A serious distrust exists between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two Middle Eastern economic and military powerhouses. Currently, the countries do not have any official diplomatic relationships, especially after the 2016 attacks on the Saudi Embassy in the Iranian capital. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was fundamental in the escalation of the regional struggles (Schmierer, Jeffrey, Nader, &Nazer, 2016). Saudi Arabia has been trying to use diplomacy to deescalate the tension. However, Iran instigated numerous destabilizing incidents in 2019 that further threatened any diplomatic relationships in the region. For instance, the recent missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities contributed to the continued tension and discouraged any discussion on peace and stability. Similarly, Iran has been using proxy wars to attack Saudi Arabia’s interests and to control the Gulf. Consequently, the primary purpose of the paper is to examine whether diplomacy is useful in preventing further Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia’s interests. Notably, to ensure a comprehensive analysis and understanding of the purpose statement, the paper provides a background on the conflict between the two countries and a brief definition of diplomacy. The paper also examines the reasons behind the failed mediation attempts between the two countries, the specific role of diplomacy, and the related strategies in reducing the existing conflicts.
The tense relationship emanates from various geo-political and socio-economic issues existing between the two countries. The two nations also disagree on the interpretation of certain fundamental issues in Islam. For instance, Iran subscribes to Shiite theocracy, while Saudi Arabia adopts a Sunni monarchy. Iran believes that Saudi Arabia represents the interest of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf region, which is not true (Schmierer et al., 2016). For example, Iranian leaders consider the U.S. and the state of Israel as its archenemies. Thus, they have been trying to destroy any alliance between the Saudis and such hostile countries (Schmierer et al., 2016). However, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Western nations such as the U.S. is strictly for strategic economic and military reasons. Therefore, Iran’s accusations are baseless attempts to sanctify its hostility towards the Saudis. Iran also desires to spread its revolutionary ideals and extreme Islamic fundamentalism across the region and globally, an idea opposed by Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the two countries also have conflicting ambitions to lead the Islamic world and control global oil export policies.
Notably, the September 2019 drone and cruise missile attacks on the state-owned Saudi oil and gas facilities further strained the relationship between the two nations. The military strikes also threatened the security and stability of the Gulf and Middle Eastern region. Overall, the Saudi government views Iran as an existential threat to its regional dominance and survival. The latest attacks on Saudi’s oil and gas installations are a clear illustration of its vulnerability to Iran’s rising influence in the Persian Gulf region. Therefore, Saudi Arabia views diplomacy rather than direct military confrontation as a viable solution to existing tension with hostile Iran.
Diplomacy is a critical instrument for strengthening international relationships, peace, and global stability. It entails the application of various intelligence approaches and tactics to normalize official relationships and cooperation between governments. In this case, the main objective of diplomacy is to help Saudi Arabia to secure diverse national interests through rational negotiations and friendly relations between other nations in the Persian Gulf region, such as Iran. A progressive foreign policy between the two countries should strengthen diplomatic relationships and ensure long-term cooperation. Through such relationships, the countries can negotiate and enforce global and regional policy interests.
Fundamentally, diplomacy is important because it can strengthen the bilateral relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. International diplomatic efforts to arbitrate the existing conflict between the two nations have failed to materialize. The failure is attributable to differences in regional policies and desires between Riyadh and Tehran, as well as other independent factors and actors (Mamadkul, 2017). For example, Iran falsely accuses most of the U.S.-backed policy experts and mediators are biased in their observation and reporting of the Saudi-Iranian relations. Similarly, Iran has increased its provocations and support for violent extremism propagated by groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthi insurgency in Yemen, and this threatens the normalization of any diplomatic relationships with Saudi Arabia. Besides, Iran falsely believes that Saudi’s closer ties to the United States, Israel, and Pakistan are also a major cause of mistrust and escalated regional tensions.
In essence, despite the international attempts to normalize the relationship between the two Gulf nations, Iran’s recent behaviors clearly signify that Tehran does not intend to change its regional behaviors. Recent attempts by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to lead the mediation process also failed because of Iran’s opposition to Japan’s closeness to the United States. However, the world should deploy diplomatic strategies to create workable solutions to the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran (Mamadkul, 2017). Peaceful relationships between the two regional powerhouses will change the balance of power and stability in the Persian Gulf region. The domestic influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is another factor preventing the possibility of an Iranian-Saudi diplomatic relationship. In particular, the IRGC adopts an aggressive regional policy against Saudi Arabia to propagate its ideological and political interests in the Persian Gulf region.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to manage the existing conflicts with the hostile neighbor through improved dialogue and comprehensive peace-building processes despite Iran’s irrational agenda in the region. In particular, Saudi Arabia believes that the two countries should work towards reducing their level of enmity by altering the hostile rhetoric. However, the aftermath of last year’s drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi’s oil and gas facilities further strained the Saudi-Iran relationship. Despite the increasing hostility from Iran, Saudi Arabia can still rely on diplomacy to avoid future military confrontations with the Islamic Republic of Iran (Gause, 2014). The two countries should recognize diplomacy as a critical tool for initiating peaceful cooperation and constructive dialogue. Through such interventions, Saudi Arabia can enter into peaceful negotiations, as well as create sustainable cohesion and harmony with Iran. In essence, diplomacy should be a Saudi government-backed approach for the creation of strong mutual relationships with Iran. Thus, the Saudis can consider avoiding avoid foreign-led interventions to eliminate possible mistrust existing between the two countries (Saab, 2018). For example, Saudi Arabia should initiate direct contact between the leadership of the two nations. Indeed, Iran and Saudi Arabia could solve most of their conflicts through diplomacy and avoid the escalation of recent crises, such as the September 2019 attacks.
