Since Saudi Arabia’s King Salman became monarch last year, he has taken steps to proclaim that he will be a tough, strong, conservative ruler. He has adopted a truculent, provocative approach toward Iran. During hajj, after Saudi negligence murdered perhaps 2,500 worshippers in a stampede, he lied brazenly to the Iranians, who lost nearly 500 dead. He told them everything but the truth. To this day, those responsible have refused to offer a credible account. This was a crass, brutal insult to the victims and the rest of the Muslim world. But Salman didn’t care. He thought he could just ride it out.
In Yemen, he’s committed to a war to counter a supposed Houthi-Shiite threat. His merciless air bombardment has killed hundreds of civilians and children, but done little to root out the rebellion the King so fears.
Saudi Arabia also embraced a tacit ally it would never have in past decades. The authoritarian regimes of Israel and the Saudis see common enemies everywhere: in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Despite being Islamist and Jewish, they have much in common. The leaders of both countries define their national identities as based on religion. They see their enemies primarily through the prism of religion as well. The Saudis funded a $1-billion campaign by Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists, foment rebellion among Iran’s Sunni minority, and sabotage its nuclear program. Israeli and Saudi security chiefs are in regular, though covert contact.
Despite the fact that Israel tramples on the rights of Muslim worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif, the House of Saud cares little for that. It’s primary concern is to preserve it own power and its sway over the Muslim holy places in Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem? Not so much.
Saudi Arabia, with oil prices in steep decline and the overall prospect for the oil economy in the coming decades dim, promises to grow increasingly irrelevant in the international context. Nor are developments in the region working in the Saudis favor. The U.S. and Iran have concluded a major nuclear agreement. The gradual improvement in relations and concurrent development of commercial ties with the west bodes well for Iran as a rising power in the region. Iran’s economy, while fueled to an extent by oil, has many other elements. Not to mention a highly intelligent, skilled, and well-trained workforce capable of participating in technology and other emerging sectors.
The execution of the Kingdom’s most prominent Shiite imam is yet another sign of the new King’s desperate need to assert legitimacy and power. Salman sought to rub Iran’s nose in it by snuffing out al-Nimr’s life. Unfortunately, Iran fell into the Saudi trap by rampaging through the Kingdom’s Tehran embassy and setting it alight. Iran reacted with dutiful rage at violence it itself incited and cut relations with Iran. Despite the ominous parallels to the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy, the world understands who is most wronged and who has done the most wrong.
As with Saudi Arabia, Israel’s star is also in gradual geostrategic decline. Like the Sunni kingdom, it too is developing abundant new energy reserves, but the wealth generated will trickle into the mouths of the 1% oligarchs and ex-generals, not the roughly one-quarter of the Israeli population living in poverty. Israel’s albatross is an endless Occupation which corrupts, like power, absolutely.
The future in the region belongs not to the perfect state, for there is none here. Rather, it belongs to the states least encumbered by ancient prejudices and hate. It belongs to those who embrace the future and turn away from a past mired in war. To those most nimble, innovative and flexible. At present, that looks increasingly like Iran and less like Israel or Saudi Arabia.
בחור טוב says
Are you serious? Are you really equating Israel to Saudi Arabia?
Richard, I find your comparison insulting and ridiculous. Whilst Israel is a liberal democracy in which all citizens are equal under law, and citizens enjoy human and civil rights, such as right to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of press, etc, Saudi Arabia is a religious theocracy in which dissidents, gay people, non-Muslims, etc. are executed and citizens have no rights whatsoever.
“The leaders of both countries define their national identities as based on religion.” – and Iran doesn’t? Should I spell out the full name of the country for you?
At present, that looks increasingly like Iran and less like Israel or Saudi Arabia – what did you smoke? Or maybe you misspelled Switzerland? Are interviews on PressTV pay well enough for this type of nonsense?
I would say that Iran and Saudi Arabia…. Are approximately on the same moral footing. Iran record with executions due to various religious, policial, or cultural crimes is far from great…. In the first half of 2015 they executed approx. 700 people.
Both Saudia Arabia and Iran are extremely intolerant towards religious deviance and enforce a strict public dress code punishable by law.
