Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference in Amman, Jordan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are known to be strained, a recent WikiLeaks release of a horde of documents from Riyadh shows the extent to which Riyadh has used its petrodollars not only to promote their austere brand of Sunni Wahhabism but also to curb the spread of Iranian-sponsored Shi'ite Islam.
The documents, which the New York Times said are authentic memos from the Saudi Foreign Ministry, delve deeper into the desert kingdom's aims of undermining its Persian foe by closely monitoring the activities of its institutions and officials.
According to the report, the Saudis are described as having developed an "obsession" toward Iran. The kingdom's diplomats abroad - including those stationed in missions in Africa, Asia, and Europe - were instructed to keep close tabs on Iranian ambassadors and staff.
The documents illustrate the scope of Saudi determination to use its considerable financial clout to not only spread the doctrine of its Sunni dogma but also to work against elements abroad who are perceived as having an anti-Saudi and pro-Iranian agenda.
The Saudis have funded study centers, schools, mosques, and cultural centers, spending billions to put preachers on their payroll who are more than willing to spread the Riyadh-approved gospel.
“We are talking about thousands and thousands of activist organizations and preachers who are in the Saudi sphere of influence because they are directly or indirectly funded by them,” Usama Hasan, a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the Quilliam Foundation in London, told the Times. “It has been a huge factor, and the Saudi influence is undeniable.”
The report highlights Saudi anxieties, which have only been intensified in light of the decision by its chief ally, the United States, to engage the Islamic Republic.
Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former head of the kingdom's intelligence services and its veteran ambassador to Washington, said Iran's nuclear deal will allow it to get an atomic bomb and "wreak havoc in the region".
Writing in Lebanon's Daily Star
on Thursday, Bandar, who left office a year ago after orchestrating Saudi aid for Syrian rebels against Iran-backed President Bashar Assad, said that Arabs were now turning away from the US.
"People in my region now are relying on God's will and consolidating their local capabilities and analysis with everybody else except our oldest and most powerful ally," he said in the opinion piece.
Riyadh's public response to the deal was a short statement late on Tuesday that said it backed any agreement that would stop Iran from getting an atomic bomb, but stressed the importance of strict inspections and the ability to reimpose sanctions.
Privately, officials and Saudi media with close ties to the ruling family have railed against the deal as likely to embolden Iran to give more backing to regional militias.
"The strategic foreign policy analysis, the national intelligence information, and America's allies in the region's intelligence all predict not only the same outcome of the North Korean nuclear deal but worse," he wrote, referring to Pyonyang's successful development of an atomic bomb.
It is not clear if the prince, a nephew of King Salman, plays any role in Saudi policy making since he was replaced as intelligence chief in 2014. Saudi sources quoted him in late 2013 as attacking US President Barack Obama's approach to the Middle East.
"It will wreak havoc in the Middle East which is already living in a disastrous environment, whereby Iran is a major player in the destabilization of the region," Bandar said.Reuters contributed to this report.