While the world tries to interpret Saudi Arabia’s moves to clamp down on corruption and watches the kingdom accuse Iran of an “act of war,” a former Reagan administration Pentagon official says Saudi Arabia is gearing up for the very real possibility of a “very, very bloody” war with Iran.
Within the past several days, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is next in line to the Saudi throne, has ordered the arrests of many government officials, including 11 princes, on allegations of corruption. More recently, the crown prince accused Iran of an “act of war” after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched an Iranian missile toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
The Houthis admit firing the missile, and Saudi investigators say the fragments prove the missile is from Iran. Furthermore, the Saudi-friendly prime minister of Lebanon abruptly resigned, and many other elements of the Lebanese government are loyal to the Shiite regime in Iran.
So are the events of the past week just the latest developments in an unstable region or something far more significant?
Frank Gaffney is president of the Center for Security Policy, and he served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He said these recent events are very significant.
“Something is moving, for sure,” Gaffney told WND and Radio America. “I think this is a lot bigger than chess pieces. I think this is nothing less than tectonic shifts taking place throughout the region.”
Gaffney said Iran’s goal of creating a “Shiite Crescent” is greatly disturbing to the Saudis. The crescent is a continuous stretch of Iranian-dominated areas that stretches from the southern end of the Red Sea through Yemen to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
He said Crown Prince Salman is bracing for a major fight to prevent Iran control of the entire region.
“I think what is teeing up, as I see it, is probably a very, very bloody war in that part of the world, and it may not be confined to that part of the world,” Gaffney said.
He said the Iran threat is growing in multiple respects.
“The Iranians are establishing hegemonic control of large parts of this very strategically significant region,” Gaffney said. “They aspire to do more, and I think they are willing to do everything from Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria through their own Quds force and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
He also also suspects Iran is prepared to use ballistic missiles with non-conventional warheads (chemical, biological or nuclear) in order to assert an iron grip on the region, and he would not be surprised to see the fighting spread to other parts of the Middle East.
“It could go beyond that,” Gaffney explained. “Turkey is a factor in all of this. The central Asian republics beyond [are also at risk]. This could get extraordinarily messy, and then it goes without saying that Israel may be drawn into it.”
So is this “tectonic shift” a result of the natural tides of history in the region, dating back to the Shiite-Sunni divide over a thousand years ago, or have specific policies accelerated the specter of an ugly sectarian war in the region?
Gaffney said the forces of history are obviously a major factor, but he said policy moves made in the Obama and George W. Bush administration are also coming back to haunt the neighborhood. Gaffney blasted Obama for the 2015 nuclear deal and slammed the Bush administration for eliminating the Iraq army in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The principle impediment to Iranian ambitions (the Iraqi army) was removed,” Gaffney said. “The damage done during the Bush years in that respect has been greatly compounded by the policy of Barack Obama in greatly enhancing the power of the Iranian regime.”
But why is the crown prince focused on rooting out corruption when so many national security concerns are on the front burner?
“It seems pretty clearly aimed not so much at dealing with the corrupt officials, because, if that were in fact the object, I think every single one of them would be rounded up. It’s about power. It’s about consolidating his hold on it before his father (King Salman) passes from the scene,” said Gaffney.
“He’s clearing the decks for action against the principal, and increasingly existential threat to the kingdom, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added.
Gaffney insists that labeling Iran an “existential threat” against Saudi Arabia is not an exaggeration.
“If they don’t do something about this, presumably with the help of the United States, they will be encircled and the resources on which they still rely on very heavily – namely the sale of petroleum – can be cut off at will through the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea by the Iranians or their proxies,” he said.
Even with massive military resources courtesy of the U.S., Gaffney does not believe the Saudis can match the Iranians without help. He said Egypt and Jordan would be heavily recruited to join the fray, along with possible U.S. air power.
Her said the Saudis don’t have the personnel to do the job.
“They’ve got an enormous amount of very advanced equipment,” Gaffney said. “They just don’t have many people who have either the skills or the will to wield it in defense of the kingdom or their interests more broadly.”
As for the Trump administration’s position as events unfold in the Middle East, Gaffney said the U.S. ought to be publicly on the side of the Saudis. However, he said the most important tactical policy is to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
“Our interests at the moment lie with trying to deprive the Iranians of their nuclear and other ambitions,” he said. “And that’s going to be vastly harder today than it was before Barack Obama started greatly enabling those ambitions.”