They really are Sunni and Shia mirror images. Saudia Arabia is run by the house of Saud as a kingdom. Iran is no democracy and is effectively run by a “supreme leader” for life who is appointed (happened once so far) by a mullah inner circle.
Israel has some joint interests with Suadia Arabia – due to Iran’s actions and intents in the region. It is so much that Saudia Arabia is a friend, it is more a question of the enemy of my enemy is a friend.
Muslim worhip is not constricted on the temple mount. If at all Jewish worship is severely constricted (and actually forbidden!). There is a daily allotment for 60 jews to visit daily (in groups of 20) under constant muslim provocation and supervision.
As a final note – it makes sense for the Saudies to go to war now. As –
1. They pumped up their war machine (very high expenditure in the past decade) while Iran has been stuck because of sanctions (sanction relief is yet to come in substantially, and it takes time to buy/build weapons).
2. War would send oil prices soaring. And the Saudies (unlike the other gulf states, or Iran) can export via the red-sea (with the cross-arabia pipeline). War would really pay for itself – as the Saudi flow won’t be constricted much, but prices would jump sharply.
3. The nuclear threat from Iran. And the deal (joint plan of action) doesn’t constrict Saudia Arabia, and has removed enriched Uranium from Iran… Now is a pretty good time to attack.
If Iran gets neighboring countries/players (Azeri, Kurds, Pakistan, gulf states) on board they could really carve up the country – liberating south Azerbijan, east Kurdistan, Baluchistan, and the arab coast. Leaving a rump land-locked Iran.
Rowan Berkeley says
I have a nasty feeling that the much-vaunted Iran Agreement has some secret clauses, and that one of them is to abandon not only Assad but Hezbollah too, in return for a ‘guarantee’ from the US that it would ‘restrain’ Israel from taking advantage of the new lack of deterrence by launching a unilateral air attack on Iran. Such a guarantee would be worthless, but if Putin continues to regard the US as ‘partners’, perhaps even the Ayatollahs can be fooled.
RS: You’ve opened a hornet’s nest! Congratulations. As to one commenter’s saying Israel is not as religious a state as Arabia or Iran, I’d ask the commenter about Israel’s near complete refusal to allow home-building to non-Jews in Israel-48 whilst knocking down homes of non-Jews and even whole towns of non-Jews (Bedu). It is precisely religion based as is the law of return.
It is true, however, as we must admit and regret, Iran and Arabia are rather 7th century in some of their behaviors. Israel only engages in the 7th-century (or far earlier century) behavior once in a while as when it “mows the grass” in Gaza or Lebanon. (And isn’t “mow the grass” a lovely phrase showing that those who speak that way disdain entirely any concern for the human rights of their victims?)
בחור טוב January 6, 2016, 3:00 AM… “Israel is a liberal democracy in which all citizens are equal under law, and citizens enjoy human and civil rights, such as right to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of press, etc…”
HAHAHAHAHA! What a joke!
David Green says
Richard, I would only quibble with your analysis of declining oil prices, which for sure have created some domestic unrest regarding the SA welfare state. But SA chose to take more oil out of the ground and lower prices, partly to stop fracking in the US. And it probably understands that Iran will be hurt relatively more. So lower oil prices is a tactical move on their part, and we’ll see how that plays out in the longer term.
I beg to differ. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel all actively supported the anti Arab Spring dictatorships. They are all on the wrong side of history. The future in ME belongs to those youthful Arab-Springers.
Why is Iran’s support of the Syrian government any less pernicious than KSA’s support of the government in Yemen?
Why is KSA’s opposition to Iranian nukes more odious than Iran’s nuclear proliferation and treaty violations?
Are not KSA and Iran both supreme violators of human rights?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Barbar: Because Iran didn’t start the Syria civil war. It only supported Assad once the war began. And there are many foreign players on both sides of the conflict there. But Saudi Arabia has devestated Yemen & it is solely at fault for that devastation. Iran has at most played a very peripheral role there.
Iran hasn’t proliferated nor has it violated treaties. OTher than that you’ve got the facts nailed 🙁
If you’re looking for “supreme” violators of human rights, look in the mirror!
What exactly is Hezbollah supposed to “deter” Israel from?
Laugh away then.
