Across the Bay

Friday, March 30, 2007

Iran's Shadow Hovered Over Riyadh

Here's my latest in The Daily Star on the Arab summit:

At the Riyadh summit earlier this week, appropriately dubbed the summit of "Arab solidarity," Saudi Arabia again sought to impose a certain order by avoiding highlighting the various fissures among the Arab states. However, the Saudis also went beyond that by seeking to regain the initiative and cement their newfound leadership role in the region. The driving force behind such efforts was to block Iranian encroachment in the Middle East, especially Iran's drive to capture the Palestinian card.

At stake was the mainstream Arab states' desire to ensure that they alone control the final decision to wage war or make peace with Israel, particularly after the war in Lebanon last summer, when the actions of Hizbullah led to the possibility of a wider conflagration. The Saudis interpreted that conflict as an Iranian and Syrian gambit played through the Lebanese window, and have been just as worried about Iranian support for Hamas. The Saudis were, therefore, eager to shut both these windows in Riyadh.
As for Lebanon, though Assad met with King Abdullah, the final statement of the summit showed that the Saudis were sticking to their guns on the Hariri tribunal and the need for Syria to respect Lebanese sovereignty. Riyadh still views Lebanon as a crucial battleground which Iran and Syria must not be allowed to profit from. Moreover, the Saudis' continued support for the tribunal suggests that Assad's options are narrowing on that front if he intends to rely on Arab solidarity.