By Vahid Jafarian, Editorial Board Member
Many Saudis hope that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes a tougher line on Iran, according to a report released by The National Interest.
The report says that Trump’s business and personal ties with the kingdom make many Saudis optimistic that Trump shares their hostile view of Iran.
“In Trump, Saudi officials say, the kingdom sees the makings of a great future friend. The real estate investor’s business dealings in Saudi Arabia and his plans to take a tougher line on Iran hearten Saudis officials, who say that the White House has long downplayed the threat of Iranian aggression”, Joseph Hammond, a journalist with the American Media Institute, wrote.
Trump, whose administration will include multiple critics of the Islamic Republic, has been doing business with Saudi royals for decades. Trump created eight new companies in Saudi Arabia after the launch of his presidential campaign last year, according to the Washington Post.
According to this report, U.S. President Obama brushed aside concerns about the Iranian threat in an interview with the Atlantic last year. Trump, by contrast, opposes the Iran nuclear deal and called for a tougher line on Iran during the presidential campaign.
Trump’s administration is also likely to include many long-time friends of Saudi Arabia. Former United Nations permanent representative John Bolton and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are both expected to play major advisory roles.
Bolton is one name mentioned as deputy secretary of state. Both men met this summer with the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, during a rally in Paris held by the Mujahadeen Khaq, a group of Iranian exiles that have long opposed the Islamic Republic.
Trump’s proposed National Security Adviser, Michael T. Flynn, also holds hawkish views on Iran. He included a brief but supportive view of Saudi Arabia in his book The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam. “We tend to blame the Saudis and other Arab nations for directly funding the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups,” Flynn wrote.
“We must either stop this blame game, or we must provide direct and unequivocal evidence.” Flynn went onto suggest that the United States must stop blaming countries like Saudi Arabia for “our inadequacy” in the war “against Radical Islamism.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to head the CIA, has also called for a tougher position on Iran.
“Saudi Arabia may also hope to get some help from the Trump administration in dealing with Egypt”, Hammond added.
Since military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sissi seized power in Cairo in 2013, Saudi Arabia has sent $25 billion dollars in aid to Egypt, according to the Boston Globe. Yet the Egyptian leader recently broke with the Saudis by vocally supporting Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad — a move that has angered Saudi Arabia. Cairo may also have begun limited military cooperation with Damascus according to the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir. Sissi was the first foreign leader to congratulate Trump after his election.
“Trump is a businessman who will make a deal and we know has done business with Saudi Arabia before,” said Mohammed Salman, a Saudi government worker. Of course, our relationship will be improved by President Trump.”
It appears that the Saudi authorities are concerned that Trump does tend to Iran. So, from now, they are struggling to pretend that Trump has been a better option for them than Clinton, aimed to make public opinion in their favor.
The Saudi government currently has strong ties with President Obama, but it is not clear that Trump also follow a similar path towards Saudi Arabia.
In addition, trump is a businessman who will likely tend to the current dominant power in the region, i.e. Iran not Saudi Arabia.