Saudis contest Iran’s hegemony – and might just win
Saudi diplomacy in preparation for yesterday’s air strikes in Yemen is impressive. The Kingdom is reaching out to the Sunni world with apparent success: Pakistan, which only last week rejected any role in Yemen, is now considering a role in the Saudi-led operation against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Pakistan is by far the largest Sunni state with a strong military and air force, and its alignment with the Saudi-led coalition is of decisive importance. Egypt has sent four warships to the Gulf of Aden to secure the southern approach to the Suez Canal, and may have deterred an Iranian naval presence. The Israel news service Aretz Sheva reports, “Senior editor of Saudi online paper Arab News, Siraj Wahab, has just tweeted that Egyptian ships forced Iranian retreat from Bab Al-Mandab strait near the Port of Aden.”
Iraq, a de facto ally of Iran, opposed the Saudi intervention, but Saudi Arabia is reaching out to Iraq: the country’s deputy prime minister Baha Araji told the Saudi-backed daily Asharq Al-Awsat that KSA will re-open its Baghdad embassy before the end of April, “adding that this is an important step in normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, calling on everybody to forget the differences of opinion that existed between Riyadh and the former government of Nuri Al-Maliki. To offset Iran’s apparent leading role in Iraq’s efforts to suppress ISIS, the Saudis are offering help to Iraq against ISIS:
[Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister] Araji stressed that the current government, headed by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, is prioritizing ensuring that Iraq returns to its “regional” surroundings.
[Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi] Abadi is set to pay a state visit to Saudi Arabia within the coming days following an invitation from Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. The two leaders are expected to discuss strengthening bilateral ties, with Abadi seeking to secure greater material and logistical help for Iraq in its ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We are aware that Saudi Arabia possesses significant capabilities. Saudi Arabia standing with Iraq will accelerate ISIS’s elimination,” Araji said.
Iran may be overextended with major commitments of Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Iraq. Its air force flies Shah-vintage American planes, while Saudi Arabia has several hundred fourth-generation fighters, including about 200 F-15’s. If Saudi Arabia can hold a Sunni coalition together, it should be in position to encircle and contain Iran.
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