The Saudi-Iran’s Thucydides’ Trap or The Saudi-Iran Ideological Schism

By Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir.

All recorded history is contemporaneous. The escalating, metastasizing geopolitical churning and sectarian tinges between the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran are reminiscent of the “Great Game” played out in Afghanistan between the Great Britain and the Soviet Socialist Republics in the colonial era. In the grim progression of decades-long tug of war, both strive for power and influence in the wider war-stricken Middle East by stocking sectarian tensions and regime changes. This unfortunate rivalry is more for geopolitical supremacy in the guise of religion. The historical baggage of inveterate animosity between them haunts the whole Muslim world inflicting monumental losses in terms of blood and treasure.

A scholarly book named as, “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?”, by Graham Allison presents clinical, all-encompassing explanation of this particular  scenario. According to Allison, Athenian historian Thucydides noted in the 4th century B.C. that when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, the most likely outcome is war. He sheds light on the global security, economic and political shift and asks whether China and the U.S. can escape Thucydides’ Trap. Inductively, the same logic applies to Iran and Saudi Arabia because they are currently on a collision course for war and tend to be hurtling towards the Thucydides trap. In this case, Saudi Arabia is an established power trying to checkmate and contain Iran, which is a rising power, in the aftermath of nuclear deal with P-5+1, and geo-strategic regional and global realignment.

Of late, Riyadh hosted a meeting which inaugurated the formation of the so-called Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) against militancy and extremism in the region. The US president, Donald Trump and the Saudi king Salman presided over the conglomerate of 50-Muslim leaders’ crowd. They spared no efforts to castigate Iran as the ‘center of gravity of terrorism, extremism and proxies’ in the region. Small surprise, Trump’s pre-election ranting and recriminations against Muslims, in particular, and Saudi Arabia, in general, were pardoned as monetary considerations trump other discomforts, including human rights abuses and proxies for geo-political ends.

Apparently, the raison detre of the IMA is to combat terrorism and extremism, but the specific tone and general  tenor  indicate it will be used to checkmate Iran’s influence in the Middle East and counteract the much-derided Shiite ideology in the Muslim world. The Muslim world, with the exception of the Shiite states, joined it without taking clinical review of the pros and cons of sectarian adventure and ideological orientations.

Pakistan also dragged itself into the alliance, bypassing parliament and saner voices of the intelligentsia.

A million dollar question is: if Saudi attacks Iran or any other perceived enemy country, will Pakistan fight alongside. The terms of reference of the so-called Islamic-Nato have shrouded in supernatural mystery. Strangely, is there any precedence of any multi-lateral organization established before its raison deter agreed upon by all stakeholders concerned?

Emboldened by Trump’s full-fledged support, the monarchic Kingdom has started interfering in neighboring gulf countries’ foreign policies, especially Qatar. The more subservient Muslim countries jumped on the Saudi’s aggressive, bellicose bandwagon by cutting off all links with Qatar on the trumped-up charges of supporting terror outfits and promoting their propaganda war.

This aggravated Saudi-Iran’s inveterate enmity along sectarian and political lines. Turkey also decided to take sides with Qatar. According to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani,the countries “supporting terrorist groups” such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group “financially and logistically for a long time cannot claim to be combating them”(Dawn). Since time immemorial, the kingdom support Islamic networks such seminaries, mosques and evangelical outfits for promoting the highly toxic Wahabist ideology (literal and ritualistic interpretation of Quran) in Muslim countries. By the same token, Iran also supports Shiite states and Shiite rebels in counterbalancing the Kingdom.

In the midst of turmoil and overlapping trajectory of events, the monster of sectarianism looms large and has escaped the ability of states to manage it, which resulted in a lethal cocktail interspersed with regional adventurism and domestic politics.

To one’s utter dismay, the west and Israel are the main actors pulling the strings of this great game.Interestingly, the Muslim countries are pitted against one another in sectarian warfare, which results in diverting attention from tackling the real sources of extremism and terrorism, Israeli occupation of Palestine and human rights abuses, and lack of chronic democratic norms in the centuries-old monarchies. This ominous, fateful balance of power based on straightjacketed realism is detrimental to the very texture of Ummatic unity.

Historically, Iran is a major player in the wider Middle East, especially Syria, Lebanon, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, and Palestine. The two powerful regional organization Hamas and Hezbollah get logistical and political support from Iran. They are major players in bringing peace to Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Similarly in Asia, Iran can upset the fragile political and security apple cart by aligning with India; stocking tensions in war-torn Afghanistan; and stirring sectarian dissension in Pakistan and elsewhere.On the other hand,Saudi Arabia,along with its allies, supports potent actors for furthering geo-political interests.

In the foreseeable future, if  the this unending spate of rivalry continues it will perpetuate violence, anarchy, proxies and instability paving the way for full-blown sectarian Armageddon with irreparable losses.

Its time Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, in collaboration with China and  some EU impartial countries, play mediatory role instead of taking unwarranted risks by aligning with either of the two. Rather than providing weapons and ammunitions, the west had better promote good governance, education and employment opportunities. The Trump administration needs to learn important lessons from the military disasters of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other instances of forced regime changes. Iran should be spared, and the treaty be honored. Diplomacy must prevail.

About Author:

Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir is a freelance writer,human rights activist,aspirant to CSS and having specialization in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML,Islamabad. He can be reached at 

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