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The Saudi-Iranian Axis - Netanyahu and Biden humiliated
Articles on Iran before 2023

  • (april 2023) The Saudi-Iranian Axis - Netanyahu and Biden humiliated
    Thanks to their vast oil reserves, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the natural juggernauts of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is a very young country, Iran is a very old one. Saudi Arabia is mostly Sunni. Iran is mostly Shiite. Until 1979 they were both soundly in the camp of the Western world, despite being both harsh dictatorships. Saudi Arabia was a kingdom with close ties to Britain and the USA. Iran was run by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, following a coup engineered by Britain and the USA. In fact, one could argue that Saudi Arabia and Iran were better friends of the USA than Israel.

    The Islamic Revolution of 1979 changed everything. Iran turned into a theocracy run by an Islamic fanatic, Khomeini. Since then, the Saudi kings have perceived Iran as a threat, keen on exporting their Islamic Revolution and keen on spreading the Shiite faith. In 1980 Saddam Hussein, the brutal Sunni ruler of mostly Shiite Iraq, attacked Iran: Saudi Arabia sided with Saddam Hussein (as did the USA of Ronald Reagan).

    In the 1980s Saudi Arabia (and the USA) helped the Islamic fighters (the Mujahideen) in Afghanistan who eventually expelled the Soviet Union in 1989. Saudi Arabia then helped the radical Taliban based in Pakistan to fight these Mujahideen and invade Afghanistan, until 2001 when a terrorist group called Al Qaeda and led by a Saudi citizen, Osama bin Laden, based in Afghanistan and fighting along the Talibam, attacked the USA. Up until that point, Iran had been the only country to fight the Taliban (Sunni radicals who hated Shiites and were hated by the Shiites of Iran).

    Saudi Arabia and Iran didn't even have diplomatic relations when the Taliban seized power because of an incident that occurred in July 1987 in Mecca: 402 pilgrims, most of them Iranian pilgrims, were killed in clashes with the police, and then Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Iran. Relations between the two countries were only restored in 1991, but distrust remained.

    The 2001 terrorist attacked shocked the two countries in different ways: Saudi Arabia was forced to keep a low profile because the perpetrators were mostly from Saudi Arabia, while Iran secretly enjoyed that the USA was being punished by the Sunni terrorists that the USA had funded to fight the Soviet Union. In 2003 the USA of George W Bush invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Saudi Arabia, fearful that Saddam Hussein was an increasingly irrational threat, had a role also in this operation, but both the USA and Saudi Arabia miscalculated: the "liberation" of Iraq turned into a gift to Iran. Once Iraq became a democracy, the Shiite parties started winning all elections, turning Iran into a satellite of Iran. It was largely thanks to Iran that Iraq defeated the new Sunni terrorists, ISIS. This is when Saudi Arabia lost faith in US geopolitical wisdom, and when Iran became a major geopolitical force in the Middle East. So far Iran had only one ally in the Middle East: Hezbollah in Lebanon, but that movement was at war with Israel all the time, and therefore had zero impact on Saudi Arabia.

    Saudi Arabia further lost faith in the USA when the USA supported the "Arab Spring" of 2011, which toppled one Arab dictator after the other, didn't touch Iran, but caused a civil war in Syria which became a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia (with the USA limiting itself to fighting the Sunni terrorists of ISIS). With help from Russia, Iran de facto won that war and created a corridor connecting Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. From the point of view of Saudi Arabia, Iran became a major geopolitical force thanks to the US invasion of Iraq and the US-supported Arab Spring.

    Saudi Arabia further lost faith in the USA when the USA of Barack Obama signed a deal with Iran to stop Iran's nuclear program, but granting Iran access to money that Iran used to arm itself and its proxies outside Iran. A country that was in turmoil after the Arab Spring was Yemen, Saudi Arabia's southern neighbor: the people who overthrew the Sunni dictator were the Hoothis, a Shiite group close to Iran. In 2015 Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen and the Yemeni civil war became another proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In 2016 Saudi Arabia executed several dissidents, including a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. Iran pledged revenge, and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties again.

    Saudi Arabia further lost faith in the USA after Biden was elected president, replacing the friendly and corrupt Trump, who was easy to control with bribes and was moving the Saudi kingdom closer to Israel's equally corrupt and authoritarian prime minister Netanyahu (Iran's sworn enemy). Biden had pledged during the presidential campaign that he would hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and for the brutal genocidal war in Yemen. Biden was also critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians like his former boss Barack Obama had been. Ironically, Saudi Arabia preferred Trump's anti-Palestinian rhetoric (he's the one who moved the US embassy to Jerusalem) to Biden's pro-Palestinian rhetoric. Biden's election was probably the last straw for Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler (abovesaid crown prince).

    In 2022 Saudi Arabia even acted in concert with Russia to boost the price of oil, thereby increasing Russia's oil revenues while Russia is fighting a war in Ukraine that is de facto a proxy war with the USA and the European Union. And now it's China that brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, at the same time that the USA cannot broker any deal with Iran and cannot exert any influence on Saudi Arabia. It is natural for Saudi Arabia to see China and Russia as natural friends, because they share Saudi Arabia's indifference towards human rights and will not interfere in Saudi Arabia's genocidal policies.

    So far, Israel is the big loser. Netanyahu's hopes of reshaping the Middle East in Israel's image and of isolating Iran are collapsing. The new regional order will be shaped by Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it will presumably take into consideration only their interests. Israel may become a mere footnote to what these two giants of the oil economy and of the authoritarian world decide.

    Biden has put a good face on this China-mediated deal, but he has clearly been humiliated by Saudi Arabia. Once elected, he didn't punish Saudi Arabia at all. Jamal Khashoggi's murder remains unpunishied. Saudi Arabia got away with it, just like it got away with funding Al Qaeda and the 2001 terrorist attacks, just like it gets away with imprisoning, torturing and executing record numbers of dissidents. On the contrary, Biden had to humiliate himself and travel to Saudi Arabia to beg Saudi Arabia to do something about the price of oil, because inflation was becoming a major issue in the USA. Saudi Arabia did exactly the opposite, teaching Biden who is in control of the world economy. Biden promised to punish Saudi Arabia. Instead it's Saudi Arabia that is now punishing Biden for those words. Biden hasn't changed the fundamental equation: the world economy depends on oil, and big oil producers can influence the world economy, and the economy drives the politics of democracies because people vote with their wallet.

    It is not lost on world commentators that the USA remains with only one real friend in the Middle East: Israel. But that one friend is not much of a democracy, and in fact at the same time that Saudi Arabia is signing a diplomatic deal with Iran the leader of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is engulfed in major scandals, is fighting for survival after massive street protests against his regime, and is provoking Palestinian unrest to distract his public opinion. What a mess for Joe Biden.

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