Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tehran versus Riyadh

Michael L.

Reuters, via the Jerusalem Post, tells us:
Tehran versus RiyadhSaudi Arabia used an attack on its embassy in Tehran as a pretext to fuel tensions, Iran's foreign ministry said on Monday after Riyadh severed diplomatic relations...

Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in the early hours of Sunday after Saudi Arabia executed Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, prompting Riyadh to withdraw its diplomatic staff and order Iranian diplomats to leave the kingdom. 
The Middle East - as we never tire of saying - is in flames.

Despite those flames there is still considerable stability in the region. Tehran is more powerful and stable now then ever before thanks to President Barack Obama's visionary friendship with Islamist regimes. Amman remains calm and Cairo, G-d love it, chose brutal-style, torture-prone, secular dictatorship over brutal-style, torture-prone, al-Sharia theocracy.

Enlightenment-style, liberal Democracy, you can be sure, was never on the agenda, despite Barack Obama's pro-Arab-Spring blatherings in the spring of 2011.
There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.
The "Arab Spring" was the brutal rise of political Islam in the Middle East and this is what Obama compared the Civil Rights Movement to?

How's that for a kick in the head to Martin Luther King, Jr.?

But, one important geo-political development that we are seeing now - and that is flying under the radar of most people in the West - is the proxy-war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia for control of the Middle East (outside of Israel) and domination of the Islamic religious narrative.

As is occasionally noted in the American press, Iran - an enemy of both the United States and Israel - is seeking regional hegemony and funding proxies such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

George W. Bush destabilized a chaotic region with Iraq War II in 2003. Barack Obama left a power vacuum when he withdrew American troops from that country and ISIS was quick to fill that vacuum. Iran is willing to challenge ISIS because while the United States fought and defeated Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Iran won that war and is now solidifying its position as the dominant player in that part of the world with the blessing of the current American government.

So, whatever the mess and chaos belching from the Arab-Muslim Middle East, and whatever gradations and distinctions we can draw between the various armed factions, hovering above everything else is the never-ending Sunni-Shia conflict.

And, it is heating up.

It is Tehran versus Riyadh and almost nobody is acknowledging it.

What we are seeing is an intra-Muslim proxy-war between Arabs and Persians fought within Yemen.

Yesterday, January 5, Reuters tells us via Newsweek that:
ADEN (Reuters) - Air strikes led by Saudi Arabia targeting Iran-allied Houthi forces intensified in Yemen on Tuesday, residents said, ending weeks of a relative lull in the war after a major diplomatic row erupted between the kingdom and arch foe Tehran.

Large air strikes targeted military positions linked to Yemen's ascendant Houthis in the capital Sanaa, the port city of Hodaida and the disputed southwestern city of Taiz. 
Residents reported that the air raids hit a care center for the blind and Yemen's chamber of commerce headquarters, in which there were no casualties.
The Middle East is crumbling around Israeli ears as Europe flings open its gates to the most violently racist people on the planet.


  1. In the mideast, Islamic nations only 'fight' wars where they share a border. Iran-Iraq, Yemen-Saudi Arabia, Libya-Chad-Niger, Iraq-Kuwait. There have been a few exceptions such as 1962 when Egypt was called into Yemen to use chemical weapons. Or when the UAR sort of existed and then fell apart.

    Anything else is not a war in the traditional 20th century sense of the word. It's either prosecuted through terrorism or proxies or both. Or, it's prosecuted indirectly through economic warfare. Or, through missiles that fly over intervening countries or bodies of water.

    Iran has almost no capability to face off against the KSA in any traditional way. Iran can't drive their tanks across Iraq, they have essentially no airforce. Their navy is a coastal defense and a small terrorist rubber boat navy loaded up with bombs. They may or may not have a few subs that could for a short time blockade Saudi ports. What Iran does have one gathers is a number of SRBMs and IRBMs tipped with conventional warheads. Of some given accuracy they could target industrial and military facilities but more typically population centers. They could sink tankers in the Persian Gulf. Unless they buy access from the Russians and the Chinese they have no satellite intel.

    The may or may not have nukes. I'm of the opinion they already do. But even if they do its unlikely they'd use it in a battlefield scenario. They are more likely to sneak it into Israel and use it there. And of course they can't show their hand that they are nuclear state until they have no other option and Obama is out of office. Pakistan is run by prostitutes who are only in it for the money. They'll deal with both sides for cash for nuclear technology and so they'd wind up dealing with none of them.

    I think what Iran doesn't fully grasp is that the Saudis have held back so far. They haven't pushed all in on Yemen or against Assad. They have light touch. It's in Saudi's interest to keep these lower intensity conflicts simmering to tie down Iranians who have to supply and manage them. Iran is effectively fighting a two-front war now; troops in Syria and troops or special forces or proxies in Yemen. Addtionally Hezbollah has been bled dry and wants out of Syria but Iran won't let them. Iran won't let them reposition their missiles away from Israel either. So they stand there as picket doing nothing while the homefront gets increasingly angry at them.


  2. But for their efforts the Saudis have little capacity to deal a hard blow to Iran IN Iran. They don't have very many large ballistic missiles - a few older Chinese units. And as good as their air force is, Iran's soon to be operational S-300's are better. The Saudis also don't have, historically, a great deal of battlefield discipline, training or command and control. All the princes are 9 star generals and fighter pilots. There's little to no NCO corps, training is ignored as is maintenance. So they have almost no capability to maintain a sustained high tempo fight. They don't have much in the way of force multipliers. Their navy is a credible threat in terms of ship and land attack missiles but again, they'd have to be very picky about what they attack given the scope of options and the size of Iran overall.

    Last but not least they both suffer from the problems attendant to honor and bluster culture. Most of what they do consists of shit talking. Yelling and chest thumping. To Arab cultures this is as important as fighting, and certainly more important than getting your ass kicked. What's important is putting on a good show.

    So all in all I don't think this erupt into a regional fight. They do fine the way they're fighting now. Maybe they'll be a few embassies blown up, a ship or two sunk maybe a missile attack on an oil installation and the requisite air raid. That's likely it though.

    Moreover it's unlikely that their fair weather friends the Russians would give them material support beyond the S-300 air defense systems already on order. This is not a fight in Russia's interest. They may sell gear to Iran but that's expensive and the Russians don't like to cut deals unless the buyer is willing to sacrifice their ports and convert them into Russian naval bases.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Jeez, Kumar

      It's nice to see you and all, but... uhhh... never mind.

    2. Get rid of the IRGC, the Ayatollahs, and the Quds force and Iran would be a lovely place.


  4. Michael Totten had some good comments earlier this week. To paraphrase one of his best lines, Nimr al-Nimr was not a terrorist, but even if he was, Iran would have still thrown a hissy-fit. He also described our relation with Saudi Arabia in terms like our relation with Stalin during the war against Hitler.

    1. Following that analogy, we have Charles Lindbergh in the White House.

    2. He's right about the American relationship with Stalin. Close enough anyway.