The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Out of Weakness? The Saudi-Iranian Normalization and U.S. Interests

On March 10, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced reestablishing diplomatic relations, under Chinese good offices, after seven years of hiatus. The Iranian president appears poised to visit the kingdom in the near future. Some see Iran’s diplomatic rehabilitation and the apparent decline of the U.S. role in the Middle East as a threat. Yet concerned pundits overlook the changing regional balance of power and the opportunities coming with it.

The normalization deal results not from Iran’s strength but from Iran’s growing difficulties in sustaining its regional ambitions. Iran faces domestic troubles and new enemies while its regional endeavors remain fruitless.

On the domestic front, the Iranian regime has been confronting a massive protest movement since the death of Mahsa Amini at the local police’s hands in September 2022. These protests have turned in some regions into a latent insurgency. The protest movement has worsened the country’s already dire economic situation, forcing Tehran to refocus on domestic problems and new rivals.

The contestation aroused longstanding Iranian fears of Azerbaijani independentism and, beyond it, of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Iranian Azeris represent the majority of the population in three northwestern provinces of the country. Tehran worries that Azerbaijan supports Iranian Azeris’ actual or supposed separatism. It also resents Baku’s strong ties with Israel, Iran’s official enemy. Azerbaijan’s victory in its 2020 war against Armenia (which has good relations with Tehran) also reinforced its position, mechanically weakening Iran’s. Border incidents have become frequent, and, most dramatically, a gunman attacked the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran in January.

Iran’s worsening conflict with Azerbaijan entwines deeply with a new sense of Turkish threat unseen since the Ottoman Empire’s collapse. Turkey supports Azerbaijan against Armenia, Iran’s close partner. Furthermore, Turkey’s military occupation of several chunks of northern Syria, Iran’s foremost ally in the region, has worried the Iranians for many years. Ankara’s growing military encroachments over northern Iraq did little to allay these concerns. The establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar right across the Gulf also added to Iran’s restlessness. Turkish expansionism poses a rising challenge to Iran’s core interests.

Read more at National Interest

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


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