Mahmoud Shoori

Between Iran and Saudi Arabia; Russia’s Tough Path for Neutrality

Date of publication : November 8, 2018 11:51 am
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Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources and chairman of the board of directors at Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco), Khalid A. Al-Falih (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a plenary session titled 'Sustainable Energy for a Changing World' as part of the 2018 Russian Energy Week international forum at the Manege Central Exhibition Hall

In October 2015, Russia’s direct military intervention in the Syrian crisis faced the balance of power in the Middle East with fundamental changes. While the Government of Assad was in a fragile condition due to facing multilateral pressures from diverse forces, from Daesh to Saudi-Turkish-Qatar-backed Islamist groups, to US-backed forces, Russia’s involvement in the Syria theater changed the balance of power to the benefit of the Assad government and its supporters including the Islamic Republic of Iran. Less than two years since then, the Russian military intervention not only degraded extensively Daesh in the region but also thoroughly removed the informal Turkish-Qatari-Saudi alliance from the Syrian developments’ orbit and failed Saudi to reach its objectives over there. Whereas, the Russian military intervention meant for Riyadh an end to the dream of regime change in Syria and to the longstanding efforts of segregation between Assad government and Iran, Moscow military involvement in the Syrian crisis was a favorable opportunity for Iran to share the considerable political and military burden of the Syrian crisis with a great power such as Russia.
 
In the first days of 2016 and three months after the Russian involvement in the Syrian crisis, Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Baqir al-Nimr, a senior cleric close to Iran, and some of his loyal companions. This move faced with harsh reactions from Iranian officials and stirred up Iranian grassroots’ and some political movements’ anger. A day after his execution, therefore, some extremist groups in Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad stormed the Saudi embassy and consulate respectively and damaged their buildings. While the government of Iran condemned the incidents and the Iranian officials attributed them to the extremists and vigilantes, the Iranian condemnation and attribution did not lead to slow down the extent of Saudi and its regional allies’ reaction against Iran. On July 3, 2016, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir severed diplomatic, trade and even aviation ties with Iran and gave Iran's entire diplomats 48 hours to immediately leave the Saudi territory.
 
Iranian-Saudi escalating tensions could probably encounter numerous regional equations with serious changes and lead to the expansion of regional instability and insecurity, protraction of Syrian crisis and pretext for more US meddlesome policy in the region; the challenges not accepted by the Russians at all. Given various reasons including contradictions in the Syria theater and strategic bonds between Saudi Arabia and the US on the one hand, and between Russia and Iran on the other hand, one conceivable option for Iran could be more apparent and serious backing from Russia against Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom was one of the major financial and military sponsors of the Assad government’s opposition and Saudi-backed forces in Syria were publicly at war with those forces enjoying the support of Russia. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, after Israel, was historically the most significant pillar of the US Middle East strategy in the past four decades. On the other side, the Islamic Republic of Iran established close ties with Russia during the entire post-Soviet era and believed to be the sole ally of Moscow in Syria’s operational field.
 
According to realist logic, it was perhaps expected that Russia pursued the “friends’ reinforcement and enemies’ debilitation” policy; however, the complexities of security equations in the Middle East on one side, and diverse interests of Russia as a global great power on the other side, have caused Russia to adopt the policy of “both this and that” so far. In that regard, regardless of all differences, Russian-Saudi relations took an improving and developing path in the course of past years. Although no reasons or justifications do exist to alter this policy, some related prospective questions are that how long Russia’s two-sided policy can continue? What obstacles and challenges exist in the way of Russia’s active neutrality to Iran-Saudi tensions? Do regional powers’ efforts for change to the balance of power in the Middle East allow Moscow to pursue its policy? Or in other words, to what extent Russia has the capability of balancer in the process of these efforts? Would Russia be able to control the balance of power in the Middle East or would that balance (conflict) of power prevail over Russia?
 
Iran, Saudi Arabia and Regional Order in the Middle East
When Hassan Rouhani talked about detente with the Saudi Kingdom in his first press conference after elected as the President of Iran in June 2013, it was expected that despite all fundamental barriers, Rouhani presidency who came up with “constructive engagement with the world” slogan in his foreign policy, would not at least end up the deterioration of the Iranian-Saudi ties. However, in less than three years, the relations between Iran and the Saudi Kingdom reached the boiling point (i.e. highly likely military conflict).
 
