March 17, 2015


Tehran's success, Riyadh's failure (Spengler, 3/16/15, Asia Times)

Iran is infiltrating Saudi Arabia's Shi'te-majority Eastern Province (also its most oil rich) to agitate against Saudi control, and sponsored a coup against a Saudi-allied regime in Yemen. The report attributes nothing but good intentions to the Tehran regime, and worries only that its policies will have "negative secondary consequences" due to its (understandable, of course) efforts to "protect and power Shia communities." Iran's primary motivation, in the administration's view, is to be a good neighbor and a fountain of good will. Neville Chamberlain never said such nice things about Hitler. 

A sign of Saudi Arabia's waning influence was Pakistan's decision March 15 to refuse a Saudi request for Pakistani troops to deploy on its border with Yemen, now controlled by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. A senior Pakistani official told the local press, "Pakistan would not rush to join the anti-Iran alliance that is being forged," in the wake of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Saudi Arabia last week. "We cannot afford to involve ourselves in the disputes among the Muslim countries," the official said, adding that Pakistan could spare no additional troops for Saudi Arabia. 

That is a serious rebuff for Riyadh, which reportedly financed Pakistan's nuclear weapons program as a last-ditch guarantee of its own security. As Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote March 12 in The Diplomat, "Pakistan may be Saudi Arabia's best bet for a strong long-term security guarantee":

Pakistan has long had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and has been involved in protecting that country and the House of Saud. Pakistan has much friendlier relations with Iran than Saudi Arabia does, but ultimately it is more dependent on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, for example, gave oil to Pakistan in 1998 to help Pakistan weather international sanctions against it for conducting a nuclear test. The Saudis also saved Nawaz Sharif after he was overthrown in a coup in 1999, and he is thus beholden to them.

Pakistan may have been Saudi Arabia's best bet, but it is a bet that has not paid off.

9-11 presented the West with two intertwined problems : first, the Wahabbist/salafist variant of Sunni Islam had to be crushed; second, the peoples of the Middle East had to be moved towards self-determination, the same way the people of Eastern Europe had ten years earlier.  

For obvious reasons, Iran was the natural ally in both these regards. However, also for obvious reasons, trapproachment and alliance with Iran wasn't going to be easy and turning on the Sa'uds was going to be difficult.

But it all worked out quite predictably in the end.  All that remains to actually topple the Sa'udi regime.


Will a nuke deal invite Iran into the international community? : Agreement over nuclear program could open up closer ties between Tehran and the rest of the world (ADAM SCHRECK AND DAN PERRY, March 17, 2015, Times of Israel)

There is tremendous mutual incentive for normalizing business ties with Iran. After many years of being largely cut off from the West, the country is ripe for foreign investment and a quick improvement of infrastructure, and its oil resources make it a draw.

The population is large -- some 80 million people -- and reasonably well educated, with some 85 percent literacy and the average person receiving 15 years of schooling. Per capita income is just around $5,000 per person, but with cost of living factored in that money goes a lot further than it would in the West -- a sign of a distorted economy where change could happen quickly.

"Many people are already making plans for Iran's integration into the regional and world economy, particularly the Europeans and the Asians, who see Iran as an unprecedented opportunity to do business," said Dubai-based geopolitical analyst Theodore Karasik. "Because the country's infrastructure is literally 30 years behind, every sector or commodity is open ... Iran is already preparing for this."

For now, the short-term impact is ending the sanctions, which hammered the Iranian currency and caused unemployment and misery. The economic deals that follow will likely be a basis for greater ties with the world -- especially if post-nuclear-deal Iran takes steps to further open its economy.

Majority Persian Iran has cast an enormous shadow on the neighboring Arab world, in part by playing on the centuries-old split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

It has a powerful proxy militia in Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group, which it arms, funds, trains and guides. This has helped Lebanon's Shiites -- who enjoy a plurality over the Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Druse -- dominate the country. It has kept Syria's Bashar Assad -- whose minority Alawite sect is a Shiite offshoot -- in power by direct financial backing and by having Hezbollah fight alongside his forces. Hezbollah occasionally embroils Lebanon in ruinous conflict with Israel as well, and is blamed for terrorist attacks from Bulgaria to Buenos Aires. In addition, Iran is believed to indirectly back Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have in recent months taken over much of the country and displaced the government from the capital, Sanaa.

But there have also been common interests with the West. Iran and Washington cooperated closely against Afghanistan's Taliban in 2001. In a new twist, Iran is proving critical to helping the Shiite-led authorities in Iraq fight Islamic State militants. Iran's goal is to help fellow Shiites and strengthen its own influence, but it also presents its actions as part of the world's fight with what it casts as a toxic distortion of Islam. And while Iran's theocracy can seem oppressive to the Western eye, oppressive religious rule in Saudi Arabia has not kept the US from making the kingdom a close ally.

These kinds of complexities may coax the West to get back together with a nation whose political vocabulary labels the United States "the Great Satan."

Posted by at March 17, 2015 1:16 PM

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