Moreover, Saudi support for confrontation with Iran precedes Trump’s coming to office but has intensified since, in part as a result of King Salman’s ascendance to the Saudi throne in 2015 and the rise of his son, Prince Mohammed. Already a decade ago, Saudi Arabia’s then King Abdullah urged the United States to "cut off the head of the snake" by launching military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme.

Writing in 2012 in Asharq Al Awsat, a Saudi newspaper, Amal Al-Hazzani, an academic, asserted in an op-ed entitled "The oppressed Arab district of al-Ahwaz" that Khuzestan "is an Arab territory... Its Arab residents have been facing continual repression ever since the Persian state assumed control of the region in 1925... It is imperative that the Arabs take up the al-Ahwaz cause, at least from the humanitarian perspective."

John Bolton, Donald Trump's national security adviser (photo: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/A. Harnik)
Despite the hawks in its ranks, the U.S. administration has officially shied away from formally endorsing the goal of toppling the regime in Tehran. Since becoming Donald Trump's national security adviser, long-standing supporter of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, John Bolton has softened his tone. Now he insists that U.S. policy is to put "unprecedented pressure" on Iran to "change its behaviour"

Rumours of Gulf involvement

More recently, Prince Mohammed vowed that "we won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran."

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent UAE scholar, who is believed to be close to Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, played into Iranian assertions of Gulf involvement in this weekend’s attack by tweeting that it wasn’t a terrorist incident. Abdulla suggested that "moving the battle to the Iranian side is a declared option" and that the number of such attacks "will increase during the next phase."

A Saudi think tank, believed to be backed by Prince Mohammed last year called in a study for Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran. Prince Mohammed vowed around the same time that "we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia." Pakistani militants have claimed that Saudi Arabia has stepped up funding of militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that allegedly serve as havens for anti-Iranian fighters.

The head of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, Steven Fagin, met in Washington in June with Mustafa Hijri, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), before assuming his new post as counsel general in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. The KDPI has recently stepped up its attacks in Iranian Kurdistan, killing nine people weeks before Hijri’s meeting with Fagin. Other Kurdish groups have reported similar attacks. Several Iranian Kurdish groups are discussing ways to coordinate efforts to confront the Iranian regime. Similarly, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year appointed a seasoned covert operations officer as head of its Iran operations.

Said Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Khalid bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother: President "Trump makes clear that we will not approach Iran with the sort of appeasement policies that failed so miserably to halt Nazi Germany’s rise to power, or avert the costliest war ever waged."

James M. Dorsey

© Qantara.de 2018

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Wurzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. He has published several books, most recently "China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom"

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