Saudi Arabia believes in peace, but its red lines must not be crossed
The resulting political and humanitarian crises have been difficult to resolve, not only for the people most affected but also for their neighbors, and the wider international community. And while countries such as Saudi Arabia have used every means at their disposal to bring an end to the violence, resolve political disputes and alleviate human suffering, others have exploited the political and security vacuums that have emerged to advance their own narrow self-interests, at the expense of the people of these countries.
Non-state actors, militant organizations, terrorist groups and state actors who routinely violate the norms, conventions and laws of international relations by interfering in the domestic affairs of other nations and by adopting policies that destabilize other countries and entire regions are largely responsible for the continuing instability.
The non-state actors are unfortunately many. The most infamous terrorist group is Daesh. For several years, Daesh launched a campaign of terror, death and destruction against people in Iraq, Syria, Libya and even Yemen. It has also conducted several terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, and has inspired attacks in the US and throughout Europe. Other militant organizations have also shown complete disregard for the wellbeing, security and prosperity of the nations they are in; Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen are the two prime examples.
But it is not only non-state actors that have destabilized the region. Unfortunately, the Iranian government continues to defy international laws and norms by sponsoring militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, all at the expense of the stability of these countries. Whether Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement it signed with six other countries is a matter of dispute, but there is no disputing that Iran continues to be a major source of instability in the region, as was expressed very clearly by US President Donald Trump last month.
Against this foreboding backdrop, we have Saudi Arabia. As the birthplace of Islam and home to its two holiest sites, the Kingdom occupies a special place in the Islamic world. It is also the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil and the Middle East’s largest economy. There is therefore an expectation in the Arab world and in the broader Islamic world that Saudi Arabia is the country best positioned to play a leadership role in resolving the myriad political conflicts and to meet the many economic challenges that continue to vex many countries.
Saudi Arabia recognizes that it has indeed been blessed with its custodianship of the two holy mosques, as well as its oil wealth. And it has used every political and economic tool at its disposal to bring stability and prosperity to the region and beyond. However, it has always operated within the confines of international laws, norms and conventions and, whenever possible, has sought multilateral solutions and coalitions to resolve political and economic challenges.
The Kingdom has made it clear that terrorist groups and their Iranian sponsors will be held accountable for threatening the region’s security.
Saudi Arabia is a firm believer in the peaceful resolution of disputes and in mutually beneficial political, military and economic arrangements. To that end, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have embarked on a diplomatic offensive — for lack of a better word — to strengthen relations with neighboring countries, emerging powers, traditional allies and superpowers. Saudi Arabia enjoys friendly, mutually beneficial relations with the overwhelming majority of countries around the world. That is a testament to how it conducts its foreign affairs
At the same time, the Kingdom is well aware that, like other countries in the region, its security is threatened by terrorist groups of various kinds as well as rogue states that continue to defy international norms and laws. Saudi Arabia has been resolute in the concrete measures it has taken to counter these very real threats to its security.
When it comes to terrorism and extremism, the Kingdom has adopted a zero-tolerance policy. It has made it clear to militant organizations and terrorist groups, as well as Iran, that they will not be allowed to destabilize the region with impunity.
While leaving the use of force as an absolute last resort, Saudi Arabia has also made it clear that it will respond forcefully if certain red lines are crossed. We see that most clearly in Yemen, where the Kingdom is leading an Arab coalition to restore the internationally recognized government. The prospect of a neighboring country falling victim to the machinations of militant and terrorist groups, all of which have shown complete disregard for the security, wellbeing and prosperity of the good people of Yemen, required a strong response. In Yemen, the Houthis, their Iranian patrons and allies such as Hezbollah, as well as Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other terrorist groups, are learning a hard lesson; that they will be held accountable for their actions and that flouting international laws, agreements and norms, and threatening the security of Yemen’s neighbors, will not be tolerated.
• Fahad Nazer is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among others. Twitter: @fanazer
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