"If we don’t do this in Syria, we’ll be fighting them next inside the kingdom"

“We still share many of the same goals, but our priorities are increasingly different from the Saudis,” said F. Gregory Gause III, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Vermont. “When you look at our differing views of the Arab Spring, on how to deal with Iran, on changing energy markets that make gulf oil less central — these things have altered the basis of U.S.-Saudi relations.”…

“To the Saudis, the Iranian nuclear program and the Syria war are parts of a single conflict,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton. “One well-placed Saudi told me, ‘If we don’t do this in Syria, we’ll be fighting them next inside the kingdom.’ ”

How the Saudis propose to win the struggle for Syria is not clear. Already, their expanded support for Islamist rebel fighters in Syria — and the widespread assumption that they are linked to the jihadist groups fighting there — has elevated tensions across the region. After a double suicide bombing killed 23 people outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last Tuesday, the Arab news media was full of panicky reports that this was a Saudi “message” to Iran before the nuclear talks in Geneva. A day later, a Shiite group in Iraq claimed responsibility for mortars fired into Saudi Arabia near the border between the two countries…

In its most feverish form, the Saudis’ anxiety is not just that the United States will leave them more exposed to Iran, but that it will reach a reconciliation and ultimately anoint Iran as the central American ally in the region. As the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh put it recently in an unsigned column: “The Geneva negotiations are just a prelude to a new chapter of convergence” between the United States and Iran.