For many decades, Saudi Arabia and Iran- the giants of the Muslim world have vied for influence, which resulted into a Muslim Cold war. From historical perspective, Saudi saw it as Shia-Sunni rivalry while Iran considered it as oil war between Shia-sunni before Islamic revolution and a coalition between Islamic republic and monarchy after the revolution. The scism has dominated the Muslim world with Iran shaping its long term influence on Syria, Iraq and Lebanon while Saudi Arabia intervening in Yemen followed by 34 country alliance in a bid to support Yemen against Shia minority of Muslims. Addition to the list is the isolation of Qatar and destabilization of Lebanon.
Iran as a part of Safavid and other dynasties united in 1501 influenced from Baghdad to Herat while Saudi Arabia being a part of Ottoman empire established and inaugurated its first Diriyah empire in 1744. The conflict was to be generated from 1908 as a minor to a full fledged operationlaization of proxy wars in the second decade of 21st century as Tehran struggled with economic decline due to international sanctions while Arabia stood alone in the power corridors of the Muslim world.
We divide this era of destabilization or say proxy war of two Muslim giants into three categories with pre revolution from 1908-1979 as it’s phase 1, post revolution of Iran/siezure of grand mosque untill 9/11 attacks as it’s median era and lastly the most brutal era which started after 9/11 and continues even today. Let us discuss these phases one by one.
Phase 1: Pre Revolution (1908-1979)
as we noted that Iran was a cultural and historical complex with Iranian land showing soul integrity with their culture tradition and values and people are associated patriotic not only with land but with their culture tradition values and norms throughout the world while on the other side Saudis are considered as more connected with their Islamic inheritance. The common factor is that both share their exceptionalism as Iran has a record of its history spreading vast over 6 millenia as we know that on 15 October 1971 that Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi celebrated 2500 years of non-stop monarchic rule on Iran while Saudi Arabia derives its name from Al Saud monarchy. Both had strong hold on religious affairs claiming to be inheritents of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). Saudi Arabia shares its wahabism tactical starting from Diryah region in Riyadh province covering almost three forth of 3.2 million square km area of Arabian peninsula till just 1932 and founded its strong desert kingdom. While Iran had shia majority in Western part of Asia comprising 1.6 million square km area from Mekran to Ilam province and Kurdish areas. Botha had spreading in their areas. The clash between two Muslim giants having vast resources of oil started in 1908 when first oil field was drilled in Iran Masjid e Suliman area of shustar when British oil based company dragged first resource of oil for its regional purpose to make its ship faster than Germany that had established first Anglo-Persian oil company. British after facing WW1 suggested that it could only benefit from oil by creating strong center government in Iran leading to formation of Pahlavi dynasty under Raza Shah Pahlavi. This created keen interest of America and Russia in Iranian oil and give birth to many rival oil based companies.
After stabilizing the desert kingdom by al saud under British protection, king Al Saud opened its first bidding for oil digging at subsidiary rates which ultimately resulted in production of 3810 barrels starting in 1938 and after this American companies showed keen interest in desert oil wanted to planted it’s oil companies in saudi arab but because of closed relations shared with british , king al saud abstained from allowing monopoly to the american companies after many efforts in vain by the American president F.D Roosevelt. The Second world war also known as WW2, changed geopolitical dynamics by making america the most powerful on planet and gave birth to actual oil war over Iranian and Saudi oil.
While on Iran side things were changing drastically as Iran’s role of neutrality in WW2 caused Russia to annex more of its areas which Iran demanded to retake on cost of sharing it’s oil company AIOC shares with Russia while on other side the illegal digging of oil wells in Iran with worst labor conditions created a party known as National Front by Mussadiq which rose to the national parliament (majlis) in 1950. This help Iranian government possess full control on Iranian oil company by expelling its foreign shareholders under Russian aid, which reduced oil revenue of Tehran and increased Riyadh’s revenue whose production increased. Following the coup against Mussadiq, Raza Shah Pahalvi got an opportunity to have full control on nationalized AIOC which on American pressure had distributed its shares among many companies raising its income in 1957. At this time the house of Saud was facing its internal war of throne which ultimately resulted in victory of king Faisal, a crown prince, who at first succeeded in creation of OPEC with it’s oil mates Iraq, Iran , Kuwait and Venezuela to control oil prices under their influence in 1960.
He became king when both Saudi and Pahalvi monarchs enjoyed their luxurious life on their oil income; Pahlavi at their Niavaran palace while house of Saud at Riyadh palace respectively. king Faisal after becoming monarch first fulfilled his promise of political reforms, objecting on merging military and national guard, strengthening intelligence agency, first to resist Egyptian intervention in North Yemen by dispatching Saudi troops to oppressor general Nasser also by finding brotherhood in Egypt and first to adopt pan-Arabian idea and trying to strengthen ties with US. Actually this was the start of a major cold war in Muslim world. But this was short lived as the six day Arab war with Israel unified whole Arabian peninsula against Israel and America and the Arabcs went for formation of Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) in Kuwait in 1968. Following this, the whole Muslims on the call of Moroccan president in rabat in 1969 cleared the way for creating Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which is termed as identity of Muslims in the world.
Muslim world saw a dynamic crystal triangle of Bhutto, Faisal and Gaddafi which America perceived as serious threat from Muslim Ummah. This triggered assassination of king Faisal and emergence of king Khalid who gave America an opportunity to influence OAPEC price control.
Following by Iran ultimately greed of receiving weapons from US gave rise to arms race in Gulf countries and geopolitical interests of both giants changed after British escalation from gulf countries of Kuwait , Qatar and Bahrain. More oil on fire, the 1973 war between Arabs and Israel led these giants to increase oil prices which increased Tehran’s revenue four fold from $2.8 billion to $11.4 billion. This ultimate increase in revenue gave Pahlavi the opportunity to dominate its neighbouring Afghanistan which Daud Khan governed through his monarchic regime, by giving large sum of money. Relying on foreign sums, Daud khan welcomed Iranian act and crushing marxist in afghanistan on large scale and assasination of PDPA leaders especially Not amber khyber in 1978 which ultimately resulted in killing of Daud in 1978 and Amin sworn in as the prime minister of Afghanistan. These experiences urged Marxists to welcome Russian intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 and this led to beginning of a 10-year long bloody war. Soon after this the Pahlavi dynasty under Raza shah Pahalvi was dethroned by Islamic revolution in 1979, starting new era in Iran.
This essay has been split into three parts for readers’ convenience and is to be continued.
About The Author
Saad Bin Ubaid studies Mathematics at Quaid-i-Azam University. He is interested in National Security as well as Agricultural and Industrial development. He is a keen observer of International Relations and Strategic Affairs.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.