The Syrian situation lays bare the contradictions in the Middle East’s politics. Virtually all regional states are caught in a cleft stick. The choice is stark when principles come into conflict with the needs of expediency or what we call realpolitik. From Israel to Iran, Syria’s future presents a policy dilemma. But no ME country faces a more acute dilemma than Saudi Arabia, which is the flag-carrier of the demand for the ouster of the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria.
Just look at the irony of it — Saudi Arabia, which is an autocratic regime that practices hardcore tenets of Wahhabism as state policy, provides the muscle power for crushing the demand for political empowerment in Bahrain and impedes Yemen’s passage to democratic era is the loudest in clamouring for democratic reform in Syria.
The Saudi motivation is quite undisguised: its visceral dislike of Shi’ite Iran’s surge as regional power. The Saudis are viewing the Middle Eastern situation exclusively through the prism of their rivalry with Shi’ite Iran. Even the Palestinian problem gets tinged by this Saudi obsession.
The month of September is going to put the Saudis in an acute predicament when the Palestinians press for their statehood at the UN General Assembly session in New York. The Saudis are under compulsion to appear as the staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause lest they get isolated on the ‘Arab street’ and lest countries like Iran, Turkey and Egypt steal a march over Riyadh in regional leadership. On the other hand, it is a foregone conclusion that the United States is going to veto the Palestinian move on statehood.
The Saudis are caught in a bind insofar as the Palestinian problem finds them on the same side as the Iranian and the Syrian regimes as well as the Hamas and Hezbollah. But the biggest fear the Saudis would have is that the high focus on the Palestinian problem threatens to subsume their sectarian agenda that they have been pushing to the forefront of the Middle East crisis, namely, the Sunni-Shi’ite schism.
These acute policy dilemmas find reflected in the article by the redoubtable Turki al-Faisal in the NYT. The article underscores a desperate Saudi attempt to ride the wave of Arab opinion and to turn the tide toward the Saudi agenda on Iran. There is hardly any criticism of Israel in the article. Turki’s threat that US-Saudi relations will suffer unless Washigtnton supports Palestinian statehood is baloney. Beggars can’t be choosers and the Saudi regime knows only too well that it is beholden to the Americans for survival.
The Saudis are terrified that the US’s capacity to intervene in the Middle East or confront Iran is fast diminishing, given the US’s overstretch and its economic crisis. Even a hawkish right-winger like Senator John McCain admits today that the US cannot contemplate another intervention in the Middle East and that the American people will never approve such adventurism. Turki’s ‘warning’ to Washington is actually an expression of Riyadh’s growing nervousness. His article is here.