Ever been to Israel? Ever read the papers in Israel?
“Because Iran didn’t start the Syria civil war. It only supported Assad once the war began. And there are many foreign players on both sides of the conflict there ”
And KSA didn’t start the rebellion in Yemen, it only supported the Yemen government once the war began. And the most prominent foreign player in Syria, is Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy.
“Iran hasn’t proliferated nor has it violated treaties ”
It is the opinion of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Iran had violated the NPT.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Barbar: Hillary Clinton is a politician, not a nuclear scientist. Neither the IAEA nor any other credible nucleat analyst has accused Iran of proliferating or violating NPT. BTW when Israel joins NPT then you may start complaining about invented Iranian violations.
Yaniv January 7, 2016, 12:31 AM
“Laugh away then.
Ever been to Israel? Ever read the papers in Israel?”
So, by your Hasbara logic, Yaniv, I need to have gone to Nazi Germany and read its newspapers to realize that it wasn’t a democracy? Ha! You do make me laugh!
Yes, because Israel = Nazi Germany and Hasbara = everything that claims Israel isn’t Nazi Germany (Nor even Iran. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Russia. Or even Turkey).
that’s nice, Richard, deciding that one side may not answer the other.
I would agree with your conclusion that Iran is a rising power in the region, but not because of enlightened policies.
It is because Barack Obama has decided to throw US support behind its regime and empower it, while dumping traditional allies.
The Shiite Islamist Republic of Iran has ambitions to rule the Islamic world, despite the fact that Shiites comprise 15% of Muslims.
When there were glimmers of freedom appearing in Iran in 2009 (before the reelection of Ahmedinejad) , Obama refused to support them, out of fear of alienating the regime which he hoped to embrace. But when similar things happened with long standing US allies, Obama jumped ship and abandoned them.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Yehuda: And you obtained your advanced degree in Shia Islam, where? You understand “Iran’s ambitions” how? Oh that’s right, you have no particular expertise except your own ill-informed personal opinion, which you don’t even support with any evidence, let alone credible evidence.
BTW, the U.S. cannot determine who rises & falls in the Middle East. We can’t raise Iran or sink Saudi Arabia. They do that themselves through their own actions. The Saudis are doing a damn fine job of destroying their own chances of surviving as a regime into the distant future (as is Israel).
And the implicit comment that Obama should’ve supported dictators like Mubarak because we were “longstanding allies” of Egypt is preposterous. Because Mubarak was a creaky old dictator going down with the ship, we were obligated to go down with him? Preposterous.
Arie Brand says
It is obvious that Israel’s relatively favourable ranking in the Freedomhouse overview could only be obtained because that organisation seems to ignore the occupation and Israel’s oppression of millions of people. But even West of the Green Line it finds something to criticize though obviously not very willing to do so. When it comes to the discrimination of the Arab citizens of Israel it could have found much more. Here is what it says though:
“Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy equal political rights under the law but face some discrimination in practice. As of 2014 they held 12 seats in the 120-seat Knesset—though they constitute nearly 21 percent of the population. No Arab party has ever been formally included in a governing coalition, and Arabs generally do not serve in senior positions in government. Although Israeli identity cards have not classified residents by ethnicity since 2005, Jewish Israelis can often be identified by the inclusion of their Hebrew birth date. Calls to impose a loyalty oath have alienated Arab Israelis, though such proposals have been rejected to date.”
Probably about time to remove Nawi’s picture now that we learn that in the line of Human Rights activities he told on Palestinians who were looking to sell their land to Jews, fully aware (and laughing) of the fact they are likely to be tortured and killed.
Arie Brand says
I wrote a post that seems to have gone astray arguing that Israel’s relatively favourable ranking in the Freedomhouse overview seems to be due to that organisation’s wilful blindness to the occupation and Israel’s oppression of millions of people. Nevertheless it found something to criticise West of the Green Line arguing that Arab citizens of Israel are severely underrepresented in the Knesset, that no Arab political party has ever been a part of a governing coalition and that Arab politicians do not achieve senior political rank.
There is a bit more going on there.