Diplomacy will help Saudi Arabia and Iran to share critical information, formulate effective communication approaches, and facilitate sharing of intelligence, among other benefits (Settembrini, 2019). Broader and smarter communication between the countries will shape the peace, political, and socio-economic stability and trajectory of the Middle East. Saudi and Iran should also realize that they need one another to achieve their diverse regional and global objectives and goals(Gause, 2014). As such, they should seek a higher level of interdependence and increased cooperation in areas such as security and trade. That is, Saudi should reduce its reliance on its traditional Western allies, such as the United States. The country’s leadership should initiate direct talks and engagements with the current Iranian regime.
Furthermore, a direct dialogue with Iran will help Saudi Arabia to pursue peace and reduce the unnecessary humanitarian crisis in the region. For example, warm diplomatic relations imply that Saudi Arabia can encourage Iran to de-escalate the ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria through political rather than military interventions. However, diplomacy will encourage the two regional powers to make political compromises towards trust and the peace-building process (Zweiri, 2016). For example, Saudi Arabia may have to compromise its strategic relationship with Western allies, such as the U.S., to negotiate with aggressive Iran. Similarly, Iran should cease its hostile activities in the region that are mostly targeting Saudis. For instance, Iran should stop funding rebel groups that are against Saudi’s interests, such as the Houthi insurgency in Yemen. The two countries also need stable societies and vibrant economies to implement their socio-economic and long-term political objectives (Gause, 2014). For instance, Saudi Arabia requires increased regional integration and cooperation to implement its vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s dependency on oil. Notably, both countries will benefit from direct dialogue and cooperation rather than hostile relations.
Saudi Arabia should develop unique frameworks for initiating comprehensive diplomacy, with a strong emphasis on encouraging Iran to de-escalate regional conflicts and military activities. A new round of diplomatic talks with Iran will secure Saudi Arabia’s long-term political and economic interest. The starting point for such comprehensive diplomatic efforts should include increased cooperation in fighting violent extremism in the region. For example, through such cooperation, Saudi Arabia and Iran can initiate various diplomatic channels to communicate and share important information. However, any diplomacy efforts should address Iran’s past and present atrocities in the region. Iran should also embrace behavior changes and support Saudi Arabia’s desires for regional stability and peaceful coexistence. The diplomatic efforts will also help in reducing uncertainties and unpredictability across the region through enhanced discussion of various domestic, regional, and global issues. For example, Saudi Arabia can use such improved diplomatic ties to neutralize Iran’s hostile activities in the region.
Fundamentally, inclusive diplomacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia could resolve the long-standing issues and mutual insecurities between the two regional neighbors. Saudi can achieve this objective by stabilizing its bilateral ties with Iran, as well as through the opening of the diplomatic missions in Riyadh and Tehran. The diplomatic missions will enhance the gathering and sharing of information, as well as promote mutual relations between the two countries. Diplomatic relationships will also promote investment opportunities and tourism between the two nations. In essence, with their large oil reserves, a normalized relationship will enable Iran and Saudi Arabia to have greater control over the global oil market. Therefore, the countries should focus more on strengthened socio-economic development and reintegration into the global economy. The continuation of the regional sectarian conflicts will have adverse political and economic consequences for both countries in the long term. For instance, the continued conflicts in Syria and Yemen will imply more humanitarian crises in the Persian Gulf region, thus leading to a heightened socio-economic and political burden to both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The elusive Saudi-Iranian de-escalation will indeed normalize both countries’ diplomatic relationships. However, the presence of a pacifying global superpower, such as the United States and Russia, will generate a more favorable outcome. Therefore, Saudi Arabia should encourage Iran and the U.S. should come to terms to enhance the diplomatic processes in the Middle Eastern region. Other countries in the region, such as Iraq, should also act as buffers and prevent the possibility of military confrontations. Diplomatic or bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia will also encourage Iran to act with self-restraint, as well as limit regional conflicts (Gause, 2014). Most conflicts in the Persian Gulf region, such as the war in Yemen and Syria, stem from the ideological and political ideologies propagated by Iran. Iran’s activities continue to inflame violence and humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. Therefore, while it is hard to imagine Iran and Saudi Arabia coming together, they should learn to coexist to save the region from total annihilation (Zweiri, 2016). If Iran is willing to change its hostile policies, Saudi Arabia should continue with its use of diplomacy to build the best and strong bilateral relationships in the region.
