Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL -

Al­though the news from the Mid­dle East cre­ates an im­pres­sion of an im­mi­nent war, chances are that Iran and Saudi Ara­bia con­tin­u­ing to play it by proxy un­til the rookie, the im­pul­sive Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man is as­sured of un­lim­ited mil­i­tary as­sis­tance by the Don­ald Trump Gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter all it is noth­ing, but a spec­tac­u­lar check­mat­ing by the two Mid­dle East­ern giants that the world has been eye­ing dur­ing the past few weeks with bal­lis­tic mis­siles fly­ing over Riyadh fol­low­ing the starv­ing mil­lions in Ye­men, forced res­ig­na­tion of Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri and the Iraqi vic­tory in Kur­dish con­trolled Kirkuk with help of Iran, its one time en­emy.

Though it ap­pears that the tit for tat game is be­ing con­tin­ued it’s more than ob­vi­ous that Iran is way ahead of Saudi Ara­bia as far as power and strate­gies are con­cerned. With Iraq, Syria, Le­banon, Ye­men, Pales­tine, Bahrain un­der its thumb the mod­ern Iran has al­ready con­sol­i­dated its in­flu­ence in the ma­jor­ity of the lands that came un­der the an­cient Per­sian Em­pire. The only dif­fer­ence is that in­stead of man­ag­ing them by di­rect rule they are be­ing con­trolled by its prox­ies. Be­sides, ir­re­spec­tive of the sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions, at any given time the rest of the Mus­lims in the world pre­fer to throw their weight be­hind this pre­dictable, strong, anti-us Is­lamic state than the pro-us, Wah­habi state of Saudi Ara­bia.

Saudi Ara­bia has all the rea­son to worry. With an econ­omy on the brink of bank­ruptcy, a di­vided royal fam­ily, a dis­il­lu­sioned elec­torate reel­ing un­der ex­or­bi­tant taxes, ag­gres­sive Ira­nian al­lies as its neigh­bours and a Mus­lim world that is cyn­i­cal over the man­ner it pan­ders to United States, Saudi Ara­bia is at a gross dis­ad­van­tage fi­nan­cially, po­lit­i­cally and ge­o­graph­i­cally in the event of a war.

Worst, in his ef­forts to check­mate Iran the ad­ven­tur­ous 32-year-old Crown Prince Sal­man seems to be ag­gra­vat­ing the plight of the na­tion in­stead of im­prov­ing it. Vow­ing to put the coun­try on a more sec­u­lar di­rec­tion on the prin­ci­ples of good gover­nance and equal­ity Sal­man has in­tro­duced a slew of re­forms on eco­nomic and so­cial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. The rate at which these are in­tro­duced and the un­prece­dented hike in taxes have left the elec­torate both con­fused and dis­il­lu­sioned. On the other hand his re­cent cor­rup­tion purge tar­get­ing his re­la­tions has been viewed as a move to emas­cu­late and em­bez­zle the chal­lengers to his rule. The eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion is such that it has been an­nounced that the coun­try is to in­tro­duce new bank­ruptcy laws from next year on­wards, so that the in­debted com­pa­nies can de­clare in­sol­vency. Right now Saudis con­tri­bu­tion to US oil im­ports stands at around 11%, a dras­tic drop from the nearly 25% that they en­joyed in the 1990s. This has re­sulted in a cri­sis as de­ple­tion of re­serves put the Saudi Riyal which is pegged to the US Dol­lar, in trouble.

For us Sri Lankans both Iran and Saudi re­main po­lit­i­cal al­lies es­pe­cially fol­low­ing their back­ing at the UN and in the war against ter­ror­ism. Saudi Ara­bia has been a ma­jor source of over­seas rev­enue with an es­ti­mated half a mil­lion Sri Lankans em­ployed there right now. On the other hand there’s ev­i­dence that Iran or rather Per­sia has been trad­ing with Sri Lankan Kings for two mil­len­nia or so.

Un­like us, In­dia and Pak­istan have al­ready drawn their lines be­tween the two Mid­dle East­ern pow­ers.

Hav­ing given the green light to its ex-army chief Ra­heel Sharif to head Saudi-led Is­lamic mil­i­tary coali­tion, Pak­istan also took part at the Don­ald Trum­pled Arab Is­lamic Amer­i­can sum­mit held in Riyadh in May. It’s no se­cret that in its bid to win the Trump Gov­ern­ment over In­dia, Pak­istan strongly re­lies on the fel­low Sunni na­tion, Saudi Ara­bia.

Last year In­dia, Iran and Afghanistan signed a tri­par­tite agree­ment to de­velop the Ira­nian port of Chaba­har as a tran­sit hub to sup­ply In­dian goods to poverty stricken Afghanistan, thus by­pass­ing Pak­istan which has barred trans­porta­tion of In­dian goods through its ter­ri­tory. For this pur­pose Iran and In­dia agreed for a USD 8 bil­lion in­vest­ment in the port. Two weeks ago a ship­ment of 15,000 tons of wheat bound for Afghanistan from In­dia, reached Chaba­har. The con­sign­ment which is an In­dian gift to Afghanistan was to be sent through Iran by road from the port. In­ter­est­ingly, the Trump Gov­ern­ment, which is usu­ally crit­i­cal of oth­ers’ deal­ings with Iran, how­ever has heaped praise on In­dia for help­ing hap­less Afghanistan.

Saudi Crown Prince Sal­man has all the right to de­fend his coun­try’s in­ter­est in the re­gion. How­ever given the man­ner in which he has ex­e­cuted his strate­gies so far it ap­pears that the young royal has a long way to go be­fore get­ting a full grasp of world pol­i­tics.

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