“In order to demonstrate the depth of discrimination we can point out that since the foundation of the state until this day, the two groups – Arabs and Jews – have grown at similar rates (eight to tenfold), but that the state has established 700 (!) new communities for Jews (including new cities) – and not a single one for Arabs, with the exception of permanent towns for Bedouin citizens who were removed from their homes. The result is a very severe housing shortage in the Arab communities and many thousands of house demolition orders in these communities. In addition, tens of thousands of Bedouin Arab citizens in the Negev continue to live in disgraceful conditions in unrecognized communities and they lack the most basic living conditions.
The Or Commission did not limit its discussion to material discrimination, but also referred to the need to recognize the special status of Arab citizens as an indigenous minority. “The Jewish majority must respect the identity, culture and language of the Arab citizens,” the commission said. “Perhaps the time has also come to give expression in public life to the common denominator of the entire population by adding official events and symbols with which all the citizens will be able to identify.” These statements by a government commission were unprecedented and aroused optimism among some Arab citizens.
But unfortunately, it can be said that not only was there no progress in this sphere, but in recent years a very dangerous political trend is on the rise: Groups on the extreme right, which are members of the governing coalition and even the ruling party, are conducting a political campaign against the rights of Arab citizens. In the previous Knesset, we saw many anti-Arab legislative initiatives, some of which received broad support and, unfortunately, led to new discriminatory laws.
A decade after the publication Or Commission’s report, Arab citizens of Israel are still suffering from ongoing discrimination from the establishment. This discrimination contradicts the principles of justice that should be at the basis of every democratic country, but it also undermines the basis of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, exacerbating their volatility. The time has come for the Israeli government to implement the conclusions of the Or Commission, which are now more relevant than ever, in the interests of all citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs alike.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.550152?date=1452263413911
The points you bring up in both your posts are (almost) all accurate – and deplorable.
The one inaccurate point (which doesn’t take away from the severity of the others) has to do with Israeli-Arab (under-)representation in the Knesset. Seems like the people at Freedom House don’t understand how our system works, or otherwise they wouldn’t make this point. There are at least 3 reasons for this under-representation, none of which have to do with discrimination.
One is the fact that the Israeli-Arab vote was divided up between too many political parties up until the last election. This “cost” almost an entire seat relative to the number of actual voters for Arab-Israeli (or joint Arab-Jewish) parties.
Another more important fact is voter turnout, which is much lower (by about 10-15 points) with Arab-Israeli voters.
The third is that about 2 mandates go to Zionist parties.
The last elections improved the situation somewhat because there was only one party (courtesy of the loathsome MK Lieberman’s plan to use Arab-Israeli political division against them by raising the electoral threshold. Personally I supported this higher threshold because I knew it would backfire, and I think our system is too divided as it is).
Richard Silverstein says
@ Yaniv: Almost all false. There is no such thing as “too many” Israeli-Arab parties. That’s is the fictional line offered by Lieberman & Netanyahu as they forced the threshhold down to a level that they hoped would destroy the chances for any Palestinian representation in the Knesset. Who decides how many parties are too many? And why is it an Israeli Jew like you? The nerve!
The main reason Palestinians are underrepresented is that they correctly understand that the Knesset & entire political system is rigged against them. There is no legitimacy to it. No Israeli Palestinian party will or has ever participated in a ruling coalition. Therefore no Palestinian can become a minister as part of such a coalition (they have served as junior ministers while serving in Jewish parties).
Why participate in such a sham?
re Rowan Berkeley
Iran is not about to abandon Syria or Hizbullah. The reaction at home would be too grave. Iran is not an autocracy – they depend on the Shi’a vote to stay in power (mainly lower class). Otherwise, all those Iranian exiles calling for regime change might gain some traction, Anyway Rouhani is too wily for that.
“As a final note – it makes sense for the Saudies to go to war now.”
It looks like you are not joking, though you should be. The Saudi war machine is useless, as has been proved in Yemen. A Saudi attack on Iran would be more likely to produce regime change in Riyadh than in Tehran.
People say that the execution of Nimr al-Nimr has brought on board extremist opinion in Saudi (i.e. among the princes, none care about the rest of the population). I have my doubts, from my experience in that country. Such extreme action will loosen the Saudi family grip by a pêg. More important will be the threatened austerity. Loyalty to the regime depends on the subsidies. If the regime can’t pay, I could imagine grumbles among the Hijazis. No-one seems very happy. I should mention that, unlike most Westerners, I have often been invited to the Saudi-Saudi lunches, where I can sit in the corner and listen to what they say.
