Saudi Arabia and Gulf region have no choice but to stand up to Iran
Many in Saudi Arabia were shocked by the reaction of the Lebanese people to accusations that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was being held against his will in Riyadh. That story was propagated by Hezbollah and its Christian allies and blessed by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. It was a media trap that ensnared even Sunni figures.
Saudis were deeply shocked by such blatant ingratitude, especially considering the amount of aid Saudi Arabia has provided to Lebanon since its independence. Any fair-minded person would find it difficult to understand why such vicious insults were heaped upon Saudi Arabia, its leadership and its people. History bears witness to how much Saudi Arabia values and favours Lebanon.
The latest crisis with Lebanon brought forth a nagging question that goes beyond the country and concerns all Arab nations: With Iran currently meddling in the affairs of all Arab countries, boasting that it controls four Arab capitals and even daring to have those it backs launch ballistic missiles at Mecca and Riyadh, what is Saudi Arabia supposed to do?
Before the era of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the nagging question in the Arab world was: Why is Saudi Arabia turning the other cheek and what is it waiting for to fight off Iran’s arrogance and conceit in the region? The Arab world’s complete change of attitude, however, boggles my mind and the minds of all true Arab patriots.
During the last three years, Saudi Arabia moved on several fronts to counter the Iranian agenda in the region. It aborted Iran’s plans in Bahrain and Yemen, took the necessary steps to keep Iraq in its Arab environment and struck deals with the United States and Russia to move towards a permanent solution to the Syrian crisis. When Hezbollah’s long arm reached all the way to the kingdom’s flank in Yemen, Saudi authorities adopted an appropriate stance towards the Lebanese government because, after all, the belligerent Hezbollah is part of that government.
Another bewildering component to the official and popular reactions in the Arab world is their emphasis on national sovereignty and pride, which seem to only be discovered during situations involving Saudi Arabia. When Saad Hariri chose to announce his resignation from Riyadh, for example, spending a few days there before returning to Beirut, the whole episode turned into the Saudis’ alleged attack on Lebanese sovereignty.
But when each and every Lebanese citizen was forced to accept Hezbollah’s totalitarian domination and pay allegiance in their country to the Iranian banner, that same Lebanese sovereignty and pride took a long leave of absence. No one in Lebanon dares to decry Iran’s direct meddling in the country’s affairs or stand up to its continuous insults at the hands of rogue militias.
In trying to explain this pernicious Arab state of mind, we can only appeal to either one or two plausible factors. The first has to do with people of Arab heritage, in general, being emotionally drawn to authoritarian and domineering figures. If we look at the modern history of all Arab countries, we see many instances of blind allegiance and love for authoritarian regimes and autocratic rulers who have driven their countries to the brink of disaster at all levels. Even decades after their death, these dictators still enjoy a great deal of popular adulation among their people.
When we look at the Saudi- Iranian conflict, we find the same pattern. The more Iran flexes its military muscles, arms to the teeth its agents in Lebanon and kills innocent people in a number of Arab countries, the more we will find among Arab nations those who admire it and defend its agendas.
By contrast, Saudi intervention in some Arab countries was strictly for the purpose of countering Iran’s evil plans. The kingdom has always been very generous with aid and has provided employment opportunities for millions of Arabs. At the slightest crisis, however, it finds itself on the receiving end of a barrage of insults and false accusations in both official and non-official media outlets. There is a growing feeling among Saudis that they are left alone to stand up to Iran’s dangerous manoeuvres in the Gulf and the Arab world.
The second plausible factor behind the latent animosity against Saudi Arabia is the old superiority complex among the Arab nations outside the Arabian Peninsula and the Arabian Gulf. Front pages in Egypt and Lebanon, for example, have a field day depicting stereotypical images of Saudi or Emirati Bedouins and their camels, splashing large, offensive headlines across the page. That’s exactly what the Lebanese daily Ad-Diyar did last week.
Given all of the above, we need to ask whether the Arabs would have adopted a different and firmer attitude towards Iran if there had been another non-Gulf country standing up to it. It is a legitimate question to ask but, unfortunately, we cannot afford to wait to find out the answer. Fate has decreed that Iran is closer to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and, therefore, the Saudi kingdom has no choice but to confront the Iranian threat.
In Saudi Arabia, we wish to see the other Arab nations stand by our side in this crisis as we have done with them during their wars and crises. But if we have to do it alone, we will need to put an end to this fantasy of Arab brotherhood and all this talk about a common Arab national security. In fact, this was the gist of the Bahraini foreign affairs minister’s speech during the Arab League’s ministerial meeting earlier this month.