The Sorcerer's Apprentice

BERLIN/RIYADH/TEHERAN (Own report) - The dispute over Riyadh’s aggression against Iran is escalating between Germany and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has recalled its ambassador from Berlin and cancelled steps to ease the dramatic famine in Yemen, following German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's accusation that Riyadh had been holding Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Al-Hariri hostage for nearly two weeks in its efforts to escalate the conflict with the Iran-backed Hezbollah. 130 children are dying daily of starvation, caused by Saudi Arabia’s hunger blockade on Yemen. In the Middle East, the German government is trying to maintain a fragile balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran that can be influenced from the outside to strengthen the German-European position at the Persian Gulf. To prevent Riyadh from becoming the future underdog, Germany is thus upgrading the Saudi military and Riyadh, in turn, is relying on German weapons in its efforts to escalate the conflict with Iran and its regional allies.

Power Struggle in the Middle East

Berlin and Riyadh are currently in a dispute over the Saudi leadership’s efforts to escalate the conflict with Iran. In fact, the struggle for predominance in the Middle East has been smoldering between Riyadh and Teheran for quite some time. The USA’s destruction of Iraq in 2003 - Iran’s long-time rival - placed it at a structural advantage. Like Saudi Arabia, Iran can profit from its huge oil and gas reserves, but - in comparison to Saudi Arabia - has a much larger and better educated population and a significantly superior industrial tradition. Riyadh initiated a certain social and economic modernization under Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman al Saud ("Vision 2030", reported [1]). However, if the persisting US sanctions and the US imposed western boycott of Iranian banks would not be holding back a relaunch of the Iranian economy, Riyadh would not be able to keep up with Teheran. So far, all Saudi efforts to weaken Iranian influence in the wars on Syria and Yemen have backfired. Today Iran is in a much stronger position in both countries than ever before.

Fragile Balance

For quite awhile, Berlin has been seeking to establish a fragile balance of power in the region, which would enhance the opportunity for outside mediators - for example Germany - to exert influence. Germany is thus upgrading the military of Saudi Arabia and its allies, i.e. the United Arab Emirates, to prevent Iran from becoming the dominant power in the region, and doing so even though the Saudi Armed Forces are using German hardware also in their aggression against Yemen and their blockade of that country. According to the Save The Children relief organization, the blockade is causing the deaths of 130 children daily. They are dying because Riyadh is preventing relief supplies of food and medicine from entering the country.[2] On the other hand, the German government is seeking to defend the nuclear deal with Iran against US attacks, to prevent new sanctions on Iran. Ending the boycott is seen as a precondition for German businesses to field new - potentially billion-euro - business deals with Iran,[3] and for Berlin to obtain political influence in that country.

The Mediator Role

German think tanks are also seeking to position themselves in a mediator role between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In March, Hamburg's influential Körber Foundation held its "Bergedorf Round Table" discussions in Riyadh and Teheran, with the participation of influential representatives of the respective political establishments - to determine "What Role Can Europe Play in Promoting Regional Stability in the Middle East."[4] Most recently, at the beginning of the month, the latest management seminars of the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS) held talks in the capitals of both Middle Eastern antagonists.

Saudi Aggressions

At the same time, the Saudis' unprecedented anti-Iranian escalation policy, being pursued since some time, runs counter to German politics. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who, in the foreseeable future, according to observers, will succeed his seriously ill father on the Saudi royal throne, has not only initiated the above mentioned socio-economic modernization of the country, but also taken steps to aggressively pit the Arab countries against Iran. Muhammad bin Salman is not only driving the war effort against Yemen, he had also imposed a total blockade on Qatar because it occasionally cooperates with Iran.[5] In a putsch-like shakeup, he removed from office and neutralized a rival ruling faction, and several potentially recalcitrant ministers and vice ministers early this month.[6] Obviously holding Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri hostage in the Saudi capital is the latest step he has taken. Hariri was forced to resign while in Riyadh - using an excuse that could justify any form of aggression against Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. He publicly claimed that because of the strength of the Hezbollah, he feared for his life. Lebanon's President Michel Aoun explicitly stated that Hariri's being forced to remain in the Saudi capital, can be qualified as him being "taken hostage" by a government. US media point out that, when Hariri was allowed to leave for France, thanks to diplomatic intervention, two of his children were left behind in Riyadh, thus possibly "Hariri was still not acting freely."[7] Yesterday, at a meeting of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia sought to convince the Arab world to take common action against Iran. It would not "remain idle" toward Teheran and would show no "leniency," according to the threatening resolution tabled by Riyadh.[8]

The Dispute Escalates

Berlin is seeing its policy to gain influence in the Middle East being threatened by Riyadh's policy of aggression. Friday, Germany's Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel declared, he would "no longer simply sit by speechless," in face of "the adventurism" that has been "spreading" throughout the region, the past few months.[9] Riyadh retaliates. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately criticized Gabriel's statement as "inappropriate and unjustified," and summoned its ambassador in Germany home for consultations and handed Germany’s representative in Riyadh a protest note. Over twitter, the Lebanese Prime Minister - probably under renewed pressure from Riyadh - called the German Foreign Minister, a "liar." Riyadh also abruptly annulled the Berlin visit of its special commissioner for humanitarian aid to Yemen. He was supposed to negotiate options for the delivery of desperately needed relief supplies, in spite of the blockade, to that country, plagued by hunger and cholera. That can now be forgotten. Saudi Arabia is beyond Berlin's control and ratcheting up the highly volatile Middle East tensions even further. If it should come to war against Iran, or any of its allies - e.g. in Syria or in Yemen - Saudi Arabia will be able to rely on the billions of euros in armaments delivered by Germany, even if Berlin is opposed to further escalation.[10]


[1] See also Armed with German Help.

[2] S. dazu Assisting Famine (III).

[3] See also Die Anti-Trump-Allianz.

[4], [5] See also Der Anti-Trump.

[6] Guido Steinberg: Staatsstreich in Saudi-Arabien. 07.11.2017.

[7] Alissa J. Rubin, Anne Barnard, Elian Peltier: Lebanese Prime Minister Meets Macron After Mysterious Saudi Stay. 18.11.2017.

[8] Saudis, Bahrain target Iran, Hezbollah at Arab League. 19.11.2017.

[9] Ulrike Scheffer: Die Libanon-Krise erreicht Berlin. 18.11.2017.

[10] See also Ein Spitzenkäufer deutschen Kriegsgeräts.