Saudi Arabia and Iran: The Arms Race Continues

In 2017, Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia signed a $110 billion dollar arms deal. It was clearly articulated that the purpose was to strengthen the “long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian related threats.” The long-term security of Saudi Arabia? According to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) in Yemen, there have been over 56,000 people killed since 2016 and complicit to this atrocity is neighbouring Saudi Arabia who – along with their allies – marketed the violence to be less intense and thus less of a concern. While they signed this deal, tens of thousands of Yemeni were suffering from starvation and malnutrition as well as well as preventable diseases.


The conflict between the two nations can perhaps be traced back to Saudi Arabia leading the development of the Muslim World League in 1962 and, along with its oil reserves and ultimate wealth, began to view itself as leaders of the Muslim World. As custodians of the holiest cities in Islam – Mecca and Medina – the Wahhabi legitimacy was threatened by the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini did not shy away from articulating his disapprobation of Wahhabi authority and openly sought leadership over the Muslim world. In his last will and testament, Khomeini writes:

Muslims should curse and fight tyrants, including and especially the Saudi royal family, these traitors to God’s great shrine, may God’s curse and that of his prophets and angels be upon them. King Fahd spreads a large part of the people’s wealth every year on the anti-Koranic, totally baseless and superstitious faith of Wahhabism. He abuses Islam and the dear Koran. Curse this traitor to God.

To be fair to this overtly zealous rhetoric, Saudi leadership supported Iraq during their invasion and war against Iran in 1980 that resulted in eight years of conflict and almost one million lives. Hope was sparked following the death of Khomeini in 1989 and with the subsequent invasion of Kuwait by Iraq that enabled tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia to ease as they mutually disagreed to the violence. This was furthered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit that called for reconciliation and ultimately lead to the 1998 cooperation agreement between the two states. Signed by president Muhammad Khatami and King Fahd, it hoped to improve relations and ultimately Gulf security, economics and culture between the two countries.


All this was echoed by the Cold War between Russia and the United States that advantageously used the disagreements in the Middle East to exert their power. The North Yemen civil war from 1962-1970 was fought between the royalist Kingdom of Yemen covertly supported by Saudi and its UK and US allies while the Yemen Arab Republic by Russia. This was followed by the al-Wadiah War where, again, following a history of foreign influence and border disputes, Saudi Arabia supported by the United States clashed with the People’s Republic of South Yemen backed by Russia. Then the Saudi government funded arms to dissidents in South Yemen that opened the gate to the 1972 Yemenite war between the North and South factions.

Emerging from the civil war, the Shia-based Houthi movement in North Yemen is said to have been covertly supported by Iran as they challenged the Saleh government at the time and (correctly) claimed were backed by Saudi and US influence, leading to the continued crises in the region that perpetuated political instability and corruption, food shortages and unemployment. The authoritarian Saleh handed over power to Abdrabbuh Hadi, but the instability led to the Houthi control of the Saada province and the capital Sanaa that forced Hadi into exile.

By 2015, the bloodshed worsened when intensive Saudi-led air strikes supported by the United States bombarded the Houthi controlled areas as it suggested the country would be controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis. This violent determination by Saudi-led forces have thus confirmed their complicity to the terrible humanitarian crisis in the country that has caused over 8.4 million people at risk of starvation and millions more in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has suggested that almost 80% of the population is threatened by the instability whereby the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has stated that it is only worsening.

Worsening. And yet, an arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States? How about aid for the starving? The deal itself was influenced by the presence of communist China in the region that supported the development of Saudi missile capability that worried the US. While it is clear that the arms race has been present in the region for sometime, there is a shift in the balance of powers and no doubt all the violence in the region has influenced the profitable outcomes for the United States and China/Russia. Let the innocent be slaughtered and buried under rubble rather than in graves all for the sake of economic power.

And why would the Saudi Kingdom lust over new weapons that includes the modernisation of its current air force and missile capabilities? Three words. The Iran Deal. Despite the heightened rivalry and concerns around Iranian nuclear programme, in 2015 Iran agreed to a deal that would remove economic sanctions in exchange for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors permitted to sensitive inspections that would ensure the reactor would not produce any weapons-grade plutonium. The opening of sanctions worried the Saudi Kingdom as it permitted the possibility of financing of other weapons, including ballistic missiles.

All this is caused by deep-rooted hostilities between religious factions that has resulted in millions and millions of deaths and allowed the greedy fingers of foreign-proxy influence to penetrate and stalemate any hope for a peaceful future in the region. Whether Shia or Sunni, Communist or Democratic, the Middle East seems full of violent, stupid men thirsting for power and all at the expense of the innocent.

Also see:

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