Summary of an interview of Irdiplomacy.ir with Dr. Davood Hermidas Bavand, a university professor and international affairs analyst
– Considering the fact that the differences and tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia over the Syrian crisis are growing day by day, Bandar bin Sultan has visited Moscow and met with Putin. How would you assess the objective of this meeting in such a tense atmosphere?
– Saudi Arabia has played a major role with regard to Middle Eastern affairs, particularly the issue of Syria, in line with other members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. The Saudis were pioneers in the establishment of the Arab League and its members (except Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria) have expressed common positions with regard to Syria; positions on the basis of which Syria’s membership has been suspended and the presence of representatives of Bashar Assad’s opposition in this League was agreed upon. Saudi Arabia and other members of this League have, since long before, begun the transfer of military and financial aids to Assad’s opposition.
In the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the general assumption was that the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and even Yemen would be repeated in Syria and the government of Bashar Assad would be overthrown after a few months. But after two and a half years, everyone has come to understand that this was an incorrect prediction and the unrests in Syria have been transformed into a domestic crisis. This crisis has, hitherto, taken the lives of more than 100,000 people and many Syrians have been displaced.
Now and with the deepening of the crisis and the entrance of different regional and extra-regional players into the Syrian issue, this issue has become a matter of regional reputation. This means that on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt and smaller countries like Jordan and Qatar are in one front, and on the other side there are Iran and Iraq. Therefore, from within the domestic crisis in Syria, a regional rivalry has been created. Therefore, Saudi Arabia’s failure in this regard would damage its regional reputation. Considering the common position of Iran and Russia with regard to Syria, Saudi Arabia began its support of Bashar’s opposition in line with removing the imaginary threat of a “Shiite Crescent” so that it could eliminate the existing solidarity between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Now, Riyadh’s failure in Syria means the failure of its macro-strategy in the region and the loss of its reputation.
Hence, Saudi Arabia has now moved towards Russia with the intention of separating Moscow or balancing its positions with financial and economic incentives. It must be noted that the Russians have traditionally pursued bargaining but to what extent Saudi Arabia has retreated and balanced its position is a question of which the response will be clarified in the near future.
– One of the other issues that has created more concerns for Saudi Arabia in the region is the improvement of relations between Iran and the West and the US following the election of Mr. Rohani. Can it be said that this issue is a common point of discussions between Bandar bin Sultan and Putin?
– The issue is that the interests of these countries in politics are not sustainable. This means that it would be wrong for a country to base its policies on the basis of continuation. As Lord Palmerston, Britain’s Prime Minister, stated in 1865, Britain neither has permanent friends nor permanent enemies; it rather has permanent interests.
Any time that relations between Iran and the West, particularly the US, are improving, in addition to the dissatisfaction of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, their inclinations toward becoming closer to Iran grow and any time that Iran-US relations get worse, the Arabs are happier and their positions against Iran become harsher. Therefore, the resolution of Iran’s problems with some Arab countries depends on solving the problems with the US. In other words, the improvement of relations between Iran and the US would lead to a softer atmosphere which would help to solve Tehran’s problems with the neighboring and regional countries.
– But the improvement of relations between Tehran and Washington would not be satisfactory for the Russians either.
– Yes. The changing of relations between Iran and the US or the resolution of problems through diplomacy could not be sustainable since Russia’s interests would be threatened. As long as there are differences between Tehran and Washington, Russia will continue to use Iran as a tool and, of course, the Russians will also continue to blackmail Iran. In other words, Russia will gain concessions from the US in exchange for its vote in the Security Council.
– Saudi Arabia attempts to block the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and is happy about what has happened in Egypt today. It has also stood in the way of Qatar, which is one of the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. How would you assess the Saudi situation in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood?
– In the movement that appeared in the Arab countries, it can be said that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated Egypt and Libya and the Arab world, particularly North Africa. This is while the Muslim Brotherhood was in ideological contradiction with the Salafis. The Muslim Brotherhood inclines towards a moderate Islam, but the Salafis tilt towards fundamentalism in Islam. As we see in Syria, the Salafi fundamentalist faction is completely different from the Sunnis who follow the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, Saudi Arabia attempted to develop the Salafi armies and infiltrate them within the framework of al-Qaeda in and even beyond the Arab world. But considering the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections in Egypt and has a relative upper hand in Tunisia as well and also has a good status in Libya, Saudi Arabia considers them as its ideological rivals. Now, this movement has appeared in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia intends to force the Muslim Brotherhood out of the circle of competition as much as possible.