In countless media interviews and statements, it is clear that the Saudi rulers have an abiding obsession with Iran – an obsession that betrays an intense fear and hatred.
Senior members of the House of Saud have let it be known that their real focus in Syria, for example, is not primarily the government of Bashar al Assad, and their desire for regime change, but rather the main target is Assad’s closest regional ally – Iran.
Everywhere in the region, the paranoid House of Saud sees the hand of Iran. In an oped piece in the New York Times in December, the Saudi Ambassador to Britain, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, accused Iran without any evidence, saying that it “has financed and trained militias in Iraq, Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and militants in Yemen and Bahrain.” This is, of course, ironically crass, coming from the House of Saud, which is provably the sponsor of terrorists or terror regimes, such as the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra in Syria, ISIS in Iraq and the ruling Al Khalifa despots in Bahrain.
But the main point here is that Saudi Arabia, or at least its rulers led by the aging King Abdullah, is transfixed in animosity towards Iran. That obsession is driven by a visceral hatred. Why?
The short answer is self-preservation. But there are at least three specific reasons for this hatred, and they are inter-related.
The first is religious. The official religion of Saudi Arabia is Wahhabism. In this extreme deformation, Shia Islam is viewed as an intolerable apostasy. It is not just Shia that are perceived as “infidels”. All forms of Muslim faith, including Sunnis, as well as Christians and other religions, that are deemed to not conform with the Wahhabi fundamentalist doctrine are considered infidels and are subject to merciless attack, even to the point of death.
In the warped Wahhabi belief Shia Muslims are the worst kind of “infidels”. This explains why Shia and the closely related Alawite are subject to the most barbaric forms of violence in the Syrian conflict, where the anti-Syrian government militants are mainly driven by Wahhabi ideology – also known as Takfiris.
For historical reasons, Iran is the centre of Shia Islam in the region and the world. Iran therefore qualifies as the centre of Saudi hatred.
The second factor goes back to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. When the Iranian revolution succeeded in 1979 to kick out the US-backed dictator, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, that turmoil threatened all autocratic rulers in the region from the inspirational impact it conveyed to other populations to rise up against oppressive regimes. The House of Saud felt particularly threatened. That is why the Saudi rulers responded immediately by setting up the Persian Gulf Defense pact in the early 1980s, which comprised the other monarchies of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
Indeed, the Saudi rulers’ hatred of Iran has only intensified since the Iranian revolution. The House of Saud views Iran’s demonstratively more democratic credentials as a mortal threat to its despotism. The more Iran’s political influence grows in the region, the more the Saudi rulers fear an existential threat. This explains the paranoid mindset of the House of Saud towards Iran, as expressed by its ambassador to Britain cited above, which suspects that Iranian subversion is everywhere, even when it isn’t.
The third factor is more mundane, but perhaps is the ultimate concern for the House of Saud – the vital issue of oil and gas economics.
Of the 12 OPEC member states, the top three producers are Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Of most significance is Iran’s enormous gas wealth, which is as yet hardly tapped as an economic resource. Natural gas is the fuel of the future for the next century, being more efficient as an energy source in terms of transport via pipelines and in terms of calorific output. Environmentally, natural gas is a much cleaner fuel than oil, giving off much less harmful byproducts from combustion.
Iran is reckoned to hold the largest known reserves of natural gas on Earth in its Pars Field. If Iran’s international relations were normalized by the removal of trade sanctions, the country stands to become an even more formidable global source of energy. Of particular strategic importance is the European market for which Iran would be a top supplier, along with Russia (a non-OPEC member).
This development, which has an inexorable trajectory owing to irrepressible human need, is seen by the House of Saud as an imperative threat. Saudi Arabia is endowed with oil, but much less so with natural gas. Saudi strategic value as an energy producer is therefore on the wane, whereas Iran is bound to grow owing to its vast natural gas deposits.
At all costs, from the Saudi point of view, Iran must be prevented from developing its potential energy wealth. Saudi Arabia is living on borrowed time. Its oil reserves will eventually be surpassed by Iran’s gas riches. Already, the Saudi rulers are sitting atop a demographic time bomb of an increasing and unemployed youth population, which so far has been placated with state fiscal handouts from its oil exports. The days for those handouts are numbered.
What will happen when Saudi’s oil economy goes into demise, and is sidelined with the new global energy economy of natural gas in which Iran is a leading nation? That will translate into greater Iranian political influence in the region and a diminishing hold on power by the sclerotic Saudi autocrats.
The political and economic fate of the United States is closely tied to the Saudi petrodollar economy and that of the other Persian Gulf monarchies. The bankrupt American dollar is already largely on life-support due to the Saudis and their related sheikhdoms dealing in the commodity with the greenback and funneling profits into the US Treasury, propping up the dollar.
If Iran were to develop to its full potential, trade in oil and more importantly natural gas would most likely be denominated in Euro, Ruble, Yen or Yuan. That is a doomsday scenario for the US dollar and its long overdue collapse.
Ultimately, Washington shares the intense antipathy of the House of Saud towards Iran’s unfettered political and economic freedom. Not for arcane Wahhabi reasons, but for vital economic self-preservation. Hence, the sharp rebuke from Washington this week when a French business delegation visited Iran to explore possible partnerships. US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly phoned his French counterpart Laurent Fabius in a panic to protest at the delegation. The last thing the Americans want to see is Iran doing independent trade with Europe without the dollar.
The Saudi despots and their American patrons cannot afford Iranian development as an economic power. That directly threatens the House of Saud, politically and economically, which in turn threatens Washington to its very core.
For all of the above reasons, the Saudi rulers fear Iran above all else. The Zionist Israeli regime and its desecration of Islamic sanctities in East Al Quds (Jerusalem) does not even raise a single heckle for the Al Saud – the self-proclaimed Custodians of Islam. Their only fear and hatred are expressed in waging covert war against Iran and its allies, including Syria and the people of Bahrain, Iraq, Yemen and anywhere else. They want Iran contained, thwarted, sanctioned at all costs, and Washington by geopolitical necessity is on the Saudi side.
But as the tectonic plates of global energy needs shift inexorably over the coming decades, the Saudi rulers and their American patrons will find themselves on the losing side. In a very real way, this spells death to al Saud and the American Empire. Hence, the hatred.