Why Saudi Arabia's Regional Power Plays Won't Lead to War

Saudis riding camels wave the country's national flag during celebrations of the 7th anniversary of Saudi King Abdullah's accession to the throne, in Ashwaq city near Tabouk, 1500 km (932 miles) from Riyadh May 21, 2012. Picture taken May 21, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Alhwaity

Saudi Arabia has become more assertive, but that doesn't mean it's going to war.

In Syria, Assad’s regime, which Saudi Arabia has been most keen to unseat, is winning—with the help of Iran, Russia, and to some extent, Turkey. In Iraq, the Iranian-led militia constitutes a major force and the Iraqi government is ever more under Tehran’s influence. When Iranians boast that they are increasing influence in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, they are not overstating their case. Saudi Arabia has no such gains to its name. In fact, it is even losing influence in Egypt, a nation usually listed in the Sunni camp. (Egyptian president Sisi just called for caution in approaching tensions in the Gulf and said he is “against war.”) Jordan, another nation listed as a member of the Sunni camp, has historically kept a low profile, avoiding conflict. It is too busy dealing with millions of Syrian refugees and keeping tabs on the majority of its citizens who are Palestinians. The Emirates have deep pockets but not much else to offer, and they differ among themselves on which course to follow.

The fact that the Shia are gradually ascending and the Sunni camp does not have the willpower and wherewithal to stop them—and that Russia is supporting the Shia camp—leads to the inevitable conclusion that if the United States does not greatly increase its commitments to the region, then the Sunni camp will continue to fail. The United States could choose to engage to increase its role in several proxy wars in the region, but it makes much more sense for the country to directly confront Iran.

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University. He is the author of Avoiding War with China and Foreign Policy: Thinking Outside the Box. For more discussion on this topic, see his 2011 article “Shifting Sands.”

Image: Saudis riding camels wave the country's national flag during celebrations of the 7th anniversary of Saudi King Abdullah's accession to the throne, in Ashwaq city near Tabouk, 1500 km (932 miles) from Riyadh May 21, 2012. Picture taken May 21, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Alhwaity​

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