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Saudi Arabia Donald Trump Economy Image Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek
Saudi Arabia Donald Trump Economy Image Credit: Bloomberg Businessweek

The Enemy Of My Enemy

Saudi Arabia and Iran battle each other via proxies, but their rivalry has trigger points for more direct conflict

Benjamin Harvey

In April 2008, Iran’s then-Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki flew to Riyadh to meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. It did not go well.

Mottaki was seeking better relations with his country’s chief regional rival. Instead he got a lecture from the king about Tehran’s interference in Palestinian affairs. But “these are Muslims,” Mottaki responded, according to U.S. diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks. “No, Arabs,” replied the king. “You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab affairs.” The king said Mottaki had one year to improve ties.

Abdullah didn’t wait that long to make his next move. Moments later he told a delegation of visiting U.S. officials that the Iranians couldn’t be trusted and implored them, in the words of a senior adviser, to “cut off the head of the snake” by attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and hitting it with economic sanctions, according to the same classified U.S. diplomatic summary of the meeting, which was published in 2012. President Obama did nothing of the sort. And the Saudi royals would have to wait almost a decade until they got a more amenable American president. Indeed, Abdullah wouldn’t live to see the shift.

When Donald Trump was running for office in 2016, you wouldn’t have guessed it would be him. Trump the candidate railed against foreign entanglements, costly interventions in other nations’ a


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