Riyadh passes the buck, and wins a round

Understanding the Saudi Arabian position on sanctions on Iran

Just what did the Saudi foreign minister mean when he refused to back international sanctions on Iran “because we are closer to the threat (and therefore an ) need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution”? Riyadh’s position is surprising not least because, as it transpired at a recent conference in Abu Dhabi, organised by NYU’s Centre for International Co-operation and Brookings, the Gulf states stridently called upon China to recognise which side of the Persian Gulf it had more at stake and stop shielding Iran from UN sanctions. [Richard Gowan has more about the conference over at Global Dashboard]

And more importantly, just what does is the “immediate resolution” that Prince Saud al-Faisal called for? As Dan Drezner suggests (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony) these could only mean a deniable nod for preventive air strikes by Israel or a signal that Riyadh will activate its contingency plan for its own nuclear deterrent.

So what could this be about? The answer, in all likelihood, is that Saudi Arabia just passed the buck.

In the event this is about encouraging the United States and Israel to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Saudi Arabia benefits to the extent its regional rival suffers while it is the United States and Israel that will attract Muslim anger across the world.

If, on the other hand, the United States & Israel—wisely—do not use force against Iran, Riyadh can blame Washington for being unable to prevent Iran’s nuclearisation and exercise its options to procure its own deterrent. Iran is unlikely to attack Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons anyway, leaving Israel as the net loser. Like India, Israel will have to contend with “jihad under the protection of a nuclear umbrella”.

Either way, Saudi Arabia wins.

In contrast, if it indeed had backed sanctions against Iran, it would have to do its share of the dirty work of having to persuade China to stop protecting Iran. Beijing would extract a price for its acquiescence equal to, if not exceeding the loss to its commercial interests in Iran, which Riyadh would have to substantially bear. In the end, all these costs would come to nought, because sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that sanctions do work, the outcome would effectively be one where Saudi Arabia would have paid for Israel’s security. It’s not hard to see why the Saudis didn’t back sanctions.

What happens next? It’s unlikely that Riyadh will be satisfied with a US nuclear umbrella even if it were offered by Washington. If Iran proceeds with its plans to build a nuclear weapon, we will discover who Pakistan was making all that fissile material for.

One thought on “Riyadh passes the buck, and wins a round”

  1. Did not the Israeli Nukes start out, as an insurance against USSR. If so, does it not mean that Nukes enabled feeling of security against Jihadi crowd was merely a windfall that Israelis were enjoying all so long (if it can be called an enjoyment). My view is that Israelis dont need Nukes against the Jihadi crowd and also Iranians have already shown how they dont need Nukes to go after Israel. All that Israel really needs is to have somebody excercise some sort of control/break/whatever on the terrorists, in the same way as India does in its context, somebody, anybody with whom they can begin to bargain.

    Americans who are having such a hard time taking care of their own interests in far off lands will never go over board for the Israelis. Can it be so hard to figure out that Sanctions/Air strikes both the need and the effectiveness of which is already in doubt, will be resorted to by any party for the benefit of the other.

    Chinese are No-No and Indians cannot care any lesser, merely because they dont have any cost &/or benefit.

    OTOH Saudis are the only ones who can stand in the way of Iranian ambitions in the region and the world of OIL. Not for nothing the eschatology of Islam is an article of faith. Shat al arab+location of oil etc…..Iranian Nukes are nobodys business except the ones who stand in he way of Iranian ambitions.

    All this is just some International style politics by the Ennada Rascala. The party is on (global economy), after about one and a half year of withdrawl symptoms. Nobody wants to loose out on the fun just yet.

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