The House of Saud has always feared – above all other threats – an expansionist Iran. The Iranian revolution in 1979 sent the Saudi monarchy into a panic, mostly stemming from their eternal mistrust of their native Shi’ite minority, which is the majority population of the oil-rich Hasa province. All throughout the 1980s, the two nations fought a proxy war on a series of front, a confrontation which brought the Saudi government closer to the United States.
Now, with Iranian infiltration of Iraq and the rise of the Iraqi Shi’ite community, the Saudis are feeling the heat again, indicated in a speech given yesterday before the Council on Foreign Relations by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, who stated:
“Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason,” he said.
Iranians, Faisal said, go into areas that American forces have pacified and “pay money … install their own people (and) even establish police forces and arm the militias that are there.”
“And they are protected in doing all this by the British and American forces,” he added.
By indicating Saudi unease, Faisal is signalling that Saudi Arabia might be open to pursuing a foreign policy less in-line with American goals in the region. This includes negotiating or at least opening up independent communications with various Sunni groups inside Iraq (which they probably already have) or, even worse for American interests, moving closer to Iran. There are indications that other gulf states, observing the rise of Iran as a regional hegemon, are beginning to adapt that very position.