Why Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, Not Iran, Should Be The Bigger Concern For The World

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Updated on 24 Aug, 2017 at 5:32 pm

You know where Saudi Arabia is, right? Well, it straddles a gigantic proportion of the Arabian Peninsula. With an area of 2.150 million square kilometers and a population of 33 million, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with the royal family having complete control over the religious, political, social and cultural life of its citizens.

Technically, it is the fifth largest country in the Middle East and also the fifth largest by population. Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and, therefore, enjoys a particularly exalted status in the Muslim world. Thanks to its vast oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is now the 12th richest country in the world by per capita GDP.


Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh at night. ThousandWonders.net

But did you know that Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest importer of weapons? Given the political situation of the world today, one can assume that weapons are needed by besieged countries such as India, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, and, probably, some European countries as well. Why Saudi Arabia? It has nothing and no one to fear! Has there been a terror attack on Saudi soil in recent decades? No. Is there any bordering country who would challenge Riyadh? No.

And yet Riyadh purchased a fresh bunch of weapons from the United States.

During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump did what every US President absolutely loves doing – sell weapons. He handed the House of Saud $350 billion (Rs.22,589 billion) worth of weaponry. Around $110 billion (Rs.7099 billion) of those weapons will be delivered to the oil-rich kingdom in a very short period. The remaining will come in the next 10 years.

Given Saudi Arabia’s population of approximately 3 crore, $350 billion can buy 23 AK-47 assault rifles for every single Saudi citizen.


Donald Trump doing the sword dance called ‘ardah’ with members of the House of Saud. IBTimes

The mainstream media in the West is painting a picture which shows Donald Trump as the daddy of evil. Of course, what he has done is concerning – very concerning. But what the mainstream media is either obviously ignoring or merely hinting at is the fact that it is Saudi Arabia which is spending the money for the weapons. What’s the difference, you ask?

It is necessary to say that ‘Saudi Arabia made its single biggest purchase of arms’ as much as saying that ‘Donald Trump sold weapons to Saudi Arabia’. They may appear to be conveying the exact same message but the truth is that while the first one points the finger at the real problem, the second one takes us away from it without us even realizing.

That premise established, we now have to take a look at what Riyadh is purchasing from Washington D.C. Again, this is important because the kind of arms being purchased gives an insight into the military policy and ambition of the purchaser.



A word about THAAD. The missile-defense system will soon be installed in South Korea to counter the nuclear missile threat from North Korea.

You see, Saudi Arabia is practically bracing its armed forces as if it is going to a war. And that is what the point is. In case you didn’t know, Saudi Arabian regime has already started a war that may reach the stage of a World War III.

What war is the House of Saud currently fighting?

The Saudis are fighting a war in Yemen since March 2015. And when you take a look at the belligerents, you’d be shocked. The Hadi-led government of Yemen is being backed by Saudi-led coalition which comprises Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Senegal, Sudan and supported by the US, the UK, France, Pakistan, Turkey and Somalia.

On the other hand, the Houthi rebels are allegedly (not proven, that is) supported by Iran and Hezbollah.



Now that’s quite a one-sided war! Yet the Houthis continue to survive and give a migraine to the House of Saud.

What’s Saudi Arabia doing in Yemen?

Saudi Arabian jets pummeled the Houthi positions across Yemen so badly that the country has become a replica of war-torn Syria.

But that is not something to be surprised about. Wars do such damage to cities and often leave many dead. Yet ever since the world developed some sense and created certain laws to protect the lives of civilians (or non-combatants), hope has somewhat risen for humanity. Alas, many of the war-lovers give a damn to laws and Saudis are no exception.

So Riyadh has been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen.

While the world blames Bashar al-Assad for committing war crimes by gassing civilians, including children, Saudi Arabia has been doing almost the same thing since the war began. And though the mainstream media has been talking about the same, it is not raising its voice as loudly as it does when Assad’s forces commit similar crimes.



