Riyadh is dissatisfied with the United States’ Middle East policy. The US stand on Iran’s nuclear program and the looming normalization of relations between Washington and Tehran are the main apples of discord. Iran is the main Saudi Arabia’s rival for influence in the Persian Gulf and the whole Middle East. The kingdom is the leading US satellite in the Arab world. All of a sudden it faces the possibility of losing its position. The Lausanne framework agreement may become a stride in this direction. Trying to preserve its status Saudi Arabia takes reckless steps which may change the balance of forces in the region. It’s not guaranteed that this policy will serve the interests of Saudi Arabia. There is a big chance Iran will end up the winner.
The confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia goes back down in history. It’s not about the relationship between Persians and Arabs only. There are deep divisions between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located in Saudi Arabia. The country is the leader of Sunni world. Sunni Islam is the largest branch of this religion. Iran is the leading Shia country. Saudi Arabia is in difficult situation. Shiites make up the majority of the population of Iraq, the country lying to the north. Shiites may come to power in Yemen, the country situated to the south. Shiites constitute the majority of Bahrain's population. The situation is tense there, the country is moving to the brink of civil war. Intense confrontation divides Muslims in Syria and Lebanon.
The West has sided with Saudi Arabia till now. The kingdom has become concerned recently over the President Obama’s policy. US State Secretary John Kerry has said the United States does not exclude the possibility of dialogue with Bashar Assad on the issues related to the Islamic State. It has become clear that the US sees itself as the master of the game leaving to the Persian Gulf monarchies the role of pawns. The US intends to close the Iran’s nuclear dossier by holding talks at the round table to frustrate the Saudi Arabia’s hopes for having Iran defeated as a result of war launched by America. Netanyahu has to admit that there is no prospect for a war against Iran. Saudi Arabia felt left alone and decided to demonstrate its resoluteness to get involved into a dubious venture of confronting Iran.
In 2014 Saudi Arabia left India behind as the leading arms importer (India was the largest arms buyer in 2013). Riyadh increased its military budget up to $64, 4 billion. Some of the arms bought are used against the Yemeni Shiites. The rest of it is kept in storage. The main thing is to show the Western partners, especially the United States, that Saudi Arabia is a stable market for arms exporters. The recent two years, the US has not been in a rush to comply with the previously concluded arms deals. It holds discussions on every new contract. Washington has started to doubt the wisdom of relying on the state that can do little without Western aid. Looks like now the United States decided to see what its major ally in the Arab world is good for acting on its own.
Saudi Arabia has started two regional wars in the recent couple of years. In 2011 Saudi Arabia occupied Bahrain. Now it delivers air strikes against Yemen. It does it in violation of international law without a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. The kingdom and its allies bomb Yemeni insurgents only because the fugitive Yemen’s President Hadi asked them to do it. The United States and NATO pretend it is all in the order of things. The West remains doubtful about the ability of Riyadh to hold a victory over the Houthis. The provocation staged by Saudi Arabia against Iran may end up in failure. The Washington’s endorsement of the war Saudi Arabia unleashed in Yemen means that the Houthis don’t confront Sunni Muslims. They fight US puppets in the Middle East. Air strikes are not enough to rout Yemeni Shiites. They can only escalate the conflict. The Houthis make new gains with more territory going under their control. The runway president has little support in the country. There will be no quick victory. The Saudis will have to enter Yemen. Time works against the Saudi regime. The growing tensions spread to involve Shiites in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh itself provokes the Shiites in the Eastern Province into a rebellion. The tensions are exacerbated as a result of political and social discrimination of Arab Shiites in the kingdom. No matter they constitute a large part of population, the Saudi Shiites are cut off from the process of political decision making. Granting Shiites civil rights is out of question. Shiites make up the majority of population in oil rich Najd. Almost all Saudi oil deposits are located in the areas with predominant Shia population. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly over 90% of Saudi budget revenues.
Iran and Saudi Arabia fight for oil. 60-70 % of world oil deposits are located in the areas with predominant Shia population. The Shia Muslims work to produce oil – an important factor of energy security for such states as the United States of America, the European Union, India, China, Japan – all of them to large extent depend on Middle East oil. They cannot keep away from the confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia had enjoyed their support before the Lausanne talks. Now it’s not an indisputable fact. Oil revenues are the only thing Saudi Arabia can use as leverage on international situation. Will it be enough to pay for a military victory over Iran under the circumstances? With a settlement reached on nuclear program and sanctions lifted, Iran may become a more attractive partner in the eyes of Americans.