Iran, Arab Rivalry in the Middle East

Reza Hossein Borr
Introduction The increasing influence and power of the Iranian regime in the Middle East has sparked a great competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Middle East is predominantly Arab and Moslem. Both Arabs and Moslems relate more to Saudi Arabia than any other country. Yet, Iran has made considerable advances in Saudi Arabian religious, nationalist and political territory. What was once the sphere of influence of Saudi Arabia and America has now changed. Iran has made considerable gains and continues to increase its gains even more. As the power of the United States of America is declining in the Middle East, a vacuum has been created that needs to be occupied by a power that can respond to the political, spiritual, religious, and social requirements and demands of the region. Saudi Arabia as the most important Arab country has special responsibilities for protecting and advancing Islam in its original form and content. As Iran is generating a new interpretation of Islam which is in contrasts with Saudi Arabian understanding, the people in the streets of Middle East and Islamic countries are looking for a new vision which can help them understand the world better and shape their lives more constructively. To win the hearts and minds of the Moslems, Saudi Arabia has no choice but to step up its activities in a very new, positive, constructive and productive strategy. Saudi Arabia must equip itself not only to be able to compete with the Iranian regime successfully but to defeat the Iranian regime in every way and all aspects. The Iranian regime has gone too far to stop now. If Saudi Arabia does not stop Iran sooner, the Iranian ideology will engulf Saudi Arabian people in its own borders. Considering what Iran has already done and what Saudi Arabia is doing, it is clearly concluded that Iran has the winning edge. Iran and Saudi Arabia are competing in the following arenas: 1. Iranian 50-year plan for the Middle East With the advent of Islamic revolution in Iran and its successful Islamisation of Iranian society in1979, Khomeini initiated a 50-year plan for the Middle East. According to this plan, it would take Iran 50 years to completely dominate the Islamic world and specifically the Middle East. After twenty-seven years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has become the most important power in the Middle East. It needs another 23 years to dominate it. It has helped its organizational agents in two countries of Iraq and Palestine to secure power. Lebanon and Bahrain will be the next two countries that will fall in the plan of Islamic Republic of Iran. Yemen may follow next.

Iran has a plan for the region and it is working very aggressively to implement it. Saudi Arabia has no plan for the Middle East. It has been submissive for the last 26 years and recently we can see some signs of defensive policies. It does not seem that it has yet a comprehensive plan for Iran nor for Middle East neither for the Islamic world. Therefore, it could be easily concluded that in terms of vision and plan for the present and future of the Middle East, Iran has a winning edge. If Saudi Arabia was forced to take some action, it is not clear what sort of plan it would devise and how it will successfully implement it. 2. Iran also has a message Iran also has a message that some how has proved to be appealing to a lot of people including Sunnis. The message that was originally formulated for the Shia population of the Islamic world was modified appropriately to appeal to the Sunni population too. This message that apparently challenges the West and calls for the independence of Islamic countries found new clients after the perceived victory of the Hezbollah. In the war between Hezbollah and Israel, a lot of Moslems who have not been able to achieve anything considerable in the last few centuries, were quite satisfied to see that Hezbollah was not completely defeated and destroyed. Although Israeli achieved some of its targets by evicting Hezbollah from its border, replacing it with international forces and destroying a large part of Lebanon, yet Hezbollah, Iran and many Arabs on the streets judged the Hezbollah as the winner of the war. This judgment reinforces partially the legitimacy of the message that Iran has been trying to promote in the Middle East. The perceived victory of Hezbollah convinced a lot of Shias and Sunnis that Iran has a message that can bring victory for all Moslems. We all knew that Hamas has been supported by the Iranian government. But the perceived victory of Hezbollah over Israel gave a new momentum to Hamas for further militarisation. It multiplied Hamas's will for following Iranian message and model especially when it was accompanied by financial and military support. It is in in such circumstances that a wide range of popularity for the Iranian message was generated in the Arab world. Iran took complete advantage of the situation and encouraged Hezbollah to go full force for control of Lebanon. Creating a belief in Arab Moslems that they can be victorious is a great achievement. All Arab leaders have failed in creating such a belief. Iran has made that possible. Saudi Arabia does not have a message. Its puritanical Wahhabism is not a popular belief of the majority of Moslems and therefore, instead of having an expanding message, it has a limiting message. Iran therefore in this regard also has the winning advantage. 3. Saudi Arabia is the main source of Islam Saudi Arabia as the main source of Islam and the main guardian of Islam can create a new vision that may embody the old and suppressed desires, aspirations, demands,

