Authors: Muhammad Fuad Tingai and Nabiila Azzahro*
Iran and Saudi Arabia, two hegemonic countries in the Middle East, can be said to be the Soviet Union and the United States of America Middle East. The dominance of the two countries is quite large in almost every aspect of the Middle East. The conflict between the two countries is an old conflict based on religion as Sunni and Shia. Nonetheless, we need to look at this problem in the last 41 years.
1979 became the beginning of the story of the seconds of this cold war rolling. The Shah of Iran came to an end, and Iran replaced its supreme leadership with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and made Shia the foundation of the state. This, of course, shocked the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia, which has the image of being the leader of the world’s Islamic countries, was shocked by this. It can be said that this shows that Saudi Arabia feels threatened by Iran, which makes “Shia Islam” the foundation of the state and calls itself the Islamic Republic. Mecca and Medina as the holiest cities for Muslims make Saudi Arabia a special country. Broadly speaking, there are many differences between Sunni and Shia that have occurred since the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
We can also see the difference from the point of view of how they carry out international cooperation, Iran, which is now born with the understanding of getting the Middle East out of Western exploitation, especially the United States which is considered a country that has always been the Middle East as a battlefield.
In contrast to Saudi Arabia, which always benefits from its Western cooperation, which makes oil the main commodity. This makes Iran and its Shiites political in different ways, they prefer to finance Shia-based militant groups who are directly allied with them and support their sympathizers such as Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. It can be said that now Iran is starting to surround and try to get close to Saudi Arabia, they are sinking into Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. Especially with how they respond to Palestine, where Iran seems to be more clear in providing support while not with Saudi Arabia. Iran has mobilized Hezbollah based in Lebanon as their proxy who had joined Hamas to confront Israel. In the last 15 years, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been sharpened by a series of events. The two countries have never declared open war with each other, but have engaged in proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, and Morocco.
Saudi Arabia seems to be starting to gravitate towards Lebanon as the next proxy battleground.
Although Lebanon is at risk of chaos like in Syria, not many experts see Saudi interests will not run smoothly there. A conflict in Lebanon could easily draw Israel against Hezbollah, and this could lead to a third Israeli-Lebanese war that is far more severe than the previous war. The Persian Gulf is an area that currently can be said to be in an area that is at risk of experiencing conflict because it faces each other on a maritime border. The US and its allies brand Iran as a destabilizing force in the Middle East, which is none other than because of interests. This can make Saudi Arabia’s new activism quickly become a source of further uncertainty in the region, as Western cooperation focuses on Saudi Arabia as the driving force.
This feud makes other countries push for the resolution of this conflict. As did China and Russia. But of course, again, we need to look at the root cause of this conflict. Such as Religion and Political interests.
This situation now at least raises the question of where the politics of the two countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are headed. On September 29, the two countries met in Iraq. The two were involved in high-level talks after the two broke up in 2016. This questionable meeting has at least been confirmed by a government official, and a trusted source with the government has confirmed that the meeting took place. Riyadh is also said to have unrest with Iran’s weapons of destruction. However, right now, the international community only needs to wait for what will happen in the future, because this meeting took place during ongoing conflicts in other Middle Eastern countries where their proxies are moving. In a videoconference of the UN General Assembly, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said “we hope our talks will lead to tangible results that will build trust” and revive bilateral “cooperation”.
The political ambitions of the two countries are different. However, Iran has opened the door to its cooperation with the western world, especially the US, except for Israel, which has lowered their political value in reducing the scope of Western powers in the Middle East. Indeed, the integrity of the political direction of Saudi Arabia and Iran is gradually changing from what was formed before. Adaptation is needed in seeing the prospects for cooperation and security. It is undeniable that the old strategy may not be relevant to use in today’s world conditions if it is seen from a political point of view. However, in terms of religion, this problem at least gives the impression that Sunnis have accepted the existence of Shia, which is very contrary to the true values of Islam.
For the benefit of this negotiation process, it is likely to be felt more in favor of Iran. They will be freer to spread their ideology without having to use proxies as a means of combat and reduce the budget. And for Saudi Arabia itself, they have to give up their image as the head of the world’s Islamic countries, and need political and thought power in terms of countering the thoughts brought by Iran. However, these negotiations may only strengthen internal security, regional strength, and an asymmetric threat to Saudi Arabia which is far more than Iran’s nuclear power in the Persian Gulf.
* Nabila Azzahro, student at Islamic Fashion Institute