On January 29 this year, the United Nations warned the world and those backing Saudi Arabia in Yemen that Riyadh’s actions “may amount to war crimes”.

UN experts monitoring the crisis said that of the 10 airstrikes conducted by Riyadh between March and October, eight were against civilians. In all, the airstrikes killed 292 civilians, including 100 women and children. Obviously, Saudi Arabia rejected the report.

But even Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that between April and August 2015 alone, Saudi strikes killed 309 civilians, including 69 children. Even a refugee boat was targeted by Saudi jets. If this is not horrific by the standards of those slamming Assad, one must say that they either don’t know what ‘horrific’ means or are simply biased.

But wait. There is more to the horror that Saudi Arabia is unleashing on Yemen.

Truth is that for much of the two-year-long period of the war, Saudi forces failed to wipe out the armed Houthis. So the ‘brave warriors of the desert’ resorted to a tactics which was often used by the Islamic invaders from the same region on other empires during the medieval period of world history – starve the enemy to death.

Amnesty International reports that approximately 19 million Yemenis are now relying on humanitarian assistance but Riyadh has imposed an air and naval blockade preventing the starving, ailing and wounded people of Yemen, particularly the Houthis, any help.

That’s as cruel as gassing children. But as Amnesty points out, “the world has ignored this raging conflict”. Why? You will learn soon.


All figures as per Amnesty International.

So is Saudi Arabia going to use those new US toys on Yemen?

For Saudi Arabia, the new weapons are essential to boost its military hardware and strengthen its armed forces. What would you do with an improved army, navy and the air force? Use them, obviously! It might appear that the Saudi’s will use them in Yemen. But there is a problem – it will take a considerable amount of time, perhaps a year or two, for even the weapons on priority to arrive. By that time, God knows where the Yemen crisis would be. The kind of humanitarian disaster Saudi Arabia has triggered in Yemen, it is difficult to predict whether the Houthis will even remain a force to be reckoned with.

So Yemen is probably not the theater where Riyadh is going to use its military power. Where then? To answer this, we will have to take a relook at the Houthis.

Why is Saudi Arabia fighting Houthis? The simplest answer, as was explained above, is that the Houthis rebelled against the Saudi-backed Hadi government in Yemen. The complicated answer is that the Houthis are Shias who rebelled against the Hadi government, which is Sunni.

Officially, the war is termed as Yemeni Civil War but the truth is that it is a war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Yemeni Houthis. More specifically, the war is between Wahhabism and the Shia-ite sect.



Why does Saudi Arabia hate Iran or Shias so much?

To understand why Saudi Arabia hates Iran, one has to do a thorough reading of Islamic history. But in brief, the schism between Shias and Sunnis started over who would succeed Prophet Muhammad eventually culminating in 682 AD with the Battle of Karbala which led to a division that remains to date. In that battle Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, and his relatives were defeated and brutally killed by the Sunni forces of Umayyad caliph Yazid I. The incident has not been forgotten by the Shia Muslim world.

Ever since the divergence of Sunni and Shia over who would become the religious authority of Islam, the two have perpetually been at each other’s throats.

Over centuries, differences rose and subsided because of both external and internal factors. But the differences came to a head when Iran became an Islamic Republic in 1979. That revolution not only made the Sunni Muslim countries fear for a similar uprising of the Shias minorities in their nations but also alarmed monarchies and dictatorships in the Muslim world. On the one side there were attacks across the Sunni Muslim world by pro-Iranian extremists such as the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Lebanon. On the other, there were uprisings by Sunni Islamists such as Muslim Brotherhood in Syria between 1976 and 1982.


File photo from April 19, 1983 showing the destroyed American Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, following a car bomb attack. The attack was blamed on Iranian extremists. A pro-Iranian Revolution group claimed responsibility. Later court findings blamed Hezbollah. AP Photo

Yes, there are Shias in Saudi Arabia, ranging from 10% to 25% by various estimates, but all of them are oppressed by the regime. Shias are second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia. They are among the poorest and discrimination against them is a regular feature.