Immediately after his inauguration, President Rouhani started nuclear negotiations with the western powers aimed at abolishing UNSC resolutions imposed tough and diverse sanctions regime over Iran. The negotiation led to an initial agreement in April 2015 at Lausanne, Switzerland and eventually in July 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and six world powers plus the European Union’s representative was signed. According to the nuclear deal, by suspending considerable part of Iran’s nuclear activities, all international and unilateral nuclear-related sanctions lifted up. As expected, the Arab World (and Saudi Arabia at the forefront) reacted worryingly and discontent. In their perspective, the nuclear deal allows Iran to retain nuclear weapons production capabilities and simultaneously Tehran gets rid of economic sanctions. At the midst of nuclear negotiation, the Wall Street Journal daily quoted Arab and US diplomats that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE expressed their concern about the possibility of Iran’s influence and hegemony over the region to Washington, as the chances of an agreement over Iran’s nuclear activities have been reaching high. Few days before the interim agreement between Iran and P5+1 in Lausanne, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator, expressed his concern that the nuclear deal with Iran may spur proxy wars in the Middle East as “Sunni Muslims try to counter an increasingly wealthy and powerful Shi’ite Iran”. Referring to Iran as “a sophisticated country, with a vision, more and more powerful in the Middle East”, he emphasized that “on the Sunni side there might be a temptation for some to support extremist groups to fight against Iran by proxy”. At the same time, the Guardian wrote the Arab countries overtly and covertly feared that “the US is bent on a rapprochement with Tehran, not so much at any price, but certainly at the expense of its long-standing [Persian] Gulf allies”.
 
Indeed, the hopes of some Arab countries for containment of and more restrictions over Iran were lost and growingly increased their concern about the change to the strategic balance in the region, as Iran and the six global great powers reached a nuclear deal. Since 2003 that the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled down thanks to US military intervention, the perception of Iran’s becoming unrivaled in the region has turned to one of Arab World’s critical concern. Empowering Shi’ite in Iraq, due to their quantitative merit in terms of population, as well as close bonds of most Iraqi Shi’ite groups with Iran, even with the vast US military presence in Iraq, gave this opportunity to the Iranian leaders to reestablish close and friendly ties with Iraq after years of the severity of relations.
 
Despite having a golden era of relations with Saddam’s Iraq during Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Saudi Arabia cut ties with Baghdad after his invasion of Kuwait in 1991. However, Iran cordial relationship with post-Saddam Iraq meant for Riyadh replacement of one challenger for another. In other words, despite the desirability of Saddam’s Ba'athist ambitious regime overthrow for Saudi Arabia, close-to-Iran Shiite empowerment in Iraq meant for Riyadh jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. That’s why the Saudi Kingdom refrained from the opening embassy in Baghdad until 2015. They believed US policies were effectively pushing Iraq towards Iran.
 
After Shiite came to power in Iraq, the western countries, Israeli officials and some Arab states pursued the policy of “Shiite Crescent phobia”. The term “Shiite Crescent” first coined by King Abdullah of Jordan in 2004, referred to the establishment of Iraqi Shiite government, which is loyal to Iran. The King warned that in case of Shiite government in Baghdad, a Shiite crescent will be shaped through connecting Iran-Iraq-Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and explained Iran’s objective of having relations with post-Saddam Iraq is to materialize Shiite Crescent concept. After King Abdullah of Jordan and the King of Saudi Arabia talking about Iran’s intention to pursue the process of Shiism among Arab Sunnis. In 2006, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also said: “Shiites [in Iraq] and across the Middle East are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries.” Israeli President Shimon Peres believed that “World will see sooner or later that Iran attempts to conquer the entire Middle East”. The core objective of these concerns was to convince the US leaders and the international community for taking further decisive actions against Iran; however, the fearmongers tried to instill a sectarian war into the mind of majorities of Sunnis in the Muslim World aimed at detaching themselves from Iran and depicting her as a state who is determined to wage such war.
 
