Saudi-Iran proxy wars: In pursuit of regional hegemony

Saudi-Iran proxy wars: In pursuit of regional hegemony
From Al Jazeera - November 14, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been battling each other for regional hegemony for years.

Hostilities have increased since the Saudis, backed by the United States, baulked at the 2015 nuclear deal which saw Iran give up nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief and ramped up efforts to curb the Islamic Republic's influence in the region.

Now, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Haririis suspected of being held against his will in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Haririappeared on television on Sunday night for the first time since his abrupt resignation on November 4.

Hariri rejected what he called rumours of his detention in Saudi Arabia and promised a return to Lebanon "very soon" in order to affirm his decision to give up the premiership.

"Here in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I am free," Hariri said on Future TV, a station affiliated with his political party.

But many, including Hariri's own staff and allies in his unity government, fear that Saudi leadership is mandating the prime minister's actions.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanon'sShia movement and Iran ally,Hezbollah, said the resignation was "forced".

Hariri's abrupt resignation, coupled with reports that he is being held against his will, have led many to question whether Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is opening a new front against Iranian influence in Lebanon.

Imad Salamey, associate professor of political science and international affairs at the Lebanese American University, told Al Jazeera it is likely that Saudi Arabia will open a new front in Lebanon as it shifts its view of its relationship with the Sunni community in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has close ties to Lebanese businessmen and politicians, including the Hariri family.

"Saudis have not used these connections against Hezbollah in Lebanon, though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may no longer see this arrangement as beneficial," Salamey said.

Bin Salman is "consolidating power", Salamey said, referencing the arrests of Saudi businessmen and royals, which the kingdom refers to as an "anti-corruption" campaign.

"I think this is why we see [Hariri's resignation] at the same time as the arrests in Saudi Arabia", Salamey said.

This power consolidation extends beyond Saudi borders, Salamey explained. Recently, the Saudis have used their military to project power, especially in its proxy conflicts with Iran in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.


Considering the Saudis' extended involvement and apparent losses in these conflicts - seen as attempts to curb Iranian influence - the decision to engage Iran in Lebanon may not be wise, according to Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and expert on Syria.

Landis believes the contest for military supremacy is already over.

"The Iranians have won the war for military strength in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. There can be little doubt about this," he told Al Jazeera.

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, after the tumult of the Arab Spring protests that unseated autocratic leaders throughout the region and attempted to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Assad cracked down on protesters calling for democracy in 2011, leading to the creation of armed groups and the eruption of violence.The conflict has killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced millions more.

The Saudis have long wanted al-Assad, an Iran-backed leader from a minority religion who rules over a majority Sunni state, to be removed from power. By mid-2015, Assad was close to losing power.

Then, Russia joined the war in September 2015. Along with Hezbollah and Iranian forces, the Russian intervention gave al-Assad a lifeline.

He has increased his control of the war-torn country's territory from roughly a third in 2015 to a majority stake.

Saudi-backed rebel groups have been routed by pro-Assad forces. The chaotic situation and political vacuum in Syria helped the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS and Daesh). ISILtook control of parts of Syria but has recently suffered major losses, including its de facto capital, Raqqa.





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