In this book Hiro traces the roots of geo-strategic competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran in ‘their claim to exceptionalism”, i.e in the contrast between an Iranian recorded identity of dating back 6 millennia, well before the advent of Islam, and the Saudi’s who trace their first state in 1744, about 3 centuries ago. Like many commentators, Hiro also highlights the sectarian difference between both these two regimes/states.
The book has interesting references to the important role played by the Americans in the region as well as the impact that global events like the Iran Iraq war, the Gulf war, the seize of Mecca, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and also the implosion of Soviet Union had on the region. While most commentators and academics have only highlighted the geo- strategic rivalry between the two states, Hiro also highlights the periods of Iran Saudi detente under Crown Prince Abdullah and President Rafsanjani.
I have deep regards for Dilip Hiro; he is a leading journalist, commentator and an extremely prolific writer. The pace at which he writes, fills me with awe. However, truth be told this book, though a tome, left me underwhelmed. As a person who is slightly conversant with Saudi and Iranian history, the book read more like a novel than an analytical text. While, it is supremely rich in details, full of interesting anecdotes and narration of events, reference to personalities, but where it failed me was in the realm of analysis. It fails to analyse events in sufficient depth and also fails in providing any analytical prognosis or micro analysis of the future. Frankly, the rise of MBS makes the Saudi state look like a very different beast. His aggressiveness is sure to condition an Iranian response, especially with the volatility that middle east is witnessing now. With President Trump in the White House, his withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, openly pro Israeli policy, and a Shia dominated Iraq (which Hiro terms a strategic blunder of the US) middle east remains an interesting place for any student of geo-strategy and politics. Hiro has not dealt with these issues in sufficient detail in this edition. May be in the second edition, he will!