You’re marking opinions as false, yourself not bringing any evidence for yours.
As for my “nerve” – there are too many *Jewish* parties as well. That’s the whole point of the higher (not lower, like you said) threshold – to bring down the overall number of parties (Kadima had 2 MK’s last elections, with absolutely zero contribution). Threshold discussions have been going on for decades – going back to when there were just 1 or 2 Arab-Israeli parties, and when most Arab voters were voting for Zionist parties anyway.
Of course there’s no “right” threshold – the American system with its two parties representing 300 million people seems too constricting to me. The Israeli system, which had 12-13 parties representing 8 million people up until the last elections (and as many as 15 in ’84, ’88, ’99. Currently there are just 10), seems too fragmented. It still is, btw. I’d rather they bring the threshold up another notch and eliminate my own party along with Lieberman’s and one of the two Haredi parties (too many of those as well! My nerve for thinking that!).
I don’t subscribe to your theory that the political system is “rigged” against Israeli-Arabs. Jewish politics is indeed mostly aligned and allied against them, thinking, mistakenly, that there’s not enough common ground to build on outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Israeli-Arab politics itself has not been overly “friendly” towards the Zionist establishment.
I hope that the recent plan to change the allocation of funds between Arab and Jewish communities will indeed make a difference (if it’s at all implemented – we still have to wait and see of course). And as much as causality is hard to decipher in politics, I’m not sure it could have been advanced at all if there were still 3 Arab-Israeli parties rather than one, or if there was someone more confrontational than Ayman Odeh heading it.
Richard Silverstein says
Interesting. So you’re a constitutional or government scholar, expert in various forms of democratic government around the world. Further, you are able to offer a cogent critique of the U.S. election system and the damage it’s done to U.S. politics and governance. Well excuse me. I’d have to say that this system, with all its weaknesses & faults has done a pretty decent job for the past 250 years. But your claim that two static parties have ruled this country is false. We have had Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, Republicans, Democrats, Know-Nothings, Greens, Communists, Socialists. Each of them vied for political dominance during their existences. We have had many elections in which there were strong viable third parties.
There will never nor can never be EQUAL allocation of funds between Palestinian & Jewish communities. That is the only option that would show Israel to be a true democracy. Nor will there ever be a major shift in such allocations. The fact that you believe this could happen shows your enormous naivete. In fact, I just read that their will some sort of loyalty oath demanded of these communities in order to receive such funding. Yet another example of bait & switch.
Arie Brand says
Discrimination not only in housing or political representation but in all “walks of life”. From Uri Avery’s last column:
“The Arab citizens constitute about 20% of the Israeli population. They are discriminated against in all fields of life. Public opinion polls show that many Jewish Israelis despise them. Just this week a Greek airplane about to leave Athens for Tel Aviv was delayed for hours because some Jewish passengers objected to two Israeli Arabs on board. The Arabs were left behind.
(Imagine two black passengers on an American plane. Or two Jewish passengers on a German one.)”
@Arie – no dispute there.
That said, the reason for leaving the Arab passengers behind is fear, not (just) racism.
It is sickening and alarming, but you cannot ignore that crucial ingredient of fear.
See this, for example for a heartrending (a bit Hollywoodesque, but never mind that for a minute) encapsulation of the Israeli “street”:
Richard Silverstein says
You mean you’re demanding that we “understand” Israeli racism. That we must “understand” why Israeli Jews behave so abominably toward Israeli non-Jews. And that if we “understand” them then there’s hope…for what?
Bullshit. No one has to understand thuggish inexcusable behavior. That fact that you make allowances for it, that you “understand” it makes you part of the problem, not the solution. But then again, we knew that from the first word you wrote here.
[comment deleted: This is so far off-topic from the post itself we’re in a different universe. Move on to a new comment thread. I have absolutely no interest in debating whether Ayman Oudeh loves or hates Zionists or any other related subject. I realize I did respond to some of what you wrote about him in an earlier comment. So I should’ve shut you down in this thread earlier. My bad.]