On January 11, 2016, Iran’s official media confirmed the state had filled the Arak nuclear reactor core with concrete. In short: Iran has killed its flagship nuclear site and its nuclear program is now limited to smaller projects, paperwork, research and, of course, propaganda videos.
But how could this have happened? While the US-Iran nuclear deal does dictate that Iran must reduce the operational capacity of the Arak nuclear reactor in particular, nobody could have believed Iran would have jumped to execute this part of the deal so quickly. Iran has been known to never give up anything except for handsome rewards.
Iran’s “sweet surrender” would never have been possible without the sophisticated and determined pressure of one country; Saudi Arabia, and one man; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
For years Saudi Arabia has been warning the West against the growing Iranian influence in the Middle East. What helps Saudi Arabia here is that it understands the region much better than many Western governments. When the revolution broke out in Syria in 2011, the West in particular dealt with it as local unrest, an armed revolution or a civil war at worst. Saudi Arabia understood clearly even then that Iran was on a mission to control Syria and turn it into terrorism export hub.
While the world was busy trying to negotiate Syria’s future with both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran, Saudi Arabia was not wasting any time; it put up all the proper support for Syria’s only secular opposition body, the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC).
Today, there seem to be no other moderate parties in Syria than the SOC, and on top of that the world is referring to Saudi Arabia for coordination with it on Syria as the only option left.
Saudi Arabia’s effort to limit Iran’s power did not end with Syria. In an effort to fight back, Iran tried to destabilize Saudi Arabia’s southern borders by empowering the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in Yemen, the Houthis. These militias had become too strong, to the point of taking over most of Yemen, and eventually controlled the capital, expelling Yemen’s elected president.
However, the Saudis weren’t having any of it – the Saudi crown prince and defense minister, Bin Salman, launched a fierce military operation to crack down on Houthis in Yemen.
In Yemen, Bin Salman was focusing on massive surgical air-strikes by Saudi’s Royal Air Force – second strongest in the region – and avoiding sending in ground troops in order not to engage the Saudi army with the fluid and fast-moving Houthis militias.
Since then Saudi fighter pilots have been clocking more flight hours than any others in the world.
As a result Houthis have been scattered all over Yemen – an insult to Iran which had pledged earlier to support the Houthis to the end.
Iran’s media even announced Iranian special forces and weapons were going to be flown to Yemen to support the Houthis – none of which happened as a determined Bin Salman ordered his fighter jets to impose an embargo on Iranian vessels and jets trying to enter Yemen.
Still, Iran’s humiliation in Yemen was merely an introduction to what Saudi Arabia did next. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest oil producers and therefore has a major say on global oil prices. Saudi Arabia has increased oil production to the point of driving oil prices so low that Iran has begun suffering. The Saudis can easily stand the decrease in revenues; Saudi Arabia enjoys a catalogue of natural resources and minerals besides oil, and on top of that has a rather Westernized economic model capable of surviving such a painful drop in revenues.
For example, since the drop of oil prices Saudi Arabia began implementing social welfare programs for its citizens to create a safety net that secures them amid the economic downturn. Iran could not afford any of this, nor does it have a liberalized economy that could withstand such shock. In addition, Iran has been financing two major civil wars in Syria and Iraq, and supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Recent Arab media reports confirmed Hezbollah militants have been complaining of their pay being slashed in half, and Assad’s militias complaining about smaller government handouts.
In other words, Saudi Arabia has pushed Iran to the edge and moved it from the offensive to the defensive, forcing it to accept two public humiliations, one in Yemen and the other at home when Iran literally buried its crown jewel in cement.
Further, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services began a relentless crackdown on Iran’s intelligence operatives in Saudi Arabia itself.
There have been several reports of arrests and uncovering of cells.
Crown prince Bin Salman didn’t stop there: Saudi Arabia carried out long-standing execution sentences of convicted pro-Iranian terrorists as well as others including Islamic State affiliates. One of these was Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, dubbed the “Shi’ite bin-Laden”. Nimr was a pro-Iran Saudi Shi’ite cleric who had been convicted of planning, financing, inciting and aiding terrorist operations on Saudi soil, in which several Saudis officers and civilians have been killed.
Before the execution Iran’s media constantly warned Saudi Arabia it could “shake the ground under its feet” if Nimr were executed. Nonetheless, Saudi carried out the execution, and nothing happened, nor was Iran able to shake anything in the kingdom, adding another humiliation to the list.
A non-Saudi Arab diplomat told me: “For Iran, Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shi’ite terrorist godfather like al-Nimr is pretty much like the crucifixion of Jesus to his followers.”
Saudi Arabia has been pressuring the Iranian bully politically, militarily and financially, as well as publicly humiliating it.
Saudi Arabia may never have a peace treaty with Israel, but it is wise enough to take on Iran and limit its ambitions for regional dominance.
Saudi Arabia follows Sharia law internally, but the outcomes of its foreign policy have been helping moderation and sanity in our troubled region.
Those bashing Saudi Arabia must understand: undermining Saudi Arabia is direct empowerment of Iran.
The author is a Jordanian-Palestinian politician.