Bloody Alliance (II)

RIYADH/BERLIN | | saudi-arabien

RIYADH/BERLIN (Own report) - With its own anti-Iranian policy, the West had prepared the basis for the aggressive stance Saudi Arabia is currently taking in relationship to Teheran. This becomes clear, when looking at the Middle East policy pursued by the West over the past 13 years. During that period, western countries, including Germany, have been systematically strengthening Saudi Arabia to make it a countervailing power in confrontation with an emerging Iran, a function previously held by Iraq. The West has not only been supporting Riyadh economically but also militarily, including with supplies of repression technology - also from the Federal Republic of Germany - to put down possible domestic unrest. In the meantime, however, Germany's interests have shifted and Berlin has assisted in reaching the nuclear agreement with Teheran. This will permit German enterprises to have close cooperation with Iran, promising high profits. This is why the German government now seeks to promote a settlement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and to induce Riyadh's acceptance of a "dialogue." Determined to continue its anti-Iranian course, Riyadh still rejects talking to Teheran.

(No) Gulf Hegemon

The West's openly anti-Iranian cooperation with Riyadh dates back to 2003, when also Germany began to enhance its relations with Saudi Arabia. The strategic situation in the Middle East changed because of the US-led aggression against Iraq. Having served as a reliable counterweight to Iran prior to the West's aggressions, once it was destroyed under US leadership, Iraq could no longer assume this role. Teheran appeared to receive free reign on its road to become a Middle East regional hegemon. In fact, in 2005, the Iranian government under Mohammed Khatemi - considered relatively pro-western - published an important strategy paper entitled "The 20-Year National Vision of the Islamic Republic," foreseeing Iran's assumption of a predominant position at the Persian Gulf. "In twenty years, Iran will be a developed country, taking regional first place in the fields of economics, science, and technology," the paper predicts.[1] The West felt compelled to seek options to neutralize Teheran. In addition to its repeated threats of war and overthrowing the government, the USA - but also Germany - began reinforcing Iran's traditional adversary Saudi Arabia, to create a new countervailing power against Iran.

Leading Anti-Iranian Power

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's visits to Teheran in October 2003 and in February 2005, highlighted Germany's reorientation of its Middle East policy. "Chancellor Merkel and her respective foreign ministers have also visited the Gulf states much more frequently than their predecessors in the 1980s and 1990s," according to Guido Steinberg, the Middle East expert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).[2] Berlin's politicians and government advisors have repeatedly explained the reason: "Riyadh and Berlin want to prevent Teheran from acquiring the capacity to build nuclear weapons and enhance its influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories," Steinberg wrote in late 2008. "Western politicians and public opinion" consider Saudi Arabia "to be a vital ally and leading power in an anti-Iranian alliance."[3] "The country is Iran's counterpart and plays a decisive role in countervailing Iran's claim to hegemony,"[4] as Andreas Schockenhoff, was quoted in 2012, who, at the time, was serving as Vice-Chair of the CDU/CSU Bundestag's parliamentary group in charge of foreign policy. Early this week, SWP expert Steinberg repeated that the USA and Germany need "the Saudi's help" to "contain Iran."[5]

"Cut Off the Snake's Head"

However, western powers cannot be unaware of the aggressive stance Saudi Arabia is taking in regards to Iran. Already back in the fall of 2010, media outlets reported on documents uncovered by Wikileaks disclosing that Saudi rulers had "asked the USA in private on various occasions to attack Iran." The reigning King Abdullah, at the time, was quoted saying, "one must cut off the snake's head."[6] Berlin has been rewarding such statements with a consistent expansion of arms exports and joint military maneuvers.[7] These are meant to render Riyadh capable of intensifying its threat toward Iran - to keep that country in check. Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has been one of the German weapons manufacturers' biggest customers, purchasing €209 million worth of goods in 2014 and obtaining licenses for another €178.7 million for the first semester of 2015. For the above-mentioned strategic reason, Berlin has condoned furnishing state-of-the-art weaponry to a fundamentally bellicose regime.