expectations, needs and beliefs of all Moslems. This is obviously a very complicated issue. It requires strong will and determination and skill to go for such a plan and then implement it successfully. As Iran has turned Shiism into its advantage for expansion of its influence, Saudi Arabia can use Sunnism as a profound technology for expanding its influence. In this way, Saudi Arabia can make a great asset of Islam and two holy cities to attract influence. One way would be inviting Moslem intellectuals, writers, journalists for different seminars in the holy cities and thus turning its location into a great source of influence. 4. The great communicators Iran has a large number of well-trained communicators who are very skilful in promoting Iranian message in the form of revolutionary Shiism and evolutionary Islam. They have been trained by the best communicators. They know as much about modern politics as they know about Islam. They are conducting constant researches on the situation of Arab governments and societies to identify the most important weaknesses and strengths of these countries. Some of them work in strategic and research institutions, some of them work in security forces, some of them work in foreign ministry and some of them work in universities and religious schools. They are everywhere. They are totally dedicated to their jobs and they believe in what they do. The Baluch political activists have arrested few of them and are aware of the depth of their beliefs and dedication. These are the kinds of intellectuals and communicators that are dealing with foreign intelligentsia and journalists. They also deal with foreign think tanks, writers and academics. Their mission is to promote revolutionary Islam and particularly Shia righteousness and virtues. While they have Shiism in mind, they talk of Islamic unity and Islamic independence in a way that appeals not only to the Moslems but also convinces the foreigners to accept the Islamic civilisation and culture as they define it. It was in this regard that the former President Khatami initiated the dialogue of civilisations to convince the Europeans that the way they rule Iran is the Islamic way of ruling the country which is very different from the way that the Christians rule their countries. The aim was to justify their policies in Iran and abroad. When they talk of Islam they mean Shiism. It is clear that the summit Republic of Iran also has a superior advantage in this regard over Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia possibly requires having a large group of highly trained modern communicators who can promote Islam as a peaceful, progressive, and humanitarian religion that has the capacity for absorbing adverse ideas and inventions. Saudi Arabia can invite the most progressive Moslem intellectuals, historians, sociologist, psychologists and other experts to sit together and find solutions for the Islamic world. Such an action not only make Saudi Arabia the favourite spot for Moslem intellectuals but it can provide a lot of meaningful solutions for the people who have lost their ways and confidence a long time ago.

Saudi Arabia has the financial resources and spiritual and religious integrity and capacity to attract those people who can generate immense ideas for Moslems. This is true that so far the Moslems have not been able to have great contributions in the making of the modern world. They have followed the West in different aspects but now it is time to find an original vision that is home-grown and home-born and therefore, it is something which is not Western and therefore it is acceptable to the majority of the people. The intellectuals could make a big difference in the popularity of a country. Iran has been using them since its inception to promote its revolution and evolutionary ideas. Saudi Arabia can use Moslem intellectuals genuinely to generate new ideas, new solutions, new strategies, new understandings and perceptions which can contribute immensely to the resolution of Moslem problems. In this regard Saudi Arabia has more legitimacy than Iran. This is one area that Saudi Arabia can have an upper hand. Saudi Arabia needs a message that can compete with the Iranian message. While Iranian message is seeking revenge and violence, Saudi Arabian message must seek prosperity, development, industrialisation, stability, security, progress and well-being. In fact the Saudi Arabian message must be what the Moslems are looking for. If the Iranian message has found a market it is because there is no any other message. The market is quite open. It is looking for a message which appeals to the hearts and minds of the majority of people in the Islamic world. The greatest aspiration for Moslem is to have as much respect, competence and wealth as the European or Japanese. When he sees himself equal to them in terms of competence his self-confidence will grow equally. If Iranian message is looking for political dominance, Saudi Arabia message must seek economic growth, high productivity, peak performance, and winning edge in competition with the rest of the developed world. To create a vision with such a message there is a need for numerous conferences, seminars to generate new consciousness, new awareness, and then new books, and new tools for promoting the message. At this stage Iran has already established itself as the meeting point for difference scholars on different subjects specifically those that relate somehow to the Islamic world. A lot of Moslem intellectuals support Iranian regime just because they have been invited to attend some seminars at the expense of Iranian government. The journalists and intellectuals are value makers, standards creators and opinion builders. They can turn the public opinion in favour of one country against another country. That is the reason that Iran has so much influence in the media in the Islamic world and even in the West. In attracting intellectuals and journalists and setting up different seminars and conferences, Iran has already established itself as the leader and therefore, Saudi Arabia needs to do a lot of work to catch up. 5. Individual allies and agents

