According to itypeusa, Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula and is placed in the heart of the Middle Eastern chessboard. Its geopolitical relevance brings with it not only the intense relations with the Gulf countries, but also the involvement in the broader dynamics of the Middle East and in the global ones. Hence the participation in the G20 and the preponderant role within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). A regional relevance that following the Arab Springs of 2011 has transformed into political and moral leadership, also given Saudi activism in the main theaters of Middle Eastern crisis, among which Egypt (where the al-Saud crown immediately defined a close alliance with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi), Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Despite this leadership, there are still many unknowns related to both domestic and regional security and to political relations with the US ally and other international actors. On the regional level, the major thorns for Saudi diplomacy are represented by the internal clash at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with Qatar, the jihadist danger in the Middle East and the always high friction with Iran.
Saudi Arabia represents the GCC’s largest economy and political power, which also includes Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait. With respect to the other monarchies of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has always tried to impose a hegemonic policy in the perspective of an evolution of the GCC itself from the current mechanism of economic and security cooperation in a Gulf Union, much more similar to the ‘European Union. Qatar, Oman and the UAE, on the other hand, have always rejected a system of Gulf alliances that would change the current status quo and significantly favored Saudi Arabia. Hence the choice of individual actors, but in particular of Qatar, to conduct their own foreign policy that is more autonomous and disconnected from the Saudi hegemony which has inevitably cracked relations with Riyadh. The tear officially ended in March 2014 when Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. Apparently returning with a normalization of relations, the crisis worsened again at the end of August 2014, when Doha refused to ratify the ‘Riyadh Agreement’, a mechanism for implementing the security device of the GCC.
Riyadh is also worried about the question of the so-called ‘return jihadism’, which directly threatens the internal security of the state. In an attempt to give a concrete response to the fundamentalist threat represented by Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Saudi government has decided to launch a series of operations on several fronts. First, the government passed a new and stricter anti-terrorism law in December 2013. Secondly, the list of terrorist organizations in Jabhat al-Nusra, to the Islamic State (Is), but also to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Finally, the executive authorized the national guard to intensify border controls and deploy 30,000 soldiers along the border with Iraq and, at the same time, donated 1 billion dollars to the Lebanese army to fight the jihadist front of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, now barricaded near the Lebanese border town of Arsal.
Parallel to the jihadist phenomenon, Saudi Arabia considers Iran a threat to its regional supremacy. A condition that became increasingly evident with the signing of the agreement on the nuclear program between Iran and the ‘5 + 1’ countries (Russia, United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Germany), and re-emerged in September 2015 with yet another massacre of pilgrims in Mecca on the occasion of the annual Hajj, where more than 500 Shiites, mostly Iranians, were counted among the 2,000 victims. In January 2016, the execution of the Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr once again inflamed tensions between Riyadh and Tehran. Beyond the news episode, the rivalry with Iran is mainly the result of the tensions that have arisen in recent years with the question of the pursuit of a nuclear program by Tehran and with the growth of Iranian leverage in the region, as witnessed, in fact, from the crises in Bahrain, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where the theocratic Republic played, depending on the scenarios in which it was involved, a role of assistance and strong intervention in the military and political dynamics of the aforementioned countries.
Nonetheless, the nuclear agreement of July 2015 defined new regional and global balances, granting Iran, on the one hand, the possibility of moderate re-engagement in the international community, and on the other, favored a tactical repositioning to the ‘internal of new and old alliance schemes internal and external to the Middle East, as well as a rethinking of the same foreign policy strategies and postures of many local actors, including primarily Saudi Arabia itself. Indicators of this change in the Middle Eastern political-strategic scenario are the rapprochement of Saudi Arabia with Turkey and above all the political-military alignment of an Arab-Sunni coalition, with an anti-Iranian function, in the proxy war waged in Yemen.
In fact, although the Saudi government has always professed to be a faithful ally of Washington in the region, divergences regarding the attempt at rapprochement between the US and Iran on Iranian nuclear power and the US foreign policy direction in the Middle have intervened to crack the bilateral relationship. East which, according to Saudi Arabia, would have empathized too much in favor of the Arab squares in revolt since 2011. The two administrations have tried to relaunch the strategic dialogue, however profound fundamental differences remain in their respective Middle Eastern foreign policy approaches, which have emerged in a evident in the absence of King Salman at the US-GCC bilateral summit convened by Obama in May 2015, in the aftermath of the transitional agreement reached on Iranian nuclear power in April 2015. In parallel with the cooling of relations with the US, Saudi Arabia has found in recent years a tactical and strategic convergence in many delicate regional dossiers (Syria, Iraq, Iranian nuclear power and the fight against international terrorism) with countries considered up to a few years before the sworn enemies of the Saudi state and the entire Arab-Muslim world: this is the case of Israel. Moved by common interests to contain Iranian influence in the Middle East region, Tel Aviv and Riyadh have established an unofficial understanding to face the threat posed by Tehran.