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British Think-Tank: Saudi, US Blunders Increasing Iran's Might, Clout

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TEHRAN, May 28 (ICANA) - A well-known British think-tank said the US mistakes in its wars on Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the harsh military approach adopted by the Saudi and Bahraini dictators against peaceful protesters have increased Iran's might and power in the region.
Saturday, May 28, 2011 5:51:56 PM
British Think-Tank: Saudi, US Blunders Increasing Iran's Might, Clout

The June 2011 analysis written by Shashank Joshi for Chatemhouse noted the current revolutions in the region, and said the current developments will only serve Iran's interests.

It added that the US war on Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the recent Saudi invasion of Bahrain have all failed to materialize the western politicians' premeditated plans and demands.

The era of the Persian Gulf's most iconic bête noire, Saudi born and raised Osama bin Laden, has drawn to a close. But outsiders persistently underestimate the degree to which it is a state - the Islamic republic of Iran - rather than a non-state group, al Qaeda, which today captures the strategic attention of those in the corridors of power in Riyadh, Manama, and Amman, the analysis said.

Dangling a few hundred kilometers above the Gulf states, like a geopolitical Sword of Damocles, post-revolutionary Iran has long been the principal strategic concern for the tyrannical sheikdoms and emirates on the other side of the water, it said.

And yet, the strenuous efforts to place Iran at the heart of pro-democracy uprisings reveal a more cynical and self-serving effort at threat inflation, distracting attention from the unavoidable reform agenda dodged for so long by the Persian Gulf Arab autocracies, the analysis continued.

After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the export of revolution was adopted as official policy. In the late 1980s, Tehran encouraged (mainly, but not exclusively, Shiite) resistance against occupiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia responded in kind by backing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Sunni militias in revolutionary Lebanon, and extremist parties in Pakistan, to mention but a few. Saudi state institutions disseminated a retrograde and radical interpretation of Islam - its Wahhabi variant - around the world drawing, from the 1970s, on their extraordinary oil wealth.

Then, in the five years after 9/11, Iran found not only that two long-standing adversaries - the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq - had been eliminated by the United States, but also that its ally Hezbollah had been emboldened and aggrandized by an urban war with Israel. Iran's regional clout was at a high, though no one was quite clear on whether this 'clout' was usable, the analysis said.

It is therefore unsurprising that states like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are seemingly convinced that pro-democracy protesters are Iranian fifth columnists, less interested in basic rights for downtrodden Shiites than in clerical rule and Iranian hegemony over Arab lands. It is even less surprising that western observers have bought this line, and are muted in their criticism for the de facto Saudi occupation.

But the truth is likely to be less sinister. Firstly, Bahraini protesters agitated not for the overthrow of minority Sunni rule, but for their fair treatment within existing political structures. Their demands for political liberalization were predicated on the royal family's own pretensions to reform, which have stalled or regressed in the past five years, the analysis said.

The analysis reminded that in 2002, the king tore up the results of an earlier referendum and introduced his own constitution that gave greater power to the forty appointed parliamentarians rather than their forty elected colleagues. In the interim, widely accepted allegations of torture and arbitrary detention have been rife.

During this crisis, it was the regime's use of often indiscriminate violence, divisive sectarian rhetoric, and imported Sunni mercenaries that transformed a restrained and cross-sectarian protest movement into something more unruly. Yet, the policy failed to create sectarian strife between the Shiites and Sunnis. The Bahraini and Saudi monarchies know this, but are obviously unwilling to articulate that their violent techniques are aimed at the perpetuation of their rule rather than national security.

Secondly, the effort by the Saudi and Bahraini monarchies to slander the protesters as Iranian stooges was a disturbing echo of early modern Europe's obsession with 'Popish plots' concocted by subversive Catholic minorities.

In fact, most Bahraini Shiites are Arabs with no link to Iran. Iran responded to the Saudi injection of troops into Bahrain by withdrawing its ambassador and urging 'resistance', but took no action to interfere in the country's affairs like what the Saudis did. Al-Wefaq, the paramount Shiite political grouping, formed in the aftermath of an anti-Shiite crackdown in the 1990s, has worked inside Bahrain's parliament for five years despite continuous gerrymandering and repression.

Thirdly, the Iraq war ought to chasten western policymakers about the dangers of threat inflation. It can undercut efforts at engagement, harden already rigid differences in perception, and induce reckless and disproportionate policy responses. This does not require appeasement, but does require identifying between actual and amorphous threats.

The analysis said a sign of how low the threshold for alarm has fallen is the reaction to Iran's transparently diversionary effort to send two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since 1979. Aside from undertaking a perfectly legal journey, neither they nor Iran's navy present any conceivable military or intelligence threat to Israel or Persian Gulf states. Yet regional powers, both Arab and Israeli, unwisely rose to the taunt, and expressed dark and implausible visions of encirclement.

The analysis further said that the Saudi invasion, the Bahraini and Saudi rulers' sectarian accusations and crushing violence against peaceful protestors have all rendered aggrieved the Bahraini people receptive to Iran and Iranian-type of democracy, prevailing Iran's might and power in the Arab state.

The Saudi-led effort to vilify essentially moderate demonstrators will, in the long-term, radicalize these groups, harden confessional fault-lines, and thereby produce the very Iranian backlash on which these policies are conditioned, the analysis concluded.

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