Iran has been successful in establishing political and ideological agents nearly every where in the Middle East. These agents are usually from intelligentsia, journalists, politicians and even in from poor people who have converted to Shiism for a little bit of money. The Iranian regime has pretended to have hundreds of individual agents who are prepared to take on suicide missions. Most analysts believe that Iran is exaggerating about the number of its devoted agents but it is true that Iran has a network of individual agents that do serve the Iranian interests. These suicide bombers are from the religious fanatics who have been trained in Iranian camps or in the camps organised by Hezbollah, Hamas, Mahdi Army, or Islamic Jihad. These are the kind of people who will be used in times of emergencies. Their loyalty has not been tested and so far nobody knows how they react when they see that the Iranian regime itself is on the verge of collapse. These kinds of agents are recruited mostly for scaring the West and the Arab countries. They may be used time to time to prove a point. Saudi Arabia so far has no such agents and allies. They have some preachers who preach Islam the way Saudi Arabia is advocating. But they are not paid agents and they are not prepared to take on suicide bombing missions. Since Saudi Arabia had based its foreign policy on friendly relationships with the rest of world and quiet diplomacy, they never had the need for recruiting such allies and agents. The Iranian regime had a plan to dominate the Middle East and therefore, they needed agents and consequently recruited a large number of them. In addition to this group, the Iranian regime has exported some refugees to the Arab countries who are working for different purposes and in different capacities. In this regard the Iranian regime has the upper hand too. 6. Organizational agents and proxies as leverages Iran also has already established some powerful organizational allies like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic jihad, and Mahdi Army. There are some smaller unknown organizations within the Arab countries. As we have witnessed in many cases, Iran is pulling the strings in these organizations. They follow the leadership of Iran and obey their instructions. They have even taken over the power in some countries like Iraq and Palestine. Hezbollah is stronger than Lebanese army. Mahdi Army of Iraq is too powerful to be handled even by 150,000 army of the United States of America. The Iranian regime started forming and building these organizations a long time ago when there was no any need for them. The Iraninans were forward looking and had a vision for the future and they needed strong organizations inside every country that can act on their behalf. To implement their vision, the Iranians invested clandestinely millions of $ in each organization to train them properly and equip them with the latest technology. Consequently today the Iranian proxies in the Arab countries are stronger than the governments of those countries. As it has been said correctly, preparation is one-third of success. Seeing and predicting the future is another one-third of success.

Iran is succeeding today in exerting influence in a lot of countries because of the preparation they made at a time that nobody felt any threat from Iran. Saudi Arabia has no such organizational ally. They have no any leverage to use in negotiation with Iran. They have no any influence inside Iran so far. While Iran can destabilise a lot of countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is totally powerless in destabilising Iranian regime. Iranian regime now is aware that Saudi Arabia is determined to somehow defend its territory but it also knows that Saudi is only in a defensive stage; therefore it would try to perpetuate the defensive position of Saudi Arabia until the Iranian regime has moved to one level higher than the present. The Iranian regime believes that it would have the competitive edge in exerting influence in the Middle East until Saudi Arabia has remained in defensive stage. The defensive strategy may enable Saudi Arabia to defend its present interests but it will not enable her to acquire the lost interests or acquire a new foothold in Iran or the countries that have been already secured by Iran. It would take Saudi Arabia a long time to establish a balance of power between the Iranian-made organizations and the governments of the respective countries. For example, Hamas has the upper hand now and it is going to have the upper hand even in future after a unity government in Palestine. If there will be a unity government, the Iranian regime can always destabilise the unity government through demanding more privileges and advantages. The same is true about Lebanon. Hezbollah is too powerful to be handled by the Lebanese government in its present form, shape and strength. It would take a long time for Saudi Arabia and other friends of Lebanon to strengthen the Lebanese government sufficiently to handle the Hezbollah alone. But at the same time Iran will increase its influence in Hezbollah by increasing its support to Hezbollah until it maintains its superiority. 7. The defensive positions of Saudi Arabia The defensive positions that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are in will stop them from any action against Iran inside Iranian territory or Iraq. The defensive policy of Saudi Arabia and other countries therefore suit the Iranian interests and position at this stage. Iran attacks and they defend. As Iran has already prepared itself sufficiently it will open new fronts in other countries like Yemen or even Saudi Arabia itself. The greatest threats to Saudi Arabia and its territorial integrity and religious leadership may come from the Shia people of Saudi Arabia or Shias of Yemen. Yemen in fact is a Shia country but the Shiism of Yemen is different from the Iranian Shiism, yet they are closer to each other than Sunnism. Iran, like in Iraq and Palestine, has invested heavily in Yemen. How long it would take the Shias of Yemen to form a full pledged group like Hezbollah, depends to a large extent to the Iranian will and the right time.

