Warnings for Tehran could not be clearer
There could be no more significant time for the powerful essay by the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Salman, published by Arab News on Monday. Entitled “Why Iran’s malign behavior should be confronted — not appeased,” and reinforcing Riyadh’s longstanding position of standing by its historical ally, the United States, the essay came just as a war of words between Tehran and Washington reached its climax.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the US not to “play with the lion’s tail” and said a “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” To which Trump responded via his favorite — and most effective — means of communication. “Never, ever threaten the United States again,” he tweeted. Further threats would bring “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”
Tehran would be well advised to take the US president seriously; he has proved, time and again, that he is not just a man of words, but a man of action. Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, Trump’s red lines are real. Rouhani just has to remember that the current US administration bombed his allies — the Assad regime — twice in retaliation for using chemical weapons.
Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, Trump's red lines are real.
Faisal J. Abbas
Even when differences between Riyadh and Washington were at their peak, during the “Obama doctrine” period, the Saudi government supported and cooperated fully with Washington in combating all forms of terror. That is as true now as it was then. As Prince Khalid points out: “Saudi Arabia’s policy is to confront evil wherever it may be found and in whatever form it takes.”
The ambassador’s essay is also a reminder that hostility between Riyadh and Tehran is not, as many analysts inaccurately claim, sectarian. He points out that the Kingdom fights both Shiite and Sunni extremism, and gives Riyadh’s ongoing battle against Daesh and Al-Qaeda as an example. As Prince Khalid says, terrorists in Saudi Arabia are on the run, while in Iran they run the country. Iran hosted Al-Qaeda leaders and helped facilitate terrorist operations aimed at destabilizing their neighbors. The Iranian regime finances and backs Shiite terrorist groups such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi militias in Yemen — who have fired over 160 ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis, against whom Riyadh leads a coalition, have overthrown the internationally recognized government of Abdrabu Mansour Hadi; their slogan is “Death to America, Death to the Jews”; and they dared to attack the US Navy near Aden three times during the Obama era.
These attacks, which Riyadh strongly condemned, came months after President Obama had hoped the Iran nuclear deal would bring Tehran back into the fold. They were among many reminders that trying to appease the Iranian regime doesn’t work. As Prince Khalid’s essay reminds us, and as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has emphasized repeatedly, standing up to the forces of aggression may cost more in the short term, but it is the only real strategy for preventing already grave threats from snowballing into wider, and potentially far deadlier, conflicts.
As ever, Saudi Arabia stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its US ally. As for the “lion’s tail,” Rouhani should remember that it was his “ayatollahs’ revolution” of 1979 that not only cut that tail, but the whole lion — and this is not just a reference to the changes to the Iranian flag!
• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News.