October 12th, 2011
04:10 PM ET

The cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran

Editor's Note: Rob Sobhani is the President of Caspian Energy Consulting, a group with interests in energy and infrastructure projects. He engages extensively with heads of state in the broader Middle East for work and wrote the book, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence. He holds a PhD from Georgetown University.

By Rob Sobhani - Special to CNN

The announcement by the Department of Justice that the Iranian regime had attempted to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir should not come as a surprise. Irrespective of whether “reformers” or “hard-liners” are running the theocracy in Iran, the foreign policy goals of the regime since its inception have remained the same: pursue weapons of mass destruction for regional domination; create an Islamic Republic inside countries like Bahrain; drive the United States out of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East; continue to support terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah; work with its allies in the region to eliminate Israel; sabotage any attempt by Washington to establish formal diplomatic relations; sabotage any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and use every means possible to overthrow the monarchy of Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s foreign policy goals are diametrically opposed to Saudi King Abdullah’s primary objective: maintaining an arc of stability in the region. While Tehran supports chaos in places like Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iraq and Bahrain, Riyadh is trying its best to bring stability to these countries. For example, while Tehran funds Hamas to create instability on the ground in the Gaza Strip, King Abdullah invites Palestinians from all factions to Mecca for peace talks. This desire for peace and normalcy also drives Saudi oil policy. King Abdullah views Saudi Arabia’s role as the world’s largest oil exporter as important to global economic growth and has refused to use oil as a weapon. On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees oil as a weapon to be used to harm the United States and its Western allies.

These divergent foreign policy goals are why the Middle East is watching a new Cold War unfold between Riyadh and Tehran. The outcome of this conflict should be a top priority of Washington. The U.S. must craft a regional response to Tehran’s bold and reckless adventurism lest it allow the clerics in Iran gain the upper hand.

After consulting with its Persian Gulf allies, U.S. policy towards Iran should consist of five simultaneous pillars.  First, President Obama should appoint an Iran Czar to coordinate the overall goals of his approach to Iran.  Second, should the regime in Tehran wish to talk with the U.S., diplomacy should always be on the table as an option.  Third, impose targeted economic sanctions such as freezing the enormous assets of the regime’s leaders hidden in Swiss, Canadian and Asian banks.  Fourth, while Washington should keep a close eye on the progress of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, our public diplomacy should refocus on the violation of human rights in Iran.

Finally, serious consideration should also be given to the wishes of the Iranian people.  The people of Iran hold the key to not only America's long-term strategic interests in the Middle East but also to normal ties with Saudi Arabia. Continuing demonstrations in Iran’s major cities since the contested elections in June of 2009 suggests that the people of Iran do indeed want a change of regime.  As the gulf between the Iranian people and the regime widens, Washington and its allies in the region should focus on making this divide permanent.  Indeed, the national security interests of the United States coincide with the wishes of the Iranian people.

The attempt to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir is a painful reminder of what the late Ayatollah Khomeini said over thirty years ago after he encouraged the taking of American diplomats hostage: “America cannot do a damn thing.” Together, Washington and Riyadh should show Tehran that they will stand up to this regime.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rob Sobhani.

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Topics: Iran • Saudi Arabia • Terrorism

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Chrisg510

    To all you Conspiracy theorist, Have you watched the CNN inteviews?

    October 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • alidonfong


      October 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    The author said, Saudi Arabia has as objective to maintain "an arc of stability in the region". How about the Wahabi Islamists? Don't they pose a threat, not only in Saudi Arabia, but in Eritrea, Ethiopia and elsewhere as well?

    October 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • alidonfong


      October 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  3. Qutubuddin

    Saudi – Iran have good relationships, BOTH of them have same religion, Same holy book, Same Prophet, SAME GOD. Both respect each other and USA is having a DIVIDE AND RULE policy towards them, ALL THE BEST to USA.

    October 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Back in 1941, Germany and Poland had the same religion as well... So did Iran and Iraq in 1980. By the way, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims do not have "the same religion", they have two different FLAVORS of Islam and BOTH are the among the most fanatic theocracies on the planet.