Improved relationships or diplomatic relations are also possible through the creation of a comprehensive crisis management framework and hotline. In particular, the hotline will encourage the countries’ foreign ministers to identify and control various escalators events to prevent dangerous military confrontation. The leaders can engage in constructive dialogues and discussions about the issues as they arise, thus reducing the need for military confrontations. For example, if the Iran air force downs Saudi’s fighter jet, a direct hotline can allow the two countries’ leadership to discuss and solve the incident privately (Abuelghanam&Tahboub, 2018). Direct communication and negotiations will also help Saudi to avoid the risk of misfires, accidental military strikes, and other incidents that may escalate into a war with hostile Iran.
Lastly, if both countries are unwilling to initiate direct channels of communication, they can create technical committees to facilitate diplomatic relationships. The committees may include policy experts and foreign policy technocrats. The experts should develop appropriate approaches and strategies that can address the countries’ regional and global interests. In particular, the experts should promote viable solutions capable of addressing the two countries’ needs. For example, the diplomatic negotiations should explore how Saudi Arabia and Iran initiate official talks without invalidating each other’s regional roles and influences (Pasha, 2016). Diplomacy will also help the sides to control or limit their intervention in regional geo-political affairs. For instance, bilateral lies will limit Saudi’s fears of the possibility of Iran becoming a regional hegemonic power.
Pragmatism should prevail if Iran and Saudi Arabia aim to reduce the conflict that exists between them and enhance their diplomatic relations. The political class in both countries will play a critical role in facilitating a gradual and consistent shift from hostile to inclusive relationships. The countries should work on reducing the deep mistrust by initiating constant and direct dialogue with each other. The establishment of more conventional diplomatic channels of communication will help Saudi and Iran to avoid possible war. Notably, reciprocity is critical in shaping the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. For instance, both parties should participate equally in eliminating the destructive cycle of escalations. Lastly, Saudi Arabia should consider different crisis management strategies to reduce the unhealthy rivalry with aggressive Iran.
Iran and Saudi Arabia can deploy different devices of technology to prevent further military attacks and escalations. In particular, Saudi Arabia should strengthen its reliance on various diplomatic instruments and strategies to prevent future attacks by Iran on its foreign and domestic interests. For instance, Saudi Arabia can use persuasion to prevent further Iranian attacks on its interests. In particular, Saudi leadership should engage his Iran counterpart in a logical or rational debate about the possible de-escalation of regional tension. Through such discussion, Saudi leaders can convince the Iranian leaders to uphold or promote peaceful relationships or justify their retaliatory attacks on Iran’s interest.
Saudi should consider certain compromises or rewards to solve an international dispute or problem. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s leadership should limit actions and decisions that may contradict Iran’s role and influence in the Middle East. Iran should also match such rewards with other related compromises. For example, Iran should change its foreign policy views and policies on Saudi Arabia. Specifically, the two countries should learn to coexist as friendly neighbors. Besides, diplomacy discourages the use of force or violence in promoting regional or national interests. Therefore, Saudi can consider other alternative conflict resolution strategies to normalize its relationships with Iran. For example, Saudi can occasionally use the threat of force, ultimatums, and ban on Iranian imports to force the aggressive neighbor to change their hostile policies. Through such non-violent interventions and retaliation, Iran and Saudi Arabia can progressively work on a viable solution to their historical differences and challenges.
Lastly, Iran should avoid using pressure tactics on Saudi Arabia to achieve certain strategic objectives. Some of these pressure tactics may include sectarian and political propaganda and rigid negotiations. Diplomacy will help Saudi Arabia to protect and promote its interests. The two countries should also seek compatibility, accommodation, goodwill, and compromise to establish strong bilateral or diplomatic ties. For instance, Iran should prevent the introduction of discriminatory practices or policy statements towards Saudi Arabia. The political and religious leaders in the two nations is also important in shaping their diplomatic relations. For example, Saudi Arabia and Iran should control the spread of sectarianism in their religious difference emanating from discussions on who should lay claim on the holiest sites in Islam. Saudi should consider eliminating any travel restrictions and visa requirements for Iranian citizens seeking to visit Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest cities in the Muslim world. Overall, Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic strategies should place special emphasis on attaining respect, trust, and the development of mutual relationships with aggressive Iran.
Saudi Arabia should be realistic about its relationship with Iran, Western allies, and other regional players If Iran is not willing to accept diplomacy, then Saudi Arabia should consider other strategic interests. In essence, Riyadh should consider negotiating peace deals with Tehran to address regional concerns. Notably, while Iran is the main aggressor in the strained relationship, Saudi Arabia’s choice of diplomacy will encourage the hostile neighbor to change its irrational policies. Diplomacy will provide a fairground for negotiation, as well as help Saudi Arabia to realign its strategic efforts towards the attainment of regional security. The two countries should also build stronger foundations of peace and stability through such exceptional diplomatic engagements in the Middle East.
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