Towards Riyadh: Saudi Initiative – Influence on Iranian Hegemony

The Arab League met in Riyadh to discuss renewal of the Arab Peace Initiative which could renew the political process with Israel.

The Arab League met in Riyadh to discuss renewal of the Arab Peace Initiative which could renew the political process with Israel. The Reut Institute contends that the success of the Arab League Summit could influence potential Iranian hegemony.

The Saudi Initiative - The gathering of the Arab League states in Riyadh reflects Saudi Arabia's attempts to consolidate an Arab axis, which might resume the regional peace process with Israel. At the summit, the Arab League states intend to ratify the Saudi Initiative (The Arab Peace Initiative 2/02), calling for a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders, establishment of a Palestinian State, and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees, in exchange for normal relations between Israel and the Arab states.

Iranian Hegemony - In contrast, Iran is trying to establish regional hegemony. Iran's hegemonic ambitions include strengthening Iran's military (terror and nuclear power), economic and political components, as well as providing Iran with enhanced global status, regional influence and leadership of the Islamic camp. In order to achieve the three latter objectives, Iran is developing its 'soft power' in two ways. First, by building its image as a technologically advanced state - as expressed through its nuclear project; and second, by showing concern for the oppressed Arab world - as expressed, among other things, by Iran's support for the Palestinian issue. Finally, this is expressed by its recent efforts to align itself with Saudi Arabia.

The ratification of the Saudi Initiative at the Arab League Summit would constitute the Arab world's commitment to renew the political process with Israel and could influence Iranian attempts to establish regional hegemony in the following ways:

  • Inclusion of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinians, both Fatah and Hamas representatives, challenges the future of the Resistance Network led by Iran in these states. It might also complicate Syria's, Hizbullah's and Hamas' continued cooperation with the Resistance Network.

  • The possibility of renewing the political process with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon would also diminish the geographic scope of the emerging Shi'ite Crescent, built by Iran, which so far encompasses Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the PA.

  • A regional peace process between Israel and the moderate Arab axis, excluding Iran, will also damage Iran's claim to lead the Islamic camp. Such a peace process might strengthen Saudi Arabia or Egypt and renew their leadership of the Arab world.

  • Iran's effort to lead the Islamic Camp is an essential component of its goal of nuclear power. The Iranian nuclear project has two objectives: first, to provide a military deterrence; second, to provide Iran with 'soft power' – portraying Iran as a technologically advanced state, granting Iran status as a global power representing the Islamic camp.

    Hence, obstructing Iran's effort to lead the Islamic camp could also harm the added benefits of its nuclear power. In the case of such obstruction, Iran will at best only benefit from the deterrence of its nuclear capacity. Nuclear power will neither provide Iran with global status nor with influence over the Islamic camp, the region or the international arena.

These four issues explain the hidden opportunities implied in the renewal of the political process, and specifically the potential influence of the political process to contain the Iranian threat on Israel.

However, the possible predicaments of the Saudi Initiative include:

  • The Crisis of Palestinian Representation and the Palestinian political deadlock (See Palestinian Unity Government: The Unilateral Option Returns);

  • Weakness of the moderate Arab states;

  • Disagreement between Israel and the Arab states regarding the outstanding issues, most significantly the issue of Palestinian Refugees;

  • Iran's attempts to thwart the political process through the Resistance Network and terror - a military inflammation in Gaza or in Lebanon caused by the Resistance Network could disrupt the initiative or any other political process which will accompany the initiative;

  • Recent attempts by Iran to align itself with and accomodate the policies of Saudi Arabia.

Sources

Benn, Issacharoff, Haaretz, 3/26/07, full text. (in Hebrew)