Iran’s Saudi Counterweight

Iran’s Saudi CounterweightDespite a recent summit meeting, tensions are brewing between the two regional powers. (AP/Saudi Press Agency)

March 15, 2007

Prepared by:

Lionel Beehner

Iran is not the only ascendant power in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, its regional rival, has also seen its fortunes rise. Thanks to high oil prices, the country’s gross domestic product has doubled to $350 billion over the past four years. Saudi leaders also face easing pressures from Washington on democracy promotion, due to the Bush administration’s troubles democratizing Iraq, not to mention elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories that brought Islamist parties to power. Emboldened, the House of Saud has taken “on the long-abandoned mantle of Arab leadership,” argues the Economist, particularly on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Sunni Arab fears of a rising Shiite Iran have only strengthened Saudi Arabia’s position. It has also helped lessen the tension Saudis feel toward Israel. With Iran now the “evil empire,” writes Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Israel almost stops being an enemy and perhaps becomes an ally.” On Lebanon, the Saudis have angled for position to ensure that Iranian-backed Hezbollah does not oust Fouad Siniora’s government in Beirut. And on the Palestinian issue, Riyadh has spearheaded a new power sharing arrangement that draws new borders (to reflect pre-1967 realities) and addresses the Palestinian refugee situation. The peace proposal will get hashed out at the Arab League summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, on March 28. Continue reading