Knowing the designs and intentions of the Iranian regime, Saudi Arabia must move from the defensive policy to a very cultivated and calculated aggressive policy to destabilise Iranian regime inside its own territory. Such a policy will reverse the aggressive policy of Iran and change it into a defensive policy. When Saudi Arabia is in a position to create such a situation, the Iranian regime will begin to lose its power not only in the Middle East but also in its own territory. This is very important to be understood that the Iranian regime will never stop advancing in the Middle East. Even when it is forced to stop, it will stop temporarily to reorganise its resources and forces for a new offensive. 8. Offensive position of Saudi Arabia Even when Saudi Arabia and other countries decide to take an offensive position against Iran what they will do? Americans always threatened Iran to attack it directly. Most of observers and politicians believe that in the present circumstances it will be very difficult for Americans to attack Iran and make a meaningful change. They are already trapped in the quagmire that Iran has created in Iraq. The same is true about Saudi Arabia. What Saudi Arabia can do in an offensive position? If Saudi Arabia models Iranian behaviour in the Middle East, the answer would be very clear: forming and building ally organizations like Hezbollah inside Iran. How she can do that? The Iranian purpose is to try to plunge Saudi Arabia in a quagmire like USA before she can take on an offensive position against Iran. So, where the quagmire may be: Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen or Palestine? Or even inside Saudi Arabia? I have discussed this matter in another paper in detail. 9. Propaganda machinery The Iranian regime has already established huge networks of propaganda media. They include several radios, televisions, newspapers, think tanks, and Internet sites that promote its message and attract new recruits and followers. It is paying huge amount of money to finance its propaganda policy. They have programmes in Arabic, Urdu, English, Dari, Baluchi, Kurdi, Turkish, French, Russian and many other languages. How over their focus is on Arabs, Afghanis, Turkish and Pakistanis. Saudi Arabia lacks such facilities and it has a long way to go to catch up with Iran. They need enormous investment and Iron will to formulate and implement such policies. They also need a large number of trained communicators and broadcasts in different languages. Possibly the first thing that they must do in this regard is the setting up of an Iranian Channel to broadcast in all different Iranian languages. Iran is addressing the Arab population every single day through dozens of different media. The Arab countries do not have even one media to address the Iranian people. 10. International lobbying, regional lobbying The Iranian officials are travelling more than any other officials in the world. They travel to neighbouring countries and they invite the neighbouring countries to travel to their country. They travel to other countries in Latin America and Africa. They are seeking

the support of small countries and help them assert themselves in international arena. The recent visit of president of Iran of Latin America demonstrates a very clear case of seeking support even from countries that they are not important at all but they have a say in the United Nations and other international organizations. They have voting right in a lot of different regional and international organizations and they usually support Iran in their voting. We have witnessed recently such initiatives in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian leaders visit different countries and invite the leaders of other countries to their country. This is a very positive policy that can affect the encounter with Iran very positively. Such initiatives must be increased adequately to match the regional and international lobbying by the Iranian authorities. The Iranian regime also invites the leaders of its allies like Hamas and even Islamic Jihad to Tehran and organises joint conferences. The aim of such joint conferences is to announce to the whole world that Islamic Jihad is recognised by the Iranian regime as an ally although it is registered as a terrorist group in other countries. 11. Outspoken behaviour The Iranian regime does not hesitate to promote and support its allies openly. The open support for established organizations and allies generates legitimacy for these organizations even if they are known as terrorists by international community. Hamas and Hezbollah now are accepted by the international community and regional governments because of the outspoken behaviour and open support of the Iranian regime. The Iranian strategy for generating legitimacy for such organizations is a very complicated and effective strategy. Their support for them is unwavering. The Iranian regime makes sure that international community and regional governments accept these organizations as new long lasting entities and therefore recognise them and deal with them. They are promoted as victims of tyrannies of many governments. They are introduced in international community as the people who have been suffering for centuries. The Iranian regime is the master of attracting sympathy internationally. 12. Hearts and minds of Arabs and Iranians The main area of competition between Arab governments and Iranian regime is the hearts and minds of Moslems all over the world. That is the reason that President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials travel so much in Islamic countries and try to relate directly to the ordinary people. They know the power of the people as they have come to power through the power of people. They also know that it will be the power of the people that will remove them from power. While they are aware of this fact, the Iranian regime usually focuses its attention on none Iranian Moslems as it is their performance inside Iran which determines their popularity. The popularity of Iranian regime inside Iran is minimal but its popularity in the Islamic world is on the rise. This popularity is partly because of commonness of Ahmadinejad who looks like an ordinary

