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Saudi Arabia Has Signaled Its Intention to Contain Iran, but Does It Have the Capability?

Nov. 29 2017

In recent weeks, Riyadh has signaled an intention to respond more aggressively to Tehran’s growing power in the Middle East. But it is unclear whether the Saudi kingdom can succeed, as Jonathan Spyer writes:

[T]he Iranians have effectively won in Lebanon, are winning in Syria and Iraq, and are bleeding the Saudis in Yemen. In each context, Iran has been able to establish proxies that give it political and military influence in [the relevant] country. Tehran also has successfully identified and exploited seams in its enemies’ camps. . . .

There is precious little evidence to suggest that the Saudis have learned from their earlier failures. . . . So far, [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s] actions consist of removing the veneer of multi-confessionalism from the Lebanese government [which is in fact dominated by the Shiite Hizballah], and threatening his enemies in Yemen. Those may be important symbolic steps, but they do nothing to provide Riyadh with the hard power it has always lacked. Rolling back the Iranians, directly or in alliance with local forces, would almost certainly depend not on the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates but on the involvement of the United States—and in the Lebanese case, perhaps Israel.

It’s impossible to say the extent to which Washington and Jerusalem are on board with such an effort. However, the statements last week by Defense Secretary James Mattis suggesting that the United States intends to stay in eastern Syria, and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel will continue to enforce its security interests in Syria, suggest that these players may have a role to play.

Past Saudi behavior might encourage skepticism. Nevertheless, the Iranians here have a clearly visible Achilles’ heel. In all the countries where the Saudi-Iran rivalry has played out, Tehran has proved to have severe difficulties in developing lasting alliances outside of Shiite and other minority communities. . . . Elements of the Iraqi Shiite political class also have no interest in falling under the thumb of Tehran. A cunning player looking to sponsor proxies and undermine Iranian influence would find much to work with. . . . The prospects of success for the Saudis will depend on the willingness of their allies to engage alongside them, and a steep learning curve in the methods of political and proxy warfare.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

In Dealing with Iran, the U.S. Can Learn from Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan arrived at the White House in 1981, the consensus was that, with regard to the Soviet Union, two responsible policy choices presented themselves: détente, or a return to the Truman-era policy of containment. Reagan, however, insisted that the USSR’s influence could not just be checked but rolled back, and without massive bloodshed. A decade later, the Soviet empire collapsed entirely. In crafting a policy toward the Islamic Republic today, David Ignatius urges the current president to draw on Reagan’s success:

A serious strategy to roll back Iran would begin with Syria. The U.S. would maintain the strong military position it has established east of the Euphrates and enhance its garrison at Tanf and other points in southern Syria. Trump’s public comments suggest, however, that he wants to pull these troops out, the sooner the better. This would all but assure continued Iranian power in Syria.

Iraq is another key pressure point. The victory of militant Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr in [last week’s] elections should worry Tehran as much as Washington. Sadr has quietly developed good relations with Saudi Arabia, and his movement may offer the best chance of maintaining an Arab Iraq as opposed to a Persian-dominated one. But again, that’s assuming that Washington is serious about backing the Saudis in checking Iran’s regional ambitions. . . .

The Arabs, [however], want the U.S. (or Israel) to do the fighting this time. That’s a bad idea for America, for many reasons, but the biggest is that there’s no U.S. political support for a war against Iran. . . .

Rolling back an aggressive rival seems impossible, until someone dares to try it.

Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Foreign policy