How Saudi Arabia Sees Iran and America

I just returned from meetings in Saudi Arabia, hoping to bring back some understanding of their views on the Iranian threat and their view of the strained relationship with the United States. My interviews ranged from brief interviews with the foreign ministry, diplomats, counter-terrorism experts, the president of the state security, and the Rasanah International Center for Iranian Studies.

For many Americans, the Saudi image has been irreparably damaged by 9/11, the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Khashoggi murder, and the recent rejection of President Joe Biden’s request to pump more oil before the mid-term elections. As Senator Bernie Sanders told ABC News, “I don’t believe we should maintain warm relations with such a dictatorship.”

On the other hand, the Saudis think that America does not appreciate how big a threat Iran poses to the kingdom. They see their country in the midst of a supreme leader, with Iran’s desire not only for Saudi natural resources but to replace the Sunni control of Mecca and Medina, which is abhorrent to Iranian Shia revolutionary theology.

As a senior foreign ministry official told me, “We are Iran’s number one target.” They view the Islamic Republic of Iran as “a revolution, not a country. When the Iranians are confronted, they lie and deny. ”

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The Saudis see two scenarios. The continued concern of the US over the brutal murder of journalist Khashoggi, which rightly gave the Saudi government a black eye, is no match for Iran’s involvement in the Syrian genocide. hundreds of thousands were killed. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operates directly under the command of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet there were no American calls to make Iran’s supreme leader a pariah.

The Saudis do not understand how the Iranian regime calling “Death to America” ​​is treated with great respect by our nuclear negotiators in Vienna. At the same time, the Saudi government is publicly criticized, although, in the eyes of the Saudis, they do not show public hostility towards America or its people. The Saudis see Iranian expansion as undermining Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, without provoking the wrath of the United States.

From the Saudi perspective, they see America’s offer of billions of dollars in aid for the disastrous nuclear deal as an existential threat to their kingdom. According to Middle East expert Khaled Abu Toemeh, “The Saudis and their allies in the Gulf seem to be wondering why Biden is threatening them with ‘repercussions’ just because they are trying to protect themselves from they are destroyed by Iran.”

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During my meetings, one recurring theme that seemed to anger the Saudis more than anything else was the lack of respect for the proud and independent Saudi people. Regardless of whether it is the angry statements of America or self-deprecation, this attitude is considered by the Saudis as a contemptuous relationship between customers and customers, which offends their cultural values.

They see America’s need to choose the United States over the Chinese and Russia as absurd, since the Chinese are their most important trading partners, and Russia is a member of OPEC+. When they repeated the Saudi talking point that it is only one of the twenty-three nations in OPEC +, I reminded them that in the past, they changed the production of one oil to help America’s interests, to defeat the nations of OPEC. They had no answer to that. The Saudis need to show flexibility as they know that their American weapons stockpile must be maintained and resupplied, and will not quickly turn over to the Chinese.

What is not appreciated in the United States is the great difference in how the monarchy changed the theological attitude of the clergy to be more tolerant and critical of radical change. The Saudi secretary general of the Muslim World League visited the concentration camp with the American Jewish Committee, a symbolic gesture that should not be underestimated. This is a welcome change after the Saudi conversion and financing in the twentieth century, which was considered responsible for changing the Muslim community around the world.

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As the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Clifford May, said, “Mohammed bin Salman has valid grievances.” After Biden vowed to make MBS a pariah and de-designate the Iran-backed Houthis as terrorists, the Saudis questioned America’s commitment to the relationship. However, they are equally disappointed that President Donald Trump ignored the Iranian attack on their oil facilities and removed American Patriot missiles from their defense systems.

Criticism is not the way forward for American or Saudi interests. America should focus on supporting the Iranian people’s desire for regime change while repairing our important relationship with the Saudis for our national security interests.

Dr. Mandel is the Director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the Senior Defense Editor for The Jerusalem Report. He is a regular contributor to The Hill and the Jerusalem Post.

Photo: Reuters.

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