By Javad Heirannia

Iran-Saudi conflict not a zero-sum game: Adib-Moghaddam

February 26, 2018

TEHRAN - Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute believes “This is a part of a new strategy to deepen the perception that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are actively fighting against terrorism and to signal to Europe (and the United States) that they are doing what they can to that end”.

Author of “Pycho-nationalism: Global thought and Iranian imaginations” It is as much a Public Relations stunt as a genuine effort to pursue an active foreign policy which has become symptomatic of recent Saudi and UAE efforts in the region and beyond”.

Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies and Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute, also adds that “it is not as if Al-Qaeda is not active in West Africa where it takes advantage of the lack of state sovereignty and enforcement of security.”

Here is the full text of the interview:

Q: Saudi Arabia and the UAE have pledged to financially back a five-nation coalition force in West Africa's Sahel region. What are the reasons behind this support?

A: This is a part of a new strategy to deepen the perception that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are actively fighting against terrorism and to signal to Europe (and the United States) that they are doing what they can to that end. It is as much a Public Relations stunt as a genuine effort to pursue an active foreign policy which has become symptomatic of recent Saudi and UAE efforts in the region and beyond. And it is not as if Al-Qaeda is not active in West Africa where it takes advantage of the lack of state sovereignty and enforcement of security. So the effort is real and necessary, but the motives are slightly more sinister as always in contemporary politics. 

Q: What is the strategic importance of the Sahel region for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi? And what are the two countries competing over in the region?

A: Too many to mention, but chief among them are strategic access and depth in three directions: In the north to the Arab countries littoral to the Mediterranean. Don't forget that the UAE in particular has repeatedly used its airforce in Libya. And to the East, the Red Sea is an increasingly important geo-strategic theatre, not least because of the insecurity in Egypt and access to Yemen. This is the reason why China and Saudi Arabia are building military bases in Djibouti just on the other side of the coast of southern Yemen. From Djibouti, there is control of the Gulf of Aden which is a central nodal point in the global maritime trade. I don't think that these particular efforts are Iran or Qatar specific. They stem from a larger shift in the foreign policy of the UAE and Saudi Arabia towards a rather more pro-active expansionary policy. Iran is a factor in this equation, but there are other driving forces, as indicated.     

Q: Right after that Saudi Arabia and the UAE joined G5 Sahel force summit in Paris and pledged their support, Qatar’s Emir visited the region to sign trade and economic deals. Can West Africa come to Qatar’s rescue and salvage the country under sanctions imposed by Saudi-led allies?

A: Neither the rift between Qatar and the other GCC countries, nor between Iran and Saudi Arabia is sustainable in the long term. This conflict between closely knit communities cannot be solved in a zero-sum mentality where the winner takes it all. Movements towards that end from all sides have created the humanitarian disasters in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, even Palestine. But it is true that at this stage the Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is intense and that it is playing itself out even in academic and the cultural realm of universities and think tanks. This is very regrettable, but an unfortunate fact. The only way to counter this trend is to re-accentuate the merits of cultural diplomacy even more. Iran needs to globalise its presence in that regard through its embassies as I have indicated in previous interviews. This is what Saudi Arabia is doing very well, and very effectively indeed. 

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