In 2010, the genesis of political developments in many Arab countries led to toppling down some conservative regimes including in Tunisia and Egypt, opened new space for the rivalry between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Although these developments overthrew some decades-old Saudi allies in the region, the extension of these developments to the Syrian borders gave Saudis the opportunity to compensate parts of imbalance of power between Tehran and Riyadh through backing Syrian opposition and attempt to oust Bashar Assad from power. Nevertheless, Iran’s insistence on keeping Assad in power, on the one hand, and simultaneous developments in Yemen which let pro-Iran Houthis take power in Sana after some while, on the other hand, exacerbated Saudi concerns over the inability to contain Iran in the region. Moreover, the perception which Obama administration lacked enough determination to adopt more meddlesome policies in the Middle East and back U.S. Arab allies in order to attempt to resolve Iran’s nuclear issue, moved anti-Iran Arab states to use instruments which had no achievements but escalation of extremism and terrorism as well as rising Daesh in the region. The latter led to conquer vast areas of Iraq and Syria from 2013 to 2016 was definitely impossible without the military and financial support of some Arab countries.
 
At the turn of 2014, the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and young and ambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s role taking in Saudi politics and policy-making, first as a deputy crown prince and defense minister, entered the Iranian-Saudi rivalry and confrontation into a new level. At the very same year, the death of a great number of pilgrims, whom more than 460 deceased pilgrims had Iranian nationality, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina reached the tension between two states at its highest level. Finally, as stated earlier, after Saudi Shiite leader Sheikh Baqir al-Nimr’s execution and subsequently attack to the Saudi embassy building in Tehran in January 2016, Saudi Kingdom severed all ties with Iran. In the meanwhile, Donald Trump victory in US presidential election in late 2016 boosted the confidence of Saudi officials and some of their regional allies.
 
In the course of past two years, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, de facto ruler of the Kingdom, pursued at least three critical policies aimed at changing the regional strategic balance and controlling/confronting Iran:
 
- The uncompetitive increase of Saudi military might through modern weaponry; contracts worth $400 billion to buy US arms in a course of ten years as well as other artillery contracts with the UK and even Russia indicates the decisive determination of new Saudi Crown Prince to acquire strategic edge via modern and new weaponry. The unprecedented arms contracts not only fan the flames of regional arms race but practically encourage the arms dealers to increasingly support the Saudi Kingdom.
 
- New military coalition against Iran. As U.S. President Trump arrived Saudi Arabia on the first leg of his first foreign trip since taking office, the Saudi Kingdom invited more than fifty leaders of Muslim countries to participate in US-Arab Islamic Summit in Riyadh, exchanging views on “current affairs in the Middle East”, “fight against terrorism and extremism” and “increasing impact of Iran in the region and her ties with terrorist groups”. The Summit was an overture to a new vast Saudi-led military coalition, known as the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), which to confront Iran’s influence in the region was deemed its most key objective. In less than seven months, Saudi Kingdom held the first meeting of IMCTC defense ministers in Riyadh.
 
- Attempt to change Russia's Middle Eastern policy. While the Syrian crisis was assumed to be of secondary importance in Obama's Middle East policy, Russia's support or lack of support for the Assad government could have played a decisive role in regional equations. That is why one of the goals of Saudi Arabia was to persuade Russian leaders not to back the Assad government since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. This policy has been pursued more seriously since Mohamed bin Salman’s coming to Saudi politics in January 2015. Mohamed bin Salman has traveled to Russia twice since 2015. In addition, his father, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was also the first Saudi king who traveled to Russia in this period. During both visits to Russia, Mohamed bin Salman, as the Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia, presented seductive proposals for arms purchase as well as diversified economic cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia. As Mohamed bin Salman stated in his visit to St. Petersburg in June 2015, these proposals aimed to prevent the formation of an alliance between Russia and Iran in Syria and also Russia's possible opposition to Saudi actions, in Yemen in particular. Although Saudi Arabia did not need the international support of Russia, disagreement of this country- as a member of the UN Security Council and a major global power- could pose some problems for Riyadh.
 
