Saudi Arabia finds its voice

Friday 29/01/2016
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

The recent statement from the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs that confirmed Iran’s history of aggression over the past 35 years also signals the emergence of a new foreign policy in a new Saudi Arabia.

For the first time, Saudi Arabia has presented an accurate summation, backed by facts and figures, of Iran’s terrorist activities since the establishment of the Islamic State in 1979.

The statement listed Iran-backed terror attacks against Saudi Arabia and other countries while confirming Riyadh’s “self-restraint” in response to Tehran’s history of provocation. The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a “fact sheet” detailing Iran’s history of supporting terrorism.

The statement stressed that Riyadh does not object to any peaceful nuclear programme or the Iran nuclear deal so long as this prevents Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons and contains a strict mechanism to monitor implementation and reimpose sanctions if the agreement is violated.

Ultimately, it was completely logical for Saudi Arabia to ask the simple question: Is Iran an ordinary country that wants to live in peace with its neighbours or will it continue to fulfil its expansionist ambitions?

The Foreign Ministry statement seemed to answer the question, namely that Iran must put away its revolutionary ambitions and stop sowing chaos and flouting international law and instead respect international treaties and agreements and the principles of good neighbourliness.

The fact sheet also reminded the Obama administration of the terrorist attacks that targeted its citizens and military personnel. Washington should ask: Has anything changed after the nuclear agreement?

It is clear that the Obama administration is living in its own world. That is why it was so important to remind it of the 1983 US embassy bombing in Beirut, in which many Americans died and that Iran reportedly was responsible for.

So, in light of Saudi Arabia’s new foreign policy, there is no longer any space to cover up the facts, including Iran being implicated in the 1996 Khobar bombings, not to mention how it has harboured many senior al-Qaeda members over the years.

There is no longer room for half-truths and prevarications at a time when Saudi Arabia is facing attacks from numerous sides.

Saudi Arabia is now following a new kind of foreign policy, which began with its intervention in Bahrain, to safeguard its neighbour against Iran’s ambitions. This policy took on new dimensions when the kingdom stood by the revolution that removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt in 2013. Riyadh had no other choice, especially after the Islamic Republic began to cast its eye on the Islamist-led Egypt.

But the real point of no return came in late March 2015, when King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz decided to intervene in Yemen to put an end to Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the Saudis’ southern neighbour. What we are witnessing today is just a continuation of this decisive storm of a decision.

To put it plainly, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states cannot accept a Yemen under Iranian tutelage.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry statement points to a new stage in Saudi foreign policy, a stage in which Riyadh is firm and decisive in its decision-making. The new phase is characterised by clarity, courage and boldness.

This goes beyond calling a spade a spade — or a terrorist a terrorist — but includes new economic policy and forms that will ensure Saudi Arabia will be able to continue its war on terrorism — in all its forms — for as long as necessary.

We are facing a new Middle East but also a new Saudi Arabia. What is clear is that the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement will not be the last of its kind; Saudi Arabia has found its voice.