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The New Strategic Landscape in the Middle East Cold War(s) in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia and Iran Institut Français, Budapest, 2014. szeptember 25. Erzsébet.

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Presentation on theme: "The New Strategic Landscape in the Middle East Cold War(s) in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia and Iran Institut Français, Budapest, 2014. szeptember 25. Erzsébet."— Presentation transcript:

1 The New Strategic Landscape in the Middle East Cold War(s) in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia and Iran Institut Français, Budapest, szeptember 25. Erzsébet N. Rózsa Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade

2 Cold War(s) in the Gulf The Middle East balance of power has significantly changed: – from 3 to 5+1 regional states – not because any has become stronger, but all have become relatively weaker – decline of US interest and influence – non-state actors on the rise – Hamas, Hezbollah threatening Israel, ISIS/ISIL/IS – REGIONAL DYNAMIC MUCH MORE IMPORTANT „The best framework for understanding the regional politics of the Middle East is as a cold war in which Iran and Saudi Arabia play the leading roles.” (Gregory G Gause III) – behave as empiresbut closed in nation-state format - universalist claims to expand their religious ideology across nation-state borders – no direct military confrontation – contest for influence realized in the domestic political systems of the region’s weak states - more a struggle over the direction of the Middle East’s domestic politics more than a purely military contest Resembles the „Arab cold war” of the s - measured in the ability to affect domestic political struggles in neighboring states where weak regimes had trouble controlling their own societies and local players sought regional allies against their own domestic opponents – the role of non-state actors Cold Wars (plural) – beside the Saudi-Iranian competition: – crack within the GCC: Qatar vs the others (mostly Saudi+UAE) – the Muslim Brotherhood (supported by Qatar) vs Saudi Arabia – ISIS/ISISL/IS vs the rest – Arab-Israeli – still relevant? Erzsébet N. Rózsa

3 Saudi-Iranian competition - not static, influenced by outside factors (e.g. ISIS) - confrontation and appeasement Saudi Arabia – Identity: Sunni (Wahhabi) Muslim „the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques” – in the absence of a caliph a missionary commitment Arab vs c ajam – Alliance with US, GCC and „behind closed doors” Israel Iran – Identity: Shiite Muslim (since 1501!) missionary commitment (export of the Islamic Revolution) Revolutionary tradition (Hossein vs quietism/Hassan) Ancient statehood, cultural superiority, etc – The „Shiite axis” or the jabhat al-muqawama (filling the vacuum) Erzsébet N. Rózsa

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6 The Iranian threat perception, or why are the Iranians nervous? President Hassan Rouhani: „Iran is an influential power in the region and the West must understand this reality.” „the most important message of the (nuclear) talks is that important global issues can be resolved through negotiations” Erzsébet N. Rózsa

7 Fields of Saudi-Iranian clash of interest Primary field: the Gulf. – in spite of the continuous efforts, a kind of status quo - with Saudi Arabia dominating the Arab side of the Gulf, Iran seeking alliances farther away – BUT … Iraq - specific ethnic and religious composition + in-between position – Same interests: a relatively stable, but militarily not too strong Iraq – Shared past: threat by Saddam Hussein – Although Shiite majority in power, but no Iranian dictate – Iranian influence in economic terms – Saudi support to Sunni communities, BUT – Shared concern and enemy: ISIS/ISIL/IS Erzsébet N. Rózsa

8 Fields of Saudi-Iranian clash of interest (cont) Syria – the Assad regime (Iran) vs opposition (Saudi Arabia) First statments from Iranian officials acknowledging Iranian involvement – For Iran Syria the only state actor ally symbol of its regional power status the route of supply to the Hezbollah are the Alawites true Muslims > true Shiites? – For Saudi Arabia the duty to support Sunni Muslims, BUT … MB Erzsébet N. Rózsa

9 Fields of Saudi-Iranian clash of interest (cont) Yemen – Iranian support for the Houthi – questionable – Saudi involvement in the Arab Spring and after Bahrein – Iranian support to Shiites – questionable – GCC Peninsula Shield, BUT … FINALLY it seems that – Saudi Arabia does not allow any interference in its direct neighbourhood on the Peninsula (the „near-abroad”) – in Iraq an Iranian leading influence is quietly accepted THE ULTIMATE QUESTION: how the fight against common threat ISIS/ISIL/IS will influence the Saudi-Iranian rivalry Erzsébet N. Rózsa

10 Fields of Saudi-Iranian clash of interest (cont) The Iranian nuclear issue – US, Israeli + Saudi coordination – Plan of Saudi (civilian) nuclear program (2006/7 Arab League call) – BUT RATHER defence pact with the US IF THERE IS a reconciliation … – the threat of a new axis between the US and Iran Iran is a big market, relatively isolated from the US (directly) Iranian economy eagerly waiting for US interest and investment – impossible to stop or contain Iran in any regional issue THEN WHAT? - a protracted Cold War, with sifting periods of both confrontation and appeasement, with eventual common interests and even joint actions Erzsébet N. Rózsa


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