It is not much difficult to evaluate the extent to which Saudi Arabia is approaching its goals through these policies. Considering that the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the US and Israel, and not Saudi Arabia, its opponent in the region, large arms purchases of this country neither add much to Iran's concerns nor make substantial changes to the regional strategic balance. In fact, the strategic balance in the region between the Islamic Republic of Iran on the one hand and the coalition of the US and Israel on the other has never been symmetrical balance and has gone forward assuming an inequality or imbalance of arms. Therefore, Saudi Arabia arms purchases please arms dealers rather than to concern Iran.
 
Saudi Arabia's attempts to create a political and military coalition against Iran have not had so many achievements so far. Although these two meetings were attended by representatives from most Islamic countries, except Iran and Syria, feasible results of these meetings are not clear. To create a military alliance against Iran, Saudi Arabia has called for help from countries that all of them either are tackling major problems or basically are not considered a major power in regional equations. Apart from the US and Israel whose hostility towards the Islamic Republic of Iran is beyond Saudi Arabia, even the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council states, as the most important regional allies of Saudi Arabia, do not accompany this country in the escalation of confrontation with Iran. Most of these countries will suffer more than any other country from the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia and, as a result, are not interested in military conflict with Tehran. Besides, some of these Arab countries instead of helping Saudi Arabia need security assistance from Riyadh. The intense tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as the two main members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, within a few months of the Riyadh summit not only was a severe blow to this anti-Iran coalition but also put an end to the coalition and cooperation of these two countries in Syria to overthrow the Assad government.
 
Unlike other countries, Turkey's accompaniment to Saudi Arabia could signal some messages to the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, despite the participation of the Turkish Foreign Minister at the US-Arab Islamic Summit, it was highly unlikely that this country would stay on the side of Saudi front against Iran for various reasons such as Turkey's reluctance to be named after Saudi Arabia, political and religious differences between the two countries on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the existence of diverse links between Iran and Turkey. Subsequent events such as the tripartite talks between Iran, Russia, and Turkey and the intensified dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia as a result of conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Qatar showed issues, concerns, and interests of Turkey in the Middle East are more complicated and comprehensive that to be in harmony with Saudi Arabia's anti-Iranian goals and policies in all dimensions and areas.
 
There are also many doubts about the United States and its commitment to Saudi Arabia's goals in the region. Moreover, more than anyone else, American observers believe that Tramp’s game in Saudi Arabia is despicable and unacceptable. Undoubtedly, no one believes that Trump is looking for a battle between good and evil, as he stressed in Riyadh. Finally, this action of Trump is attributed to his business-oriented temper. Although he may sometimes threaten Iran or show his power in Syria in exchange for a bribe of several hundred billion he received, these measures will not reduce the burden on Saudi Arabia’s shoulder.
 
The diplomacy of Saudi Arabia to make a gap between Iran and Russia has not come to fruition yet and will not affect Iran-Russia relations in the future for several reasons. Russia's first use of veto in late February 2017 in favor of the Islamic Republic of Iran during the British efforts to approve a resolution that accused Iran of sending artilleries to Yemen showed that the Russians will have a decisive response to any action that would undermine the Islamic Republic of Iran or open the way for further pressure on Iran. However, backgrounds of Iran-Russia relations are stronger and more fundamental to be negatively affected by the short-term and cross-sectional affection of the Saudis.   
 
