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Saudi Arabia and Iran have often behaved as serious rivals for influence in the Middle East and especially the Gulf area since at least Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. While both nations define themselves as Islamic, the differences between their foreign policies could hardly be more dramatic. In most respects, Saudi Arabia is a regional status quo power, while Iran often seeks revolutionary change throughout the Gulf area and the wider Middle East with varying degrees of intensity. Saudi Arabia also has strong ties with Western nations, while Iran views the United States as its most dangerous enemy. Perhaps the most important difference between the two nations is that Saudi Arabia is a conservative Sunni Muslim Arab state, while Iran is a Shi'ite state whose senior politicians often view their country as the defender and natural leader of Shi'ites throughout the region. The rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran has been reflected in the politics of a number of regional states where these two powers exercise influence including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain and others.

The 2011 wave of pro-democracy and anti-regime protests known as the "Arab Spring" introduced new concerns for both Saudi Arabia and Iran to consider within the framework of their regional priorities. The Saudi-Iranian rivalry is therefore likely to intensify as a central feature in the Middle Eastern security landscape that reaches into both the Gulf region and the Arab-Israeli theater. This is a reality that will touch upon the interests of the United States in a number of situations. In many instances, Saudi opposition to Iran will serve U.S. interests, but this will not occur under all circumstances. Saudi Arabia remains a deeply anti-revolutionary state with values and priorities which sometimes overlap with those of Washington on matters of strategic interest and often conflict over matters of reform and democracy for other Middle Eastern states. Additionally, in seeking to support Middle Eastern stability, the United States must be prepared to mediate between Riyadh and Baghdad, and thereby help to limit Iranian efforts to insert itself into Iraqi politics.

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"The political situation within Yemen has catapulted to the top tier of U.S. national security concerns over the last several years as it has become more directly linked to both the problem of international terrorism and the need for future stability in the Arabian Peninsula. On the terrorism front, the December 25, 2009, attempted bombing of a U.S. passenger aircraft in Detroit, Michigan, by an individual trained by Yemeni terrorists was a particularly clear warning to the United States about the dangers of neglecting this geopolitically important country. Yet, this near catastrophe also underscored the need for a careful consideration of U.S. policies regarding Yemen. This requirement may be especially clear when one considers the chain of events that might have been set off had there been a successful terrorist strike in Detroit in which hundreds of Americans were killed. Apart from the human cost of such a tragedy, the U.S. leadership would have been under enormous pressure to respond in a way consistent with the level of public outrage associated with the event. Public pressure might well have existed for military intervention in Yemen with U.S. ground combat troops. Such an intervention is something that the present work insists would infuriate virtually the entire Yemeni population, regardless of the objective merits of the U.S. case for the offensive use of U.S. ground combat forces. In approaching this analysis, Dr. W. Andrew Terrill quotes then Central Command Commander General David Petraeus in an April 2009 statement that the al-Qaeda threat across the Middle East is weakening except in Yemen. In Yemen, the threat still seems to be growing well over a year following this prescient observation. Additionally, while the terrorism threat alone requires an intensive U.S. interest in Yemen, it is not the only reason why an understanding of current Yemeni issues is important for the U.S. national interest. An intermittent insurgency by Zaydi rebels in northern Yemen and an expanding secessionist movement in southern Yemen are also serious problems which may have important implications for the wider Arabian Peninsula. Unfortunately, while these problems are straightforward, their solutions are not. Dr. Terrill also points out how deeply distrustful most Yemenis are of any foreign military presence on their soil and how quickly clerical leadership in Yemen will characterize any U.S. bases in Yemen as colonialism, which the population is required to resist by their religion. The U.S. challenge is therefore to help Yemen destroy al-Qaeda without deploying large numbers of U.S. troops in that country, while encouraging a peaceful and lasting resolution of the government's problems with the northern Zaydi tribesmen and the 'Southern Movement,' which calls for an independent state in the south. All important U.S. policies on Yemen will have to be coordinated with Saudi Arabia, which is Yemen's largest aid donor and plays a major role in Yemen's politics. The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to offer this monograph as a contribution to the national security debate on this important subject as our nation continues to grapple with a variety of problems associated with the future of the Middle East and the ongoing struggle against al-Qaeda. This analysis should be especially useful to U.S. strategic leaders and intelligence professionals as they seek to address the complicated interplay of factors related to regional security issues, fighting terrorism, and the support of local allies. This work may also benefit those seeking a greater understanding of long-range issues of Middle Eastern and global security. It is hoped that this work will be of benefit to officers of all services, as well as other U.S. Government officials involved in military and security assistance planning."--P. iii-v.
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