Expert: "Saudi Arabia can't stop Iran's advance in the region"

Analysis

Expert of the DGAP German analytical center, Visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center who studies Iran, Ali Fathollah-Nejad, summed up Iran's 2017 foreign policy results in an interview with Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

He believes that this year, Iran looks like a winner in many conflict zones of the region. "While Iranian regional strategy has proved itself to be useful in many cases, its success would be impossible without colossal weakness of Iran's rivals. By that I mean continuing division of the Arab world, which mostly rejects Iran's expansionist role. Iran's strength should be analyzed in the same context as the weakness of its opponents," Ali Fathollah-Nejad stressed.

Commenting on the victory over ISIS in Syria and Iraq, political scientist noted: "It's true that territorial victory over ISIS was achieved in November and December, but the conditions that led to emergence of this terrorist organization haven't disappeared. We should expect the appearance of 'ISIS 2.0.' The fact that Tehran, Baghdad and Moscow announced victory over ISIS strongly resembles the speech of former US President George Bush, who, a month and a half after intervention in Iraq, announced that America's mission was completed."

Speaking about the civil war in Yemen, where interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran have opposite interests, Ali Fathollah-Nejad said: "Both sides are not trustworthy. Saudis definetely exaggerate Iran's role, while justifying their brutal behavior in Yemen and militaristic course against Iran. On the other hand, Tehran openly supports Houthi militants, at least indirectly through Hezbollah. The connection between Houthis and Hezbollah is becoming increasingly obvious, for example in the rhetoric of Houthis' leader."

According to him, without a clear strategy against Iran, Saudi Arabia is currently losing a fight for leadership in the Middle East: "The fact that Riyadh continues the blockade of Qatar, thus damaging the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, while planning an anti-Iranian alliance with Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time, speaks for itself: This alliance of reactionaries has no political capital in the Arab world or a useful strategy to stop Iran's advance in the region."

Ali Fathollah-Nejad believes that in 2018, Iran's position will largely depend on how successfully it copes with changes in the region. Fight for the territories liberated from ISIS will also play a certain role, especially in the part of Syria that is absolutely necessary for the survival of Syrian state. Ultimately, Iran's regional victory may turn out to be Pyrrhic.