Improvement in Russian-Saudi Relations: Moscow or Riyadh Policy?
At the time when the Saudis tried to make use of all their possible means and capacities to confront Iran, the type of relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and between Russia and Iran, on the other hand, could be very important. Historically, Russia and Saudi Arabia had no political relations prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and their relationship was limited to the presence of a small number of Muslims from the USSR at the annual Hajj pilgrimage. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two sides established political relations and Abdullah, the then Crown Prince, paid a visit to Russia for the first time in 2003. In return, Putin, the President of the Russian Federation traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2007 as the first Russian official to do so. During the last meeting at this level, the 81-year-old King Salman of Saudi Arabia was the first Saudi King since 1932, when this country was established, to visit Russia on 4 October 2017 in response to an invitation from President Putin. During the past few years, especially after Mohammad bin Salman came to the political scene of Saudi Arabia as the Crown Prince and Defense Minister, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have upgraded the level of their relations and expanded their cooperation in various areas with greater pace. The two trips Mohammad bin Salman made to Russia resulted in a memorandum of understanding for the construction of several nuclear power plants, agreement to purchase Russia’s S-400 advanced anti-missile defense system, multi-billion dollar investments by Saudi Arabia in Russia, and in some other agreements all of which suggest the inclination of both countries for changing their relations in the past. In his visit to Russia in May, Mohammad bin Salman said that Russian-Saudi relations were very successful and progressing and, while pointing to differences between the two countries, emphasized that there were mechanisms for Russia and Saudi Arabia to resolve their differences and that the two countries had many common interests. He also pointed out that Russia and Saudi Arabia had jointly achieved many goals and would try to expand their cooperation.
 
Despite the indirect confrontations between the two countries in the political and military struggles in Syria, the parallel attempts of the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia to improve their relations can be questionable to many outside observers. Why have Russian and Saudi leaders preferred not to extend their differences in Syria to other areas? Why did Russia sell its S-300 anti-missile system to Iran (its most important ally in Syria) after numerous twists and turns and following many years of negotiations but readily sold the more advanced model (although the agreement has not materialized yet) to Iran’s rival, and one of the main two U.S. allies, in the region? Why has Russia not attempted to use the Security Council resolution tool in relation to the problem in Yemen in order to moderate Saudi policies in Syria? These and other questions have probably been more problematic for Iranian officials and analysts than for anybody else in recent years. Iran and Russia have so far have led the most important war in the Middle East, the war in Syria, towards achieving their own interests and, therefore, it was expected that they would increase their cooperation in other areas so as not let the U.S. pursue its goals in the region without any hindrance. To answer and deal with the questions and ambiguities, it seems that we must first answer the question of whether improvement in the relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia is more a Russian policy or a Saudi one. In other words, which state, Russia or Saudi Arabia, does benefit more from improving and upgrading their relations?   
With respect to strategic interests, the two countries have currently found the following four areas of common interests (at least periodically):
 
1. They do not need a new enemy. In the increasing number of crises the two countries face regionally and globally, Russia is not Saudi Arabia’s main problem nor is Saudi Arabia Russia’s. Russia had tried for almost two decades after the collapse of the USSR to keep its safe distance from the developments in the Middle East. However, what happened in Syria and the rising of Daesh in the region did not allow Russia to maintain this not very far nor very close distance. Military intervention in Syria, under conditions that Russia did not experience economically favorable conditions due to US and Europe sanctions, could have unpleasant consequences for Russian leaders. Therefore, since Russia was in no way ready for greater involvement in the Middle Eastern developments, direct face off with Saudi Arabia would not only probably prolong the Syrian Crisis and increase US incentives to support its allies but might also provoke parts of extremist groups in the region to enter and fight in Russia under the financial auspices of Saudi Arabia. Likewise, Saudis which had started an exhausting confrontation with Iran, inclined to intensify enmity with Russia which could lead to greater Russian support for Iran. On the contrary, the Saudis have attempted in recent years to prevent the formation of a coalition between Iran and Russia by establishing closer relations with Russia.   
 
2. The drop in oil prices must stop. Oil prices followed a falling trend under the worst possible conditions both for Russia and for Saudi Arabia. The heavy costs of the war in Yemen, the purchase of new armaments for confronting Iran, and some other economic problems did not any longer allow Saudi Arabia to support lower oil prices because it could probably put further economic pressure both on Iran and on Russia. For Russia also, reduced oil prices concurrent with the beginning of western sanctions could redouble its problems. Therefore, the question of energy and oil prices, which were once a cause of rivalry between Russia and Saudi Arabia, turned into areas for greater cooperation between them.
 