A Shift in Interests

Because of the nuclear agreement with Iran last year, a bit of a shift has taken place, particularly in German interests. The accord opens up prospects for Germany and its industry to numerous opportunities, including eventual access to Iranian natural gas - the second largest gas reserves in the world - and its lucrative markets. German business circles estimate that an export volume of more than ten billion Euros is feasible in the intermediate term. Of course, this economic cooperation with Teheran is preconditioned by a discontinuation of an overly aggressive anti-Iran policy. Therefore, Berlin is now demanding that Riyadh reach a settlement with Teheran. In a speech in mid-October, in front of the German parliament, Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a plea for "building bridges between Iran and Saudi Arabia."[8] Immediately following his speech, he departed on a trip to Riyadh and Teheran, to promote the desired Saudi-Iranian settlement. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9])

Unruly Ally

However, this time, Saudi Arabia rejected Germany's demand and those of other western powers. January 2, Riyadh declared an end to the ceasefire with Yemen and continued the proxy war against Iran (which supports the Houthi rebel alliance). According to UN statistics, around 5,800 people have died in the war on Yemen since March 2015, more than half of them civilians. Saudi Arabia is using also German weapons in its aggression against Yemen.[10] The execution of the Saudi Shia ayatollah Nimr Bakir al Nimr also has an anti-Iranian context. Riyadh is now pursuing its confrontation course against Teheran with even more intensity; it broke diplomatic ties, announced a halt in trade relations, and suspended air traffic. Saudi citizens are now prohibited from traveling to Iran. A further escalation of the conflict on the part of the Saudi regime is conceivable. It would be simply a continuation of the anti-Iranian strategy, pursued by Riyadh together with Berlin and the other western powers since 2003. However, observers point out that the Saudi military is clearly technologically superior to Iran's, thanks to the arms buildup and training provided by the West.[11]

Unstable Balance

The German government is facing a dilemma. On the one hand, it cannot let Saudi Arabia foil its Middle East policy, and, therefore, is intensifying its pressure on Riyadh. In early December, the BND publically made unusually critical statements about the Saudi rulers,[12] the mainstream media sensing Berlin's disgruntled attitude, also made unusually critical reports on Saudi policy. On the other hand, measures against Riyadh would weaken its position and thereby open the way for Teheran to become the regional hegemon in the Middle East - a development, the West, by all means, would like to prevent. Therefore, Steffen Seibert, spokesperson for the German government, categorically rejected the demand for suspending deliveries of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, saying, "the diplomatic door" must "remain open." "We call on both countries to enter a dialogue."[13] This is the only way to maintain the unstable balance between Riyadh and Teheran, permitting Berlin and the other western powers to prevent the rise of either of these two powers - while simultaneously insuring the maximum profit from trade with both.

More on this topic can be found here: Bloody Alliance (I).

[1] Johannes Reissner: Irans Selbstverständnis als Regionalmacht. Machtstreben im Namen antikolonialer Modernität. SWP-Studie S 29, Oktober 2008. See Hegemonialkampf am Golf.
[2] Saudi-Arabien als Partner deutscher Politik. www.bpb.de 05.11.2014.
[3] Guido Steinberg: Saudi-Arabien als Partner deutscher Nahostpolitik. SWP-Studie S 35, Dezember 2008.
[4] Möglicher Saudi-Deal sorgt für Irritation. www.spiegel.de 02.12.2012. See Ein Stabilitätsfaktor.
[5] "Es geht um die Vorherrschaft". www.tagesschau.de 04.01.2016.
[6] Christoph von Marschall: Araber forderten von USA Angriff auf Iran. www.tagesspiegel.de 29.11.2010.
[7] See Hegemonic Conflict at the Gulf (II), Ein Stabilitätsfaktor and With Dictators, Headed for War.
[8] Rede von Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier im Deutschen Bundestag zu "70 Jahre Vereinte Nationen". Berlin, 14.10.2015.
[9] See A New Era in the Middle East, A New Era in the Middle East (II) and Eine neue Ära in Mittelost (III).
[10] See In Flammen, In Flames (II) and In Flames (III).
[11] Rainer Hermann: Ungleiche Rivalen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.01.2016.
[12] See Verbündete in gemeinsamer Sache.
[13] Berlin fordert Saudis und Iran zum Dialog auf. www.dw.com 04.01.2016.