In 2016, Saudi Arabia executed Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr sparking a diplomatic unrest with Iran that continues till date. The Shia cleric wanted free elections – something that the absolute monarchy would not want. The Saudi crackdown on Shia supporters of al-Nimr, which led to many deaths, came in for severe criticism by human rights organizations. In March 2017, two other family members of al-Nimr, including his brother, were killed by Saudi forces.

So Saudi Arabia and Iran might go to war?

It is not that simple to describe. Technically, a political rift between the two exists but Saudi Arabia is more inclined to destroy Iranian influence anywhere in the world than Iran is to export its revolution to the Muslim world.

And here is where one has to take a look at the socio-religious makeup of the two countries.

Saudi Arabia has one major goal – establish its version of Islam on the Muslim world. (Yes, Saudi Arabia has its own version of Islam which is very, very distinct from the versions of other Muslim countries.)

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia is officially a completely Muslim country. ‘Completely Muslim country’ means that people of any other faith cannot become a resident of Saudi Arabia or openly practice their religion.

Apostasy in Saudi Arabia is punishable by death and a ‘liberal’ (by its true meaning and not what the Istophobes of the West call themselves as) is officially a terrorist. And let us not get started about the condition of women in Saudi Arabia. No matter what the likes of fake feminists and Palestinian terrorist sympathizers such as Linda Sarsour would want you to believe, Saudi Arabia is the example of a nation where oppression of women is the reality.

But Sunni Islam is followed by most Muslim countries in the world! Many Indian and most Pakistani Muslims follow Sunni Islam. So why it is that women in Pakistan and India enjoy far more rights and freedom than a woman in Saudi Arabia? The answer lies in Wahhabism. (Salafism is another word for it.)

Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia’s exclusive creation and an innumerable majority of Saudis adhere to this doctrine. Founded in the 18th century by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, this doctrine was supported and promoted by the House of Saud, which was at the time merely a local power in Arabian Peninsula. Eventually, after quite a few back-and-forth wins and losses, this power defeated other tribes and took control of major parts of Arabian Peninsula.



The House of Saud and the ulema of the country, which is purely Wahhabi, have a pact that goes back to the days of Abd al-Wahhab. The pact is very simple: the royal family recognizes the power of ulema and its control over matters of religion and the ulema, in turn, recognizes the political legitimacy of the family over all of Saudi Arabia and, thereby, as defenders of Islam. Thus Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s few countries where a religious authority has a say in governance.

But why is Wahhabism dangerous?

The ideology has been described as the most conservative, even fundamentalist, because it shows no tolerance towards anyone, including Muslims, who is not a follower of the puritanical version. It calls for the destruction of shrines even if they are associated with Islam. It is this version which preaches or justifies the killing of anyone who does not subscribe to the ideology. It takes the literal interpretation of the Koran to a very dangerous level. Practically, Wahhabism is what has been blamed for turning good Muslim people into fundamentalists and, to extreme lengths, terrorists.

You will perhaps better understand the doctrine if we say that whatever Islamic State does is justified under Wahhabism.

In fact, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, Boko Haram and nearly every single barbaric Islamic terrorist group in the world have one thing in common (besides their barbaric acts) – all of them adhere to Wahhabism.

That Wahhabism is a threat has been affirmed and reaffirmed by even some of those journalists and political commentators who are ‘not Islamophobic’. They have written about how Saudi-sponsored mosques and madrassas in other Muslim countries are changing the meaning of Islam.

Many have fallen to Wahhabi-ideology or are falling to it. Pakistan is fast turning into a Wahhabi Islamic state, it has entered Malaysia and Indonesia and it is in India as well.

Saudi Arabia spent close to $100 billion (Rs.6500 billion) exporting Wahhabism everywhere it could.

By sponsoring Wahhabi mosques and madrassas across the world using its wealth, Saudi Arabia is trying to become the overlord of all the Muslims of the world.

The only powerful counter to that is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, which is basically a monarchy, Iran is a democracy. Yes, Iranian Supreme Council is considered as the all-powerful but the country has almost all the features of a democracy. For instance, Iranians can criticize elected representatives. In Saudi Arabia, criticism of the royal family is punishable by death.

And unlike Saudi Arabia, which exported Wahhabism, Iran did not export its revolution.

And you know what? There is no barbaric terror group in the world which subscribe to Shia branch of Islam. Yes, there have been and there are Shia extremist groups but a research conducted by Brookings revealed a core difference (among six) between the Wahhabi-influenced terrorists and Shia extremists.

“Sunni radicals and Shi’a extremists differ in the overall approach and main objectives for their use of terror. The former tend to operate in a continuous, mid‐to‐high intensity manner, seeing war against infidels and apostates as a perennial condition featuring overlapping waves. Outside of an ongoing and seemingly open‐ended campaign against Israel, terrorist attacks by Shi’a groups have by and large featured discrete terror campaigns tethered to state and organizational objectives.”

So while the former has as its goal the establishment of religion, the other aims at serving the nation’s interests. Have you not noted that in all the major bombings and killings around the world in recent years by barbaric terror groups, the terrorists jumped to claim responsibility? The purpose is to gain attention as well as send a message to other terror groups that the bomber has effectively done more in the name of Islam. It is a clear competition between terror groups whose stated goal is to spread Islam. And all of them are aligned to Wahhabi ideology.

Writing in the New York Times, Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud described Saudi Arabia as an Islamic State nation. He used the term ‘Black Daesh’ for ISIS and ‘White Daesh’ for the Saudis. (Daesh is the Arabic name for Islamic State.) “The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.

But isn’t Iran itself an oppressive country?

Yes, it is, by purely Western standards. There are restrictions on women and apparently somewhat strict Islamic laws, but to compare rights of Iranian women to rights of Saudi women is like comparing a glass of water half full to an empty one, respectively.

Women in Iran drive on their own, are parliamentarians (to the rank of vice-president), comprise 60% of all university students (Maryam Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal in Mathematics in 2014 – the only woman to do so), are filmmakers and actors, can work (some of them own companies) and can voice their opinion independently. They can party and even go out dressed in clothes that are modest but with mandatory hijab. Even President Hassan Rouhani’s Instagram handle shows an Iran that the Iran-hating West won’t show you.

By comparison, Saudi Arabia just became the second last country on earth to let women vote. There is nothing more to say about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabian women getting into the back of a car in Riyadh (right) and Iranian women at a polling station (left).

And while Saudi Arabia has general no-no towards practitioners of any other faith, Iran recognizes other religions such as Zoroastrianism (especially), Christianity and Judaism. Technically, you can practice your faith in Iran but you cannot, obviously, proselytize. (Let us not forget that it is an Islamic Republic!)

Iran has its own flaws if seen from the lens of the Western world but Iranians as a whole enjoy greater freedoms and are way more liberal towards other religions and people from other nationalities than the Wahhabi Saudi Arabia.

If Wahhabism is so dangerous, why is the West still aligning with Saudi Arabia?

When you have oil with you like Midas had gold, who wouldn’t want to be your friend? The Black Gold is what everyone in the world needs, and Saudi Arabia and other countries around it, have barrels and barrels of it.

But Western support for Saudi Arabia goes back to the times before oil was discovered. Initially, the British supported local Saudi rulers, including a then weak House of Saud, to remove Ottomans from the region. They succeeded and, gradually, the House of Saud defeated other rulers with the help of al-Ikhwan – a tribal army which was more deep-rooted into Wahhabism – to become the ultimate controller of Saudi Arabia.

The Ikhwan remained an influence for some time till it was wiped out by the House of Saud. Yet the same Ikhwan would come back to haunt Saudi Arabian royal family with the Grand Mosque Seizure in 1979. The terrorists who attacked the mosque felt that the House of Saud was becoming more liberal in outlook. The Arab forces (with help from Pakistan) defeated the Ikhwan terrorists but the country then imposed even more restrictions on women and the society in general – exactly what the Ikhwan wanted. Those restrictions remain to this day.

It so happened that till 1979, Iran was not in the bad books of the West. US was an ally of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, or the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution because the people felt that the Shah was not doing anything good for Iran. Without going into too much detail, just note that Academy Award winning film ‘Argo’ depicts how suddenly Iran had become hostile to the US at the time.

Since everyone in the world knows about Shia-Sunni rivalry, the US thought of using it to its advantage and allied more strongly with Saudi Arabia. And when the US is an ally, why would not the rest of the Western world be? While the House of Saud and the Wahhabis have their own religious and partly political reason to hate Iran, the US has its own selfish interests to support Saudis.

The West overlooked (and keeps overlooking) Saudi Arabia’s violations of human rights and, in return, got oil. The US keeps getting the oil – a whopping 34% from OPEC countries of which Saudi Arabia is the de facto head. The oil import from Saudi Arabia alone stands at 11%.

Over the years, Saudi Arabia’s hold over the US has become very strong. In fact such is the hold of Saudi Arabia over the US that it dared to threaten Washington D.C. over a bill that would have allowed the families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals and they were in touch with other Saudi handlers at the time of the attack. The threat was that Riyadh will sell off $750 billion (Rs.48,000 billion approximately) in treasury securities and other assets it held in US economy. Phrases such as “serious consequences” were used by Riyadh in the threat.

The end result? Obama, the then President of United States, vetoed the bill – called Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Yet the Senate passed it overriding Obama’s veto and making JASTA a law. But that Saudi Arabia had the balls to threaten Uncle Sam and make the world’s strongest leader cower tells a lot about political dynamics between Riyadh and Washington.

It cannot be overruled that US-Saudi relations were hit by JASTA. Yet the two continue their bonhomie because, apparently, a lot bigger, according to them, is at stake for both – Iran’s nuclear program and ‘world terrorism’.

And while the US can be expected to take Saudi Arabia’s side, it is mind-boggling to think that even Israel is warming up to the House of Saud just because both hate Iran.

Israel has no problem with Shias or any other religion, but it has a problem with Iran’s political establishment which backs Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is Israel’s enemy. At the same time, Iran has been funding Hamas in Palestine, ironically a Sunni extremist group, and Israel’s number one enemy. It is because of these reasons that official sanctions were placed on Iran, hitting the country’s economy hard.

But look at the irony. Saudi Arabia is the ideological, political and religious enemy of Israel. (Riyadh participated against Tel Aviv in two of the four Arab-Israeli wars and UN Watch, an Israeli observer group, criticizes Saudi Arabia for its abdominal human rights record.) Saudi Arabia is known to back politically or morally the most barbaric of terror groups in the world. Saudi Arabia gives two hoots to human rights and labels apostates and critics of the royal family as terrorists. And yet Saudi Arabia is a friend of the world.

This explains why the “world has ignored the raging conflict” in Yemen and kept the lens on Assad’s “crimes” or on North Korea or anywhere else but Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi focal point

The International Crisis Group (ICG) says that Saudi Arabia is sickeningly obsessed with eliminating the Houthis and establishing a Saudi-backed government than concentrate on the rise of Ansar al-Sharia and Islamic State elements in the region.

“More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist groups. Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” said Hillary Clinton in 2009, when she was the secretary of state.

And this was before the birth of the Islamic State, al-Nusra, and others. The funding continues and the Saudi State does little to control it.

The House of Saud is now telling the world that the terrorists groups, created and funded to fight proxy wars, are now increasingly becoming emboldened to fight the royal family, which they feel is straying from the extremely oppressive ways of Wahhabism. Such is the threat from the Islamic State that one Saudi official finally admitted to former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that the Kingdom “misled” the US whenever the latter raised the issue of Saudi funding to terrorists.

Yet in spite of the genuine fear of unbridled barbaric terrorist groups, Iran remains a bigger threat in the eyes of Saudi Arabia, which explains Riyadh’s focus in Yemen. This means that the real problem might go unaddressed or not properly addressed – Wahhabism.

The Wahhabi doctrine will keep on creating terrorists who will keep on killing innocents. It is that doctrine which the fundamentalists use to kill Shias, Christians, Hindus and anyone else in Pakistan and Bangladesh. They will soon start doing the same in Indonesia and Malaysia because Saudi Arabia is busy pumping money into mosques and Islamic universities in the two countries.



Secular Muslim Indonesians now fear that the repressive Wahhabism will destroy the syncretic culture of Indonesia.

“The advent of Salafism in Indonesia is part of Saudi Arabia’s global project to spread its brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world,” Din Wahid, an expert on Indonesian Salafism at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta, told The Atlantic.

And as of now, the Government of Philippines is fighting a pitched battle against Islamic State in the country, again a product of Wahhabism.

The House of Saud ignores all of this to stay in power. It is going for so-called reforms to stay relevant with the people and tell the apologists in the media that all is well in the desert kingdom. But the House of Saud cannot go against the ulema because of their history. So the spread of Wahhabism will continue. And that makes a conflict with Iran an eventual reality.

The oil factor

This factor cannot be brushed aside. Some claim that the war between Saudi and Iran will be over oil. Both countries are primarily oil economies. For the last few years, both OPEC members are ratcheting up oil production in spite of falling prices. And both are simultaneously claiming that their respective economies should move away from oil. (Iran was the first to do so.) For Iran, it may be easier because of its enterprising and more open social structure and is not as dependent on oil as Saudi Arabia. For a very rigid Saudi Arabia, reform on a wider scale is a challenge for the House of Saud. Oil becoming a factor of war is difficult to predict but cannot be discounted.

But as of now, Iran wants to sell oil to the Western world, and so does Saudi Arabia. Both are trying to reach the European market assisted by two superpowers – the US for Saudi Arabia and Russia for Iran. And you know what happened because of their desire? Syria.


Yes, have you ever wondered why the Syria war actually happened? Assad, an Alawite, has been in power for 17 years. Why did the civil war start only recently? Because Assad rejected a Qatar-Saudi proposal of letting an oil & gas pipeline pass through Aleppo and reach Europe and probably was inclined to give the Iranians the space. Assad rejected the Qataris in 2009. Two years later a civil war was upon him. And then came the Islamic State.

The blame for the creation of the Islamic State is often put on the shoulders of the US but one has to look at a few things first:

1. Islamic State has control over parts of Syria and Iraq.

2. Syria has a Sunni-majority population ruled by a non-Sunni. (Assad is an Alawite, which is close to Shia.)

3. Iraq has a Shia-majority population once ruled by Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni.

4. In Iraq, Saddam fell and Shias gained power in the country becoming the second nation after Iran with a Shia government.

5. So from Iran to Syria, Shias had political control.

6. In 2009, Assad rejected the proposal of a Qatar-Saudi oil & gas pipeline to pass through Aleppo to Europe.

7. In 2011, the Syrian civil war started when people, Sunnis all, revolted against Assad.

8. In 2013 arrived the Islamic State and killings of Shias, Christians, Yezidis and everyone who was not a Wahhabi Sunni started.

Syria is the example of what the US and the House of Saud does to nations who do not let them do business unhindered. Iran, too, wants a part of Syria to let their own oil & gas pipeline, assisted by Russia, to enter European markets.

This is why both power axis are on different sides of the Syrian war. The only fact is that Iran and Russia are on the right side – a side that was actually democratic, liberal and secular before the civil war, perhaps, deteriorated its principles.

The Wahhabi doctrine, which creates jihadists who would obviously side with Riyadh because of the ulema’s legitimacy accorded to the House of Saud, helps Saudi Arabia’s political and economic interests immensely.

Who will win the war – if that happens?

Now that everything from Shia-Sunni history, rights and freedoms in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nature of the terror groups, Wahhabism and terrorism, political dynamics, oil and current conflicts have been discussed, our focus shifts to what the world believes will be a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

We are already witnessing a proxy Saudi versus Iran war in the Middle East. Observers believe that a direct war will happen. The question is, when.

As of now, the Saudis are laying the groundwork. In 2015, they spent 13.5% of their GDP on the military – a jump of 3.5% over the previous year and almost double since 2011. It was the second highest spender by percentage after Oman and one of the three countries whose figure was in double digits. Given the GDP of Saudi Arabia of that year ($646 billion or Rs.41,000 billion), the amount comes to around Rs.5400 billion. In 2015, Saudi Arabia was the third highest spender on military; in 2016 it was the fourth.

By comparison, Iran spent 2.3% of their GDP in 2014 (comes to $9.7 billion or Rs.630 billion) and 3% or $12.3 billion (Rs.793 billion) in 2016, and they have never spent more than 3.3% since 1990.


The World Bank

Some of the world’s most dangerous arms are coming to Saudi Arabia. On the other hand is Iran – still under lot of sanctions and unable to get even a decent assault rifle for its otherwise disciplined forces.

Some experts believe that Iran can beat the shit out of Saudi Arabia and all its Western allies if they head to a war.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran became largely self-sufficient in defense because of the sanctions. Today it boasts of a series of powerful and precise albeit small submarines, some good Russian-made and, allegedly, Chinese-made fighter jets, and its indigenously-built battle tank, the Zulfiqar. The enterprising Iranians reverse-engineered some of its pre-revolution US-supplied weapons to make their own hardware such as the HESA Azarakhsh and HESA Saeqeh fighter jets. They have a robust defense manufacturing establishment which has created some powerful assault rifles, including bull-pups, drones that can fly 2000km with missiles, and missile defense systems which are good enough to beat incoming enemy missiles.

By comparison, the entire arsenal of Saudi Arabia is foreign-supplied. (This is also a reason why the West loves Saudi Arabia.)

But the fact remains that in spite of their superior training, effective intelligence, self-reliance on weapons, the effective Quds force and the elite Revolutionary Guards, the Iranians might find it very difficult to match the firepower of the Saudis, the cumulative power of Riyadh’s Western allies, Pakistan (which Riyadh treats as a religious and political cousin) on its eastern border and, most importantly, the hundreds of thousands of Wahhabi terrorists from around the world who will certainly fight for Saudi Arabia in such a situation.

Given Iran’s battle expertise, the war can be a long one but may not go in Tehran’s favor. Yet Iran may not be all alone after all. It is possible that Russia will join Iran’s side because of its own political reasons. In that situation the war might reach the stage of a World War.

The threat to Saudi Arabia, if we go by the version of the House of Saud, is from terrorists, but the weapons-purchase deal Riyadh just entered into with US are usually used to either invade a country or defend oneself from an invasion – definitely not tackle terrorists who engage in guerilla warfare.

Reform attempts on one hand but Wahhabi spread on the other and in-between buying heavy military hardware; one needs to read into the signals Riyadh is sending. And one also has to keep an eye on Iran. What if Tehran actually develops the nukes given that the US has now sold deadly toys to their historic enemy?

While our attention is being kept on North Korea, where the fears of a world war are exaggerated, the real groundwork for a bigger war is being laid in the Middle East. Are we already looking at the big one?