Monday, April 6, 2009

Islamic Extremist Internal Conflict

The extremist Sunni religious state Saudi Arabia is troubled by the extremist Shi'ite religious state Iran. Former head of Saudi intelligence and former ambassador to the U.S. Turki al-Faisal recently is reported to have said:

Arab differences represent a main reason for the increased Iranian role in the region that comes at the expense of crucial Arab interests and issues.

Turki, speaking at the University of Jordan's Strategic Studies Center, was not reported to have pointed out any ironic similarity between Sunni-Shi'ite conflict within Iraq and that between Iran and Saudi Arabia, not to mention between Sunnis and Shi'a within Saudi Arabia. He was also not reported to have pointed out the role of extremist proselytizing by Saudi extremists throughout the region.

It would be most interesting to hear any suggestions Turki may have for overcoming "Arab differences." A March visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Saudi Arabia in mid-March evidently did not patch up Iranian-Saudi differences, judging from Saudi comments to the press:

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters after bilateral talks with his visiting counterpart, which he described as "clear and frank," that while the kingdom appreciates Tehran's support for Arab causes, this support "should be in line with Arab legitimacy and in harmony with its goals and positions." Perhaps the Saudis had in mind Iranian efforts to upstage Saudi Arabia as leader of Islam, Iran's interest in Bahrain, and the interesting nuclear competition (with Pakistan having historical nuclear technology ties to both countries).

The Saudis may also have been thinking about Hezbollah's regional ties, including (judging from a highly hostile Arab writer) apparent ties to the Iraqi government. As an Arab entity, Hezbollah cannot be accused of interfering in relations among Arabs, as Iran can, which makes any interaction between the Lebanese Shi'ite militia and the Iraqi Shi'ite regime interesting. Another Arab writer hostile to Iran suggests that:

Only the situation in Iraq is providing Iran the opportunity to exert influence over its political future through its ties with Shia groups in the hope of making Iraq an open field so that it will not pose a threat to Iran at a later stage.

That rather emotional assessment overlooks Iran's economic ties with Arab states. According to the Economist:

Dubai, the regional trading hub that is one of the UAE’s seven statelets, handles an estimated 60% of Iran’s merchandise trade, hosts nearly 10,000 Iranian-owned firms and is linked to Iran by more than 250 flights a week.

The Economist also noted that Qatar "happens to share a giant natural gas field with Iran."

A less strident, more subtle Iran with, perhaps, a new president who plays diplomatic chess better than the current one, might advance Iranian prospects significantly in the unstable arena of Mideast affairs.

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