Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Iran's Rivalry with Saudi Arabia between the Gulf Wars

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Iran's Rivalry with Saudi Arabia between the Gulf Wars

Article excerpt


Iran's Rivalry with Saudi Arabia between the Gulf Wars, by Henner Furtig. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2002. xviii + 248 pages. Chron. to p. 263. Bibl. to p. 275. Index to p. 288. $49.50.

Reviewed by Nader Entessar

Iran and Saudi Arabia are two pivotal countries in the Persian Gulf. They have been both rivals and allies at various times during the past 50 years. In recent years, one of the most remarkable developments in regional politics has been the gradual rapprochement between these two countries. During the first decade following the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Tehran and Riyadh had acrimonious relations. The period between the end of the Iran-Iraq War (1988) and the Gulf War (1991) witnessed remarkable shifts in this relationship. In this highly readable, meticulously researched, and well written book, historian and Arabist Henner Furtig explains the genesis and development of the transformation in Iranian-Saudi relations between the two Gulf wars.

The book is divided into two parts and six chapters. In the introduction, the author provides an overview of Saudi-Iranian relations in the 1970s. The Nixon Doctrine of "surrogate strategy" is discussed in terms of the special place monarchical Iran and Saudi Arabia occupied in American foreign policy strategy in the Gulf. In chapters 1-3, the author explains the impact of the Iranian revolution of 1979 on Saudi-Iranian relations, the role of Saudi Arabia in the Iran-Iraq War, and the detente between the two countries during the Gulf crisis of 1990-91. Saudi Arabia viewed the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy and the establishment of the Islamic Republic as a direct threat to its regional policies and domestic stability. This perception was heightened by the rhetoric of the Iranian revolution and its emphasis on "exporting" the revolution to other Muslim countries. Furthermore, the Shi'a/ Wahhabi dichotomy exacerbated the tensions between the two countries as seen through clashes during the annual hajj ceremonies in the 1980s.

By the same token, the Saudi authorities justified Riyadh's support for Saddam Husayn's regime during the Iran-Iraq War on the grounds of containing the spread of Iran's revolution. This remained a major stumbling block to improving Saudi-Iranian relations when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was still alive. When an attempted coup in Bahrain was uncovered in late 1981, the Saudis became more resolute in supporting Iraq in its war against Iran. …

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