SAUDI-IRANIAN STANDOFF: STRUGGLE FOR INFLUENCE
The standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran was one of key topics discussed at the conference titled “The Middle East: When Will Tomorrow Come?” held on February 27-28 in Moscow by the Valdai Discussion Club and RAS Institute of Oriental Studies. On the sidelines of the conference Irina Zvyagelskaya, Chief Research Fellow of the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, spoke about this Middle East problem in an interview with www.valdaiclub.com.
“Saudi-Iranian rivalry is one of the most important factors affecting today the balance of power in the Middle East, – Zvyagelskaya said. – And in the context of the numerous conflicts we see that this factor impedes the settlement. The current Saudi-Iranian contradictions are often perceived as an existential confrontation. And this, in my opinion, is the main problem. ”
The solution of the Middle East problems is blocked by the fact that Saudi Arabia and Iran play a “zero-sum game,” Zvyagelskaya said. “This rigidity in definition of proper interests and interests of the opponent is a major obstacle to attempts to find a common ground, shared or parallel interests, which in any case can exist in these countries,” – she said.
Although both countries belong to the same region and in theory should be interested in the reduction of external interference and creation of a reliable security system, the determining factor is their struggle for influence, Zvyagelskaya said.
Commenting on the possibility of a regional alliance against Iran, including Sunni states and Israel, which are Tehran’s main antagonists, the expert pointed out that Israel surely won’t take part in such alliance. Nevertheless, we can talk about a certain warming between the Gulf states and Israel on the basis of the existence of their “common enemy”.
Throughout the modern history the relations between the two neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Iran, were unstable and explosive. The interaction between these two key regional powers affect the entire Middle East region.
“Several times I was at conferences in Doha, organized by the famous Doha Forum. There were Israelis. Moreover, now they are sitting at a table with a sign plate “Israel”, which did not happen before. In this sense, Israel is perceived as part of the Middle East, one way or another,” – Zvyagelskaya said.
We should keep in mind that no formal agreements between these Arab countries and Israel will not be signed until settlement of the Palestinian problem, she added.
Meanwhile, cooperation between Russia and Iran is a long-term relationship, due to the history, politics and economics, Zvyagelskaya said. They are not limited only by the Middle East, but affect regions, which are very important for Russia – the Caucasus and Central Asia. The two countries understand each other’s interests and have experience of political cooperation, such as during the civil war in Tajikistan, where Iran played a positive role, the expert noted.
At the same time mutual understanding of each other’s interests does not mean their harmonization, she said. “Recently a leading Iranian military leader said that Tehran will do everything to destroy the Russian monopoly in Central Asia for the delivery of energy resources. This means that we will not only work together, but also compete somewhere “, – concluded Zvyagelskaya.