      October 13, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  4. SaudiWatch

    As the Iranian regime had really attempted a criminal attack in US to kill the Saudi Amb., the re-action should be strong enough to ensure that this crime will not be repeated by the Iranian regime since it's not the first attack by Iran ( at least 4 attackes were in Saudi Arabia on 1987, 1988, 1989, 1995 nad many attackes in other countries). Also, the main risk is not the Iranian regime only. There's also the organizations that are supported by Iran and they were mention on the article and we should keep our eyes on them. I think the five simultaneous pillars will work if China and Russia stopped supporting the Iranian regime.

    October 12, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  5. Paul

    What a load of c**p! Arc of stability. Not using oil as a weapon...

    Saudi Arabia (read: The King) funds Wahabi fundamentalists and has endowed the Harvard of terrorism (Pakistan) since inception. If a bunch of Saudis hadn't gone to Pakistan for training, 9/11 would not have happened.

    The world would be better off without the Fahds and the Khomeinis.

    October 13, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • alidonfong


      October 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  6. SG Logan

    Successive European, US and other governments in the international community have gone out of their way to help the theocratic tyranny change its terrorist and belligerent policies and in particular its thirst for the nuclear bomb. The US administrations of all colours have gone as far as placing the main Iranian democratic opposition on the FTO list as well as letting the mullahs get away literally with murder of thousands of US soldiers in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq by the Iranian regime’s proxy terrorist groupuscules of whatever religious persuasion, not to mention keeping quiet on the terrorist regime's cooperation with the Al-Qaeda in shedding the blood of 3000 innocent civilians in the twin towers. Does any sane person wonder why the regime does not understand the modern world? Theocratic rule belongs to the Dark Ages and we won't want it in our own home countries, and nor do the Iranian or other Middle Eastern people want it in theirs as evident in the tens of thousands of Iranian democracy campaigners who’ve given the ultimate price to bring freedom to their country. It's high time we stop meddling in the Iranian affairs on behalf of the religious fascism and help the Iranian people and opposition to bring about freedom and sanity to their homeland and peace and stability to their vitally important region.

    October 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • alidonfong


      October 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  7. krm1007

    We all know the dirty games India is playing in the region...financing terrorists who are killing US/NATO/Pakistani troops ....undermining democracies, paying off some factions of talibans protection money so they won't do another Mumbai attack, All this because they are scared of Al Qaeda and Talibans. INDIANS....we dare you to stop hiding behind American skirts and come out in the open and face these terrorists eye to eye and NOT to run away from them and take bullets in the back. We dare you cowards !!!!

    October 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • CitizenOf TheWorld

      Hey Paki!...Being an American I dont think India has ever played dirty games..Its the Pakis who have played us all along.

      Well news flash we gonna kick your ASS now and we will get your enemy India to do it..to rub it in more. It will be quick and clean and we will walk away. thats that. Have a good life ...whatever is left of it.

      October 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
      • alidonfong


        October 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  8. nader paul kucinich gravel mckinney baldwin ventura sheehan

    stand down immediately regarding Iran Mass Murder

    the US public will not suffer any more Wars for Israel

    October 13, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  9. alidonfong

    We all know the dirty games India is playing in the region...financing terrorists who are killing US/NATO/Pakistani troops ....undermining democracies, paying off some factions of talibans protection money so they won't do another Mumbai attack, All this because they are scared of Al Qaeda and Talibans. INDIANS....we dare you to stop hiding behind American skirts and come out in the open and face these terrorists eye to eye and NOT to run away from them and take bullets in the back. We dare you cowards !!!

    October 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  10. alidonfong


    October 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  11. alidonfong

    now the class is dismissed for Indians guys!like saba and so on

    October 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  12. bob

    I think its funny the author brings up Iran's human rights violations but says nothing of the Saudi record on human rights. Its obvious to see where his energy consulting takes place. Try to be a little unbiased please.

    October 17, 2011 at 2:21 am |

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