3. It was necessary for the allies to somewhat moderate their behavior. For a short period of time, the Saudis were greatly worried that the Obama Administration, in its attempts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, would leave Saudi Arabia alone in Middle East crises. Consequently, some analysts believe that one of the goals Saudi Arabia has in establishing closer relations with Russia is to moderate American behavior. Furthermore, Russia was also worried that Iran would get closer to western countries after the nuclear agreement, and uncontrolled Iranian power in the region, considering the Iranian motto of Israel’s destruction, was not considered desirable by the Russians. For this very reason, it seems that Russia has a regional balance of power in mind in its attempts to establish closer relations with Saudi Arabia.  
 
4. Arms sales and purchase is a mutually beneficial deal: Russia has been hoping for years to sell arms to the Middle East, and rich Arab countries have always been good customers for new armaments. Although western countries enjoy absolute superiority in this market, yet Russia has always been searching for a way to penetrate it. Now that Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to Russian armaments, Russia does not see any reasons why it should not reject these requests for weapons.  
 
Hard Road of Moderation
Enjoying concurrent benefits in cooperating with both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia has so far guided Russia toward a positive, nonaligned, and moderate policy. Although at times Russian leaders have spoken of their inclination to mediate between the two countries, yet neither do short-term Russian interests necessitate greatly their intervention in this matter nor does this intervention appear possible. Nevertheless, intensification of the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia can undoubtedly make regional conditions hard for Russia to play a role. Any direct faceoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia will change the regional conditions in the Middle East and also the international power balance. It may also, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Israel, force the U.S. into a war for which no easy end can be imagined. During the past year, Saudi Arabian and Israeli officials made an unprecedented effort to utilize the opportunity created by the presence of Trump at the White House to do away with the Iran problem once and for all. Repeated meetings and consultations between American and Saudi officials, the rare expansion of military cooperation between the two countries, and also the overt and covert cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel suggest the hope these countries have of hasty and ambitious planning for ending the Iran problem. With the completion of an anti-Iranian team at the White House and the formation of the most anti-Iranian American Administration, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel know that if they cannot use the present opportunity they may not get another similar one until an unforeseeable future. In other words, if these attempts cannot yield results this time they probably never will. In fact, Saudi Arabia, vainly and simplemindedly, and Israel, through desperation and hopelessness, have embarked on a dangerous game the continuation of which will not benefit anybody, especially the Russians. During a quarter of a century that has passed since the formation of the Russian Federation, the Iran problem has always been one of the most important reasons for the attention paid by the West to Russia. In many cases, the U.S., Europe, Israel, and even Saudi Arabia have had negotiations with Russia because it has been one of the most important countries influencing the process of managing the “Iran Problem.” Consequently, any attempt at omitting this opportunity will strongly weaken Russia’s global status and will leave this country alone against the West and the extremist regional movement.      
 
On the regional scale, Saudi Arabia is intensifying pressures on Iran in an attempt at stabilizing its hegemonic role (or, better put, its role as the Gendarme) in the region. This will eventually ensure American interests and weaken those of Russia. Russian leaders also are probably aware that Russia has a periodic position in the strategic thinking of Saudi leaders and, if they put an end to the Iran Problem, they will not have many reasons for continuing their cooperation with Russia. For Russia also, Saudi Arabia will be a good colleague so long as it does not want to fundamentally change the strategic and regional balance.
 
Finally, although expansion of cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia, especially in armaments and/or nuclear power plants, is not pleasant to Iranian officials, it does not worry them either. Iranians understand Russian considerations and problems in expanding relations with countries such as the USA, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, although they naturally do not approve of this expansion in relations. The relation between Russia and Saudi Arabia is not necessarily an anti-Iranian relation, and a good relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia may, in some cases, be useful and influential in reducing regional tensions. Nevertheless, periodic and short-term interests should not lead to paying insufficient attention to strategic and long-term issues.  
 
As stated, Saudi Arabia has never been Iran’s problem in the Middle East although Iran may be the most important problem for Saudi Arabia at present. In fact, in order to achieve their ambitious goals in the region, the Saudis are trying to increase the U.S. involvement in the region more than before through highlighting the Iranian threat.
 
 


Mahmoud Shoori is the senior fellow at the Institute for Iran-Eurasia Studies (IRAS).
 
 
 
 
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Author : Mahmoud Shoori