Search form

Last updated: 9 min 29 sec ago

You are here

The many strands of Iran’s antagonism to Saudi Arabia

From the standpoint of international politics, by supplying the missile fired at Riyadh last Saturday from Houthi-occupied territory in Yemen, Iran has committed an act of war. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch the Quds Force have been arming, financing and training militia groups across the region, including the Houthis. One of Iran’s strategies is to employ Hezbollah to train terrorist groups. Hezbollah was instrumental in empowering Al-Qaeda, as it has been with the Houthis. 
In addition, the Iranian regime has been using a variety of strategies to undermine Saudi Arabia. Through social media and its Arabic language outlets, it has ratcheted up anti-Saudi sentiments to an unprecedented level. Through weapons smuggling, and its sponsorship of terrorism, Tehran is providing the means for terrorist groups to target Saudi Arabia. 
The major question to address is, why does the Iranian regime hate and incite antagonism toward Saudi Arabia and use proxies to attack the Kingdom? Saudi Arabia did not oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. The Kingdom has tried through various means to find diplomatic initiatives to improve relations with Iran. But from the day the Shiite theocracy was established through force, the ruling mullahs began using incendiary and heated rhetoric, as well as inciting hatred and resistance against the Kingdom. 
The first reason for Iran’s antagonism to Saudi Arabia has religious motives. One of the key Iranian revolutionary ideals of the mullahs has been exporting their Shiite ideology beyond Iran’s borders, particularly the expansion of their religious rule and the idea of Velayat e Faqih, or governance of the Islamic jurist, to the rest of the Muslim world.

Diplomacy will not change Tehran’s behavior because it is deep-rooted in sectarianism, envy and a drive for regional domination. 

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh 

Iran’s modus operandi is to expand its religious rule through force. From their theological standpoint, Iranian leaders justify the use of violence, weapons and brute force in order to restore the Muslim world under the rule of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the so-called representative of Imam Mahdi. 
As a result, from the outset, the Iranian regime regarded any other independent state in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia, as a threat and obstacle to achieving its religious ambition. The fact that the king of Saudi Arabia is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the fact that millions of people every year visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and pay respect to Saudi Arabia have long enraged the Iranian leaders. 
The second issue has linked ethnic and sectarian elements. One of the lenses through which Iranian leaders view the region is through the Persian-Arab and Sunni-Shiite divide. Iranian leaders view Persians as superior to Arabs. Their sectarian agenda to widen the gap between Sunni and Shiite communities is also a strategy to divide and rule. 
The third issue is linked to geopolitics. The Iranian regime is in constantly attempting to further tip the regional balance of power in its favor and expand the IRGC’s stranglehold across the region. Since 1979, Tehran has managed to create numerous proxies and it has turned some state leaders, such as Bashar Assad, into puppets, pawns or allies. Because the Iranian leaders came to power with force and bloodshed, they fear losing their hold on power. Therefore, from their perspective, the more allies and puppets they have, the stronger their hold on power will be. Furthermore, if any state resists becoming a puppet, instrument or pawn, and is independent of the Iranian regime, Tehran will attack it and threaten it through direct or asymmetrical warfare. 
Fourth, the Iranian regime benefits from instability and chaos in the region. Instability creates the perfect environment for Tehran to create new militias, sell its weapons and expand its influence. 
Finally, one of the fundamentals of Iran’s foreign policy is to label independent nations “enemies.” This strategy is used to justify spending Iran’s wealth on the military, diverting attention from real problems such as internal corruption and poverty, and in order to suppress domestic opposition. 
The Iranian regime’s antagonism and hatred toward Saudi Arabia is deep-rooted because it has all these strands. Tehran’s anti-Saudi stance will not change through diplomatic initiatives, as this has been the core pillar of its revolutionary ideals since 1979. If Iran’s actions are not stopped, Tehran’s threats to the kingdom will increase. This can have tremendous negative repercussions, not only for the peace and safety of the Saudi population, but also for the stability of the region. History has shown how the Iranian regime can turn nations such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq into protracted civil warzones, in order to benefit and advance its agenda.

•  Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. 
Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh