Iran-Saudi conflict: Shake the sheikdom into realities

By Ameen Izzadeen
Providing protection to a diplomatic mission is the responsibility of the host country. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are signatories to the two Vienna Conventions that spell out privileges, rights and responsibilities with regard to diplomatic missions and consular offices. Iran’s failure to protect the Saudi Arabian embassy premises on Saturday from angry mobs protesting against the execution of a widely-respected Shiite cleric should be condemned however outrageous the actions of Saudi Arabia have been.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was right on this score. But his failure to condemn in the same statement the execution of a political prisoner whose only crime was championing the rights of the oppressed Shiite people, who constitute ten percent of the kingdom’s population, is as bad as Iran’s omission.
However, for a change, the West this time was not as sympathetic towards Saudi Arabia as it had been with the sheikhdom’s political misdeeds and skullduggery in the past.
The United States, in a diplomatically shocking move, adopted a balanced approach. Secretary of State John Kerry made it known that he spoke to his counterparts in not only Saudi Arabia but also in Iran to urge them to exercise restraint. In the past, the US would side with the Saudis even if they were outlandishly wrong. It is also interesting to note that many US commentators found fault not so much with Iran but with Saudi Arabia. In an editorial, the Washington Post called the Kingdom “A Reckless Regime,” and described the execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr risky, ruthless and unjustified, while an opinion piece in Bloomberg said the US could afford to side with Iran against the Saudis.
As the crisis deepened on Sunday with Saudi Arabia severing all ties with Iran, across Europe, too, the reaction has been one of calling for restraint rather than the usual Iran-bashing. The changing mood of the West, perhaps, indicates a realisation that the West stands to gain more by cooperating with Iran than by siding with a trouble-making ally, which is adding more fuel to the Middle Eastern fire by starting a war in Yemen, fomenting the civil war in Syria and preventing democracy from taking root in the region.
It was only six months ago that the world powers reached a landmark deal with Iran to scale down Teheran’s nuclear programme. The deal was a signal achievement of the Obama administration in the foreign policy realm and the biggest feather in Kerry’s diplomatic cap. Soon after the deal, in a move indicative of US recognition of Iran’s importance as a regional power with great influence, Teheran was allowed to be a party to international talks aimed at finding a solution to the crisis in Syria. Washington ignored initial Saudi objections, because it was under mounting pressure from European nations to find a speedy solution to the Syrian crisis in the wake of an unprecedented refugee crisis and acts of terror across Europe.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his son Mohammed, who is the power behind-the-throne and the world’s youngest Defence Minister at 30, would do well to take note of the US policy change so that they would not venture into costly misadventures. But it appears the Saudis, determined to punish Iran, their adversary in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, have not learnt a lesson from their mistakes. Last year the Saudis increased their oil output and brought down the world oil prices partly as a move to punish sanctions-hit Russia which refused to withdraw its support for Syria’s besieged president Bashar al-Assad and partly because they wanted to scuttle the shale oil business in the United States. Far from achieving their objectives, the Saudis suffered. Two weeks ago, the kingdom admitted that it ran a record budget deficit of US$ 97.9 billion in 2015.
Then take Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. With the United Nations, the United States and other Western powers turning a blind eye to thousands of civilian deaths in Saudi bombing, the war in Yemen is fast turning out to be Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.
Then take the Syrian civil war. Like the Libyan civil war, the Syrian civil war was triggered by the Saudis and their Gulf allies with the US and its Nato allies playing an equally significant role in the regime change attempt. But as in the Libyan war, the Saudis, the US and their allies did not care a damn about civilian casualties. They contributed to the creation of ISIS, the most brutish terror group to emerge from the region.
They did not mind the plight of the suffering millions, as long as they achieved their strategic goal of weakening Iran by fuelling sectarian conflicts. Perhaps the Saudi Royals living in luxury and fortified palaces and protected by Franklin D Roosevelt era defence treaties believe in the might is right policy or in the popular saying during the Peloponnesian war, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” It’s sheer hubris.
The weak did suffer in Syria by the millions. The troublemakers did not open their doors to any Syrian refugees or to the parents of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi whose body on the Turkish shore made world headlines and created the urgency to solve the refugee crisis and the Syrian conflict.
No sensible person fleeing war and persecution will find refuge in a country that is known as one of the world capitals for executions. Along with Sheikh Nimr, 46 other people, some of whom were identified as al-Qaeda members, were put to the sword last Friday.
If a country like Sri Lanka, leave alone executing prisoners, had prolonged the detention of terror suspects, the US would have led a global campaign against that nation, by threatening to impose economic sanctions, and by shaming the nation concerned before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Be that as it may. On Tuesday, President Obama was in tears when he recalled the pain and suffering of the victims of gun violence in the US. Notwithstanding the popular myth that tough men don’t cry, a leader shedding tears, meant that he or she lived by a code of values and cared enough to show emotion when things went wrong. In Western culture, a man’s capacity to cry indicates his honesty and integrity. (Derek Whitney:
If his tears indicated honesty and integrity, why didn’t such an honest president cry for the Syrian refugees, the plight of the Palestinian people, the civilian deaths in Yemen and the children killed in US drone attacks? Why is he allowing troublemakers like Saudi Arabia and Israel to create chaos at the immense cost of civilian suffering? Were what he shed strategic tears? No, they were not.
President Obama’s hands are tied. The system runs the show. Recently, the US agreed to sell US$ 13 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite its poor human rights records. But as in the gun violence issue, he should take a tough stance against the Saudis, at least for the sake of the suffering Syrians.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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