He sat like a peacock, fanning out his feathers as he warned and threatened the Iranians that an attack on Saudi Arabia will result in Iran’s destruction, as Riyadh possesses a huge arsenal of weapons and fierce men who will retaliate strongly, making Iran a mere memory. “He” is the arrogant Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman, who recently sought refuge from the international community after two pumping stations carrying oil to the port of Yanbu on the Red Sea coast were attacked by seven Houthi aircraft. The Houthis, of course, follow the same ideology as Iran and are one of its proxies in the region.
The aircraft must have flown over Saudi territory through Saudi airspace for around 900 kilometres without being intercepted by the US-installed Patriot missile defence system or detected by the US-made radars or any other defence systems filling Saudi army storage depots. That enormous arsenal of which Bin Salman boasts was not used, nor did his valiant warriors spring into action.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Reproach Institute, which specialises in monitoring military expenditure in state budgets, Saudi Arabia spends trillions of dollars on arms. It is the largest military spender in the Middle East and the fourth in the world. Where were its fierce soldiers when they were needed? Why didn’t they thwart the attack with their internationally-banned bombs that they use to kill thousands of innocent Yemeni children? We did not see or hear about any retaliation or response to the attack. Instead, we saw Saudi Arabia yelling and complaining about Iran to the UN Security Council. Now, after everyone has abandoned the Crown Prince and left him exposed, he is calling for two summits: one for the Gulf and one for all Arab states, both on 30 May. He is taking advantage of Muslim emotions during the holy month of Ramadan and their reverence for the Ka’ba by holding the summits in Makkah.
Bin Salman has tarnished the global image and status of Saudi Arabia, the land of the Two Holy Mosques, and made it a laughing stock. US President Donald Trump constantly insults and offends the Saudi King, claiming that the US protects the Saudis and so they need to pay up; that he is “milking them”. Trump, who usually does not hesitate to reveal the content of his telephone calls with King Salman and demands payment in exchange for protection, hesitated on this occasion to call Riyadh after the Houthi attack to reiterate his support for the House of Saud. On a related issue, Trump even gave his direct phone number to the Swiss in order to pass it on to the Iranians and urge them to negotiate with him. He wants to reach a new nuclear deal with Tehran. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not hesitate to announce that the US does not want a war against Iran, but is only deploying troops to protect its interests if Iran makes good on its threats and attacks them.
I think that Iran’s timing of the attack on the Saudi oil facilities was undeniably clever as it was after the US sanctions against Iran and the renewed economic war against it. The attack also came after the start of a US military and media campaign demonising the Islamic Republic, so was the Houthi attack a message from Iran “to whom it may concern”? I believe so. It sent an unmistakable message to the Gulf countries that the US cannot protect them in the event of a war and that Iran’s missiles are not too far from the heart of Saudi Arabia.
This does not mean, however, that there are signs of a real war between the two sides. We are only witnessing periodic clashes and threats that we have grown accustomed to since the fall of the Shah and the success of Khomeini’s revolution in 1979, although the current media outbursts are more intense.
A war between Iran and the US is not an option at the moment, as stated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This is Washington’s game being used to exploit the Gulf States. It will also have other objectives, such as providing direct support for US plans in the Middle East, which Iran has done since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It also supports the fight against the Syrian revolution and the support of the killer Bashar Al-Assad, all of which serves US interests in the region.
Iran is a valuable strategic asset for America and Israel and cannot be sacrificed in any way. It is the scarecrow exploited by America to intimidate the Gulf States and blackmail them with multi-billion dollar arms deals. The former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, declared after the October 1973 war that the Arab-Israeli conflict had ended and the region had entered a 100-year war between Sunnis and the Shia. Iran is the sectarian bogeyman that drives wedges between the Shia and Sunnis and diverts attention from the Palestine-Israel conflict, which is the Arab world’s historical conflict. That is why Iran was allowed to control four Arab capitals in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
Neither the US nor Iran wants a war because they know that its material, human and political costs would be very high. If war does break out, no one can guarantee how it will go, where it will spread, how it will end, and in what way it will be fought. This is especially true since Iran has become a major regional force in the area with military proxies around the region. Furthermore, the US is no longer the only player in the region, as there have been Western studies mentioning the decline of US power and influence in the Middle East and the rise of two regional international powers, Russia and Iran. Russia has returned to the region and has a foothold in Syria. In addition, China will veto any American decision to wage war against Iran in the UN Security Council.
US President Donald Trump, remember, promised voters during his election campaign that he would not enter engage in any war nor would he deploy American soldiers outside of the country. He vowed not to repeat the actions of George W Bush in Iraq and claimed that the Gulf countries should pay for the expenses of the Iraq War.
There are those who believe, however, that Iran’s role in the region is over and that the chicken that laid golden eggs for the Americans is due to be slaughtered, taking advantage of its gains in the Middle East. It is no secret that there are two projects competing with each other there: the US-Israel project, and the Iranian counter-project. However, Washington is using the Iranian project to serve its own interests and when its objectives are achieved, it will take Iran out of the game.
The question is, how and where do the Arabs fit in with these two projects? The Arabs are lost between the two and no longer have a place in the big game. No one takes them into consideration or values their input. They are surplus to requirements. This is due to their foolish leaders who have not learned any lessons from history, the most recent of which was Saddam Hussein, the bogeyman created by the US and used to scare the region until he was no longer useful. The Americans then used Arab money to fight and eliminate him, but instead of the US handing Iraq over to the Arabs, it handed it to their enemy, Iran.
Now they are falling into the same trap and making the same mistake by insisting on being the ball kicked around by the various players. And so they are being kicked left, right and centre; all they get is to pay the price of the game. When will the Arab leaders understand that they are not part of the game, even though they own the court and pay the main players?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.