person in any street in any Moslem city. He looks ordinary. He talks like ordinary people and he talks the minds of the ordinary people who have no any voice anywhere. The Moslem public is usually an emotional crowd that gets carried out mostly by dramatised slogans. The Iranian officials are the masters of speaking the mind of the ordinary people and therefore, they can easily find their way into their hearts. I have friends who travel to Egypt, Algeria, Jordan and other Arab countries. They tell me that the Arabs on the streets of these countries like Ahmadinejad. The Iranian regime has a great audience in the Arab world and they have used very effective skills to influence them. The Arab governments and intellectuals have hardly discovered the Iranian public and how much they are prepared to listen to all voices that come from abroad. There is no any media by any Arab country to address directly the Iranian people. The Iranian people hate the Iranian regime but they do not have any means to express themselves and to address the Moslems and the Arabs. The Iranian regime has been very successful in winning the hearts and minds of many people in many Arab countries. Saudi Arabia has hardly addressed the Iranian people and therefore, in spite of the respect they have in mind of many Sunni Muslims of Iran, practically they have not done anything to win their hearts and minds. 13. Oil is a major area of competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As the tensions grow between the two countries, each one will try to use oil as a weapon against the other one. Oil competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia is not new. They always have competed on changing the prices of oil. But now the nature of the competition has changed from economic to political. Saudi Arabia produces more oil than Iran and has more income from oil than Iran. Iran heavily defends on oil for its political and military adventures inside and outside the country. While Iranian people have been starved to a point where 80 percent of Iranian population cannot afford their hospital treatment, the government spends a large fraction of oil income on financing dozens of different armed groups in different parts of the world. Saudi Arabia so far has focused on building its infrastructure and developing its economy. As the latest figures revealed, the non-oil exports of Saudi Arabia have increased much more than the Iranian non-oil exports. Iran has published different figures for its non-oil exports but the yardstick figure which is in tune with the previous years, is something like seven billion dollars while the non-oil exports of Saudi Arabia are about 20 billion dollars. Iran has spent a large amount of its oil income for generating influence inside the Middle East and destabilising many countries and decreasing the influence and power of Saudi Arabia all over the world. Saudi Arabia can do the same thing in Iran, spending a considerable amount of oil income on finding individual and organizational allies inside Iran; financing, training and equipping them to a point that they can match the power of Hezbollah and Hamas and eventually, can change the Iranian regime. Saudi Arabia

can also use its oil weapon by increasing its own production and decreasing oil prices. The income of Iran from oil is possibly less than half of oil income of Saudi Arabia. And therefore it can crumble when the prices are sufficiently decreased. Conclusion Saudi Arabia is behind Iran in many areas of competition in the Middle East. Since Iran had a 50-year plan for the Middle East, it devised, formulated and implemented many policies to achieve the goals of the plan for dominating the Middle East. Saudi Arabia was following a quiet diplomacy with friendly relationships with other countries and therefore, did not have any plan to dominate the Middle East. But the balance of power has completely changed in favour of Iran. This balance of power will probably be changed even more and therefore, Saudi Arabia needs to act promptly on each of the 13 issues that were discussed here. There is no any other choice. It is about losing and winning not only the Middle East but even ones own territory of influence.

Reza Hossein Borr is a leadership consultant and the creator of 150 CDs on Change and self-development. He can be contacted on

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