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WASHINGTON – Iran has watched as Saudi Arabia has incited Sunnis to create instability in neighboring Iraq and Riyadh has launched concerted efforts to overthrow the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Alawite regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Now the chairman of the Iranian joint chiefs of staff, Brig. Gen. Hasan Firouzabadi, says he wants to avoid a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shi’a, but he also issued a veiled threat against Riyadh.
He accused the Saudi kingdom of using jihadists to undermine Shi’ites in the region, given increasingly unsettling events in Iraq and in Syria. Firouzbadi has spoken out given the growing concern that the rising Sunni turmoil in Iraq poses a security threat to Iran.
For some time, however, that has been the strategy of Saudi Arabia, which has decided to undertake an independent course of action from the restraint urged by the United States out of concern that Iran is spreading its influence in the Gulf Arab countries which are controlled by monarchies.
To date, the U.S. has not criticized Saudi Arabia for its support for jihadists in other countries that are attempting to arouse Sunnis in the Middle East. This is due to the close ties the U.S. has with the Saudi kingdom, long considered a key element of cohesion among the Gulf Arab countries on which the U.S. relies to maintain its security interests in the region.
And U.S. support for the Saudis continues despite the knowledge that the Saudis actively are using jihadists as proxies to enforce their own security interests.
According to Ali Akbar Velayati, who is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top international affairs adviser, Saudi use of jihadists to press the collapse of the al-Assad regime by Saudi Arabia is considered a “red line.”
“Those remarks were a message to the Saudis that the kingdom is looking at a major regional sectarian conflict if it continues to support the dozens of jihadist militias fighting the Syrian regime,” according to a report in the open intelligence group Strafor.
Velayati then suggested that the best approach was for a negotiated settlement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The response from Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal was telling. He said that a political solution to the Syrian crisis wasn’t going to happen, which Stratfor said was a signal that Riyadh wasn’t interested in negotiations.
This position may be due to Riyadh seeing this being the time to push Iranian influence back now that its previous positions in Iraq and Syria are increasingly tenuous. They want to take advantage of the large blocs of Sunnis in Iraq and in Syria where Sunnis constitute some 60 percent of the population.
Sources believe Saudi use of jihadist proxies is due to the lack of enthusiasm by nationalists and other secular forces to openly fight Iran and the Shi’a who back al-Assad. The jihadists are all too eager to carry the fight against the Shi’ites in Iraq and Syria, especially given the financial and logistical backing from Riyadh.
Just as Iran has called attempts to overthrow al-Assad a “red line,” sources see Iran bringing in its own insurgents to fight the Sunni jihadists. At the same time, Tehran wants to show how the Saudi kingdom is more prone to use jihadists as opposed to Sunni Turkey or Qatar, who don’t necessarily agree with Riyadh’s use of them.
These countries fear that Riyadh can’t or doesn’t control the jihadists outside the kingdom, making their own governments prone to potential jihadist attacks.
The U.S., however, equally is concerned over the use of jihadists and al-Qaida, especially in Iraq and Syria, due to the geopolitical changes that would sweep the region should they prevail.
“(Washington) will cautiously use the sectarian fault line running through the region to try to maintain a difficult balance of power,” the Stratfor report said. “What this means is that a major, long-term geopolitical conflict along the northern rim of the Middle East is highly likely.”
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