump was of course Saudi Arabia's folly, since Saudi Arabia has lost its credibility in Syria and Iraq and is deeply engaged in a war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is stuck in the Yemen quagmire and has inflicted serious blows so far. "Riyadh is desperate to reach a solid achievement that could help end this costly quagmire," the World Post reported. "The Saudi army is a classic one, which enjoys no particular sophistication, and, with the war against Yemen, this country [Saudi Arabia] has had itself plunged into a quagmire," said Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the second-in-command of the IRGC, in an interview with al-Mayadeen in 2015. "The aerial aggression against Yemen is not going to resolve the crisis in the country," he said, adding: "The Saudi aggression is aimed at covering up Saudi Arabia's domestic problems and crises." Similarly in 2015, soon after the Saudi coalition initiated the war on Yemen, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote a message to the U.N. secretary-general offering a four-point peace plan including an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian assistance, intra-Yemeni dialog and inclusive government. In his recent tweet, Zarif pointed to Iran's sustainable policy on the region and Yemeni crisis, reiterating that over two-and-a-half years and many lives later, that plan is still valid today. Iran has always suggested to the Saudis that the only way to get rid of the crises in the region is regional countries' independence and respect for national sovereignty in addition to negotiations to achieve a collective impact.

So, the ground was soon provided for Trump to kill two birds with one stone, to fool the Saudis by giving imaginary support and to make Israelis more motivated and satisfied. Then, it continued with the Qatar crisis and Hariri's controversial resignation. By choosing Lebanon as the starting point, Trump sent his overt harsh message not only to Iran and Hezbollah, but also to major countries such as Turkey. There are as many as three major players on the chessboard on one side; i.e., the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel, which forms an evil triangle against Iran on the other side, at least for a while. Other countries such as Turkey will be pushed into the crises, as Turkey today would like to have a more positive role and impact on regional affairs. It looks like the region's greatest rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has become more toxic in the past few days and will see more in the coming days, having repercussions across the Middle East and the world in terms of security, economic and energy issues.

Arab League foreign ministers' recent harsh criticism of Iran and Hezbollah is part of this anti-Iran policy. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies pushed for unity against Iran. Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo in support of the U.S.-Saudi Arabia-Israel triangle. While the Muslim world is in serious need of compatibility and interaction more than ever, at least, in recent decades, the move proves to be yet another Saudi folly.

But how does Iran employ smart diplomacy, and what is its significance? Iran has played a significant role in evolving diplomacy in the 21st century to make it far-reaching and efficient and to make diplomacy serve our country and the region in terms of national security, peace and stability as the essence of foreign policy objectives.

Through smart diplomacy, Iran has provided the grounds for building or reviving trust through the nature of its policy in the region. Iran's readiness to sit at the negotiation table with the P5+1 is clear proof of the nature of Iran's smart diplomacy. Its interactions with Russia and Turkey through the series of Astana talks are more proof. Iran has adopted smart diplomacy alongside its traditional diplomacy to further its positive engagement in the region. As such, Iran has always preferred diplomacy to tension. Diplomacy-oriented suggestions put forward by Iranian officials to Saudi officials on different occasion since Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's assassination in 2005, the counteractive stances by the Saudis after Saad Hariri won the election on June 9, 2009, and later on that pushed the tide of developments to the Saudi side, has never received a positive response from Saudi Arabia. In a similar vein, from December 2006 to March 2007, Iran multiplied its diplomatic efforts through a series of diplomatic overture with Saudi officials to prevent the escalation of the crisis. In this regard, official visits to Lebanon by Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iranian parliament; former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and Dr. Ali Akbar Velayeti, an advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam's government, are some examples. On the other hand, because of the political structure in Lebanon, Iran has continuous relations with all political and religious personalities from both the March 8 and March 14 coalitions to strengthen its ties with all sides in Lebanon to resolve obstacles to promote cooperation. The Lebanese president has always reiterated that Iran respects Lebanon's independence and sovereignty. The latest was Velayeti's visit to Hariri in his prime ministerial office in Beirut just 24 hours before Hariri announced his resignation in Saudi Arabia.

These is evidence of the argument of Saudi Arabia's folly that will face Iran's smart diplomacy. Of course, Iran's smart diplomacy might be strengthened by the support of regional countries such as Turkey and its interaction as the only way to bring peace with the hope of regional collective cooperation rather than separate engagement or new seditious moves against each other.

* Iranian Middle East political and security analyst

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