Since the start of the crisis over Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Iran has avoided making any official comment or taking an official position, although Iranian media has been focusing on the issue. Tehran has so far adopted a wait-and-see approach. Unlike the Turks, it has not been hostile to Saudi Arabia, leaving the door open for all options.
Nonetheless, having Saudi Arabia trapped in a corner serves Iran, especially in light of stringent US sanctions against the latter. Tehran sees the Khashoggi crisis and the Turkish attack against Saudi Arabia as a gift from heaven.
Tehran has been wishing for three things: That the US retracts its sanctions; that Riyadh stops supporting the Trump administration’s project against Iran, thus leaving it to fail; and that the Khashoggi crisis weakens Saudi Arabia and thus changes the regional balance of power, allowing Tehran to continue its hegemony in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia believes that its relationship with the US will always be strategic, regardless of differences or disputes, which have included Riyadh’s refusal to cooperate with the invasion of Iraq. Despite media claims, what the Kingdom is going through now is nothing but a storm in a teacup due to mutual Saudi-US interests.
Iran knows that Saudi Arabia has been pushed into a corner, but that it will eventually get out of it. So Tehran wants to gain from the crisis by using it in a different way than Turkey has done, by appearing to move closer either to Washington or Riyadh. But the Saudi-US relationship is strategic, and there is no trust whatsoever in Iran as a peaceful neighbor. However, there is room for maneuver without undermining higher interests.
Tehran may be interested in redressing its relations with Riyadh for reasons unrelated to the Khashoggi crisis. Iran has recently realized that while it has been trying to win in Syria, it may be about to lose in Iraq, as was clear in the latest election results.
Moreover, the war in Yemen has not given Tehran what it has gained in Gaza or southern Lebanon. So if Iran is looking for a desirable solution in Yemen, this may well be the right time, though it should not expect to achieve even half a victory. The solution may involve some political participation for the Houthis, Iran’s allies.
In politics, crises often create opportunities. Iran, which is currently besieged, is quite aware of this. It took advantage of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to get closer to Saudi Arabia, but this time the Kingdom’s distress is temporary.