Saudi-UAE ties far stronger than Iran would like
In order to divide and rule, one of the core pillars of the Iranian regime’s foreign policy is to create rifts between long-term allies by playing up or capitalizing on disagreements and disputes.
One example was during the Trump administration, when the theocratic establishment fully exploited and took advantage of the disagreements between the EU and the US. But the disagreements between these two powers were not as permanent as the Iranian regime attempted to project. The US-EU alliance remains strong.
The Iranian regime also uses the same strategy in the Gulf. For instance, Iran’s state-controlled media outlets have recently focused on and exaggerated a flare-up in OPEC tensions. The regime particularly attempted to show that the Saudi-UAE relationship had become fractious. The Iranian leaders may even attempt to predict a breakdown in the long-standing alliance due to such disagreements.
But it is important to point out that these predictions are extremely premature and overlook the substantial range of issues these two countries have been and continue to be aligned on. It would take far more than a minor disagreement over oil to shatter decades of friendship.
OPEC is an organization that has seen more than its fair share of arguments over the years. Barely a meeting goes by without reports of at least one member taking issue with another. When the press sensationalizes these flare-ups, it is often forgotten that the entire point of the organization is to provide a forum where differences can be aired and disagreements addressed in a structured manner. If OPEC were to have collapsed every time delegates around the table failed to see eye to eye, it would not have lasted a week.
It would take far more than a minor disagreement over oil to shatter decades of friendship.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
For those who seek to play up such disagreements and disputes as triggering a major break in Gulf relations, disappointment is inevitable. When it comes to the latest dispute over oil production quotas, which has been grumbled about ever since Saudi Arabia and Russia, the organization’s two biggest producers, last year agreed a deal to limit output. The UAE was a reluctant adherent to the deal. The latest disagreement played out more visibly than might have been expected, but to look at the tea leaves and see a more permanent fracture emerging is misguided.
On July 18, the world’s leading oil producers reached a full agreement. As Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman stated: “What bonds us together is way beyond what you may imagine. We differ here and there but we bond.”
Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to be united on the major political issues facing the region today. Concerns about Iran’s funding of terrorism, countering extremism and boosting economic diversification in this oil-dependent corner of the world are just some of the major topics these countries remain in firm agreement on. They are more than enough of a basis for a strong partnership to endure.
It is expected on any occasion where disagreements within a multilateral institution arise that speculation of its demise becomes rife. The UN Security Council has faced numerous supposed predictions of its downfall, without there ever being a realistic prospect of that being the case. The same is very much true here and, in fact, highlights the entire purpose of these organizations.
The very nature of cooperation on oil production means technical disagreements and disputes are inherent in any plan of action. It is tempting for some to think of the oil-producing countries of the Gulf as one homogeneous block, with similar goals, ambitions and production capabilities. However, this simply isn’t the case. Saudi Arabia, for example, has considerably larger production capabilities than its neighbors.
This highlights how this kind of flare-up — despite the will of some commentators to see it as a hotly disputed disagreement between two close allies — is in fact centered on technical differences. Imagine if other global alliances, such as the US and Canada or Australia and New Zealand, were to fracture over technicalities surrounding wheat exports or cattle rearing. It simply does not reflect the reality of international relations.
Those who predict the decline of the Saudi-Emirati alliance would do well to understand that this is a relationship based on shared security and diplomatic and cultural interests spanning decades. It is not going to be undone by one disagreement in an OPEC session. I suspect that those out there talking up the possibility of a fracture know this, but are simply keen to stoke up political drama where there is none to be had. It will take considerably more than a technical disagreement over oil quotas to break up one of the Middle East’s most enduring partnerships.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh