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Iranian Foreign Minister: Iran Ready to Restore Relations with Saudi Arabia

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A report on this most doubtful outreach is here: “Iran ready to restore ties with Saudi Arabia ‘at any time,’ FM says,” Israel Hayom, January 7, 2022:

Iran is ready to restore relations with Saudi Arabia “at any time,” Al Jazeera TV reported Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian saying on Thursday….

Iran is currently suffering a world of woe. Its currency has lost 90% of its value in two years. Its GDP has declined by two-thirds in the same period. 60% of Iranians are now living below the poverty line. The agricultural sector is suffering the tenth year of an “historic” drought. In Iran’s streets, protestors now call for “death to the dictator,” referring to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and “No to Gaza! No to Lebanon! We give our lives only to Iran!” which is a way to express fury with the huge sums expended by Tehran on foreign adventures abroad, helping proxies and allies from the Houthis in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon, while Iranians at home are becoming increasingly impoverished.

Given all that, Iran has to try to reconnect politically and economically with the most important Muslim countries, with which it once had better relations. Turkey, Egypt, and above all, Saudi Arabia, are the key Muslim states with which Iran wants to improve ties. With all three, Tehran hopes to encourage business deals, involving agriculture, technology, and even tourism. With Saudi Arabia alone, Tehran may be hoping for a reconciliation that could eventually lead the Saudis to help bail out the Iranian economy. That hope explains Iranian Foreign Minister Amiradahollian’s expressed willingness to “restore relations with Saudi Arabia at any time.”

While there was no official Saudi response to the foreign minister’s remarks on Thursday, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari on Thursday called Iran-backed Hezbollah a threat to Arab security after Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah called the Saudi king a “terrorist.”

Just the week before the Foreign Minister made his remark about restoring relations, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iran’s closest ally Hezbollah, denounced King Salman as a “terrorist” for the Saudi bombing campaign, in which many civilians have died, in Yemen. This enraged the Saudis.

The latest exchange of insults follows a crisis between Lebanon and Gulf Arab states over the war in Yemen, and Saudi accusations that Hezbollah was meddling in the conflict.

Are the Saudis right about Hezbollah “meddling” in Yemen’s civil war? Of course. Hezbollah is doing just what its ally Iran is doing, and what its enemy Saudi Arabia is doing – all three are “meddling” and none can claim the moral high ground of leaving Yemenis alone to sort out their own affairs.

When Nasrallah called King Salman a “terrorist,” he confronted Iran with a quandary. If it does not denounce his remark, it will be very difficult for a reconciliation with Saudi Arabia. And If it does denounce the leader of Hezbollah, its closest ally, Tehran looks weak, willing to throw Nasrallah overboard just for the sake of placating the Saudis, and having them loosen their pursestrings.

There is another possibility. Iran need not itself directly denounce Nasrallah’s remark. It can pressure Nasrallah — by, for example, threatening to withhold shipments of money and weapons — to retract his remark, and to apologize to the Saudi king. Or perhaps Iran should try to replace Nasrallah, sacrificing him for the sake of assuaging Saudi anger. Nasrallah is undeniably popular with his Hezbollah base, but he is no Qassem Soleimani; he has led Hezbollah for thirty years, which some in Hezbollah think is quite enough. There is also some dissatisfaction with his trying to stop Tarek Bitar’s investigation of the Beirut blast by keeping the Lebanese government from meeting. Never has Nasrallah’s leadership been as subject to questioning as now. It might be time for Iran to find someone else, capable of greater tact in handling the Saudis.

Riyadh hopes that the political parties will give priority to the supreme interest of Lebanon… and end Hezbollah’s terrorist hegemony over every aspect of the state,” Bukhari [the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon] said in a statement to AFP.

“Hezbollah’s terrorist activities and regional military behavior threaten Arab national security,” he added….

It’s unlikely that this contretemps between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia can be solved. Iran’s pressuring Nasrallah to apologize for his remark about King Salman, or replacing him with someone else to lead Hezbollah, won’t be enough for the Saudis. They won’t settle, I think, for anything less than Iran’s Supreme Leader publicly deploring Nasrallah’s insult to the Saudi King, and for Hezbollah itself to “renounce its hegemony” over Lebanon, beginning with its allowing Tarek Bitar to proceed with his investigation.  The Saudis want Lebanon out of Iran’s orbit and back in the Arab fold. Neither Nasrallah’s apology, nor his being replaced as the leader of the terror group, would accomplish that. Iran should not hope, even dimly, on any forthcoming aid from Riyadh, but it can count, alas, on the terminally naïve Bidenites, eager to lift all those sanctions, which will provide a sudden infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers, just in the nick, alas, of time.

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