Middle East Tensions Rise over Iran/Saudi Conflict

 In Foreign

Middle East Tensions Rise over Iran/Saudi Conflict

‘Pack up your diplomats and go home’ have been the words of the day, after Iran and Saudi Arabia severed ties on Sunday. Bahrain added itself to the mix today, sending Saudi diplomats into the black hole that is world politics.

 middle east tensions

The move came after Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy over the weekend. Iran and Bahrain are predominantly Shi’ite, while Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni. And the Sunni-led Saudi government executed a popular Shi’ite cleric on Saturday.

Ramifications and Reasons

Some experts are concerned that this rift could ultimately topple the Saudi government. Would that threaten the war against ISIS in the region? Yes. Not likely that it will topple the government, but the world is volatile. The U.S. uses Saudi air bases to launch drone strikes.

Saudi Arabia moved to bar its citizens from going to Iran at all on Monday, and cut off all commercial enterprises.   But there may be more to this story:

Since Iran is set to strengthen significantly from the lifting of sanctions, the Saudis may be moving to cut their influence in the region. In so doing, they may be cutting their own.

“These countries don’t trust one another, and they see every event as an opportunity to raise tensions. Both countries will try their best to try to fortify their proxies and their activities, which is going to create more trouble.” Abbas Kadhim, a senior foreign-policy fellow at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University

The cleric

Nearly all media are reporting that Nimr al-Nimr was an “activist” advocating for more freedoms for the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. As a loudspoken cleric during Arab Spring, he gained the attention of the Saudi Government. He was also outspoken in favor of Iran, and decidedly against the al-Saud government.

In lieu of his “peace” statements, he was often the instigator of violence against the rulers in Riyadh. Some have speculated that he was a plant by the Iranian government. Is that why this has made Iran so angry? Or is it solely over al-Nimr being Shi’ite? Things that make you go hmmm…

The year ahead

Reaction across the world against the execution has been swift and nasty. A Shi’ite Muslim burned a picture of Saudi Arabia’s King
Salman in front of the Saudi Embassy in New Delhi, India.

A Shi’ite Muslim burns a photo of King Salman in New Delhi photo by Adnan Abidi

The Saudis are in economic trouble due to falling oil prices and regional conflicts. While they and Iran may not shoot at each other, their animosity will only get worse in 2016.

” A more isolated Saudi Arabia will double down on protecting its interests, and will be sorely tempted to act upon the saying that offense is the best defense in 2016. Riyadh will continue to support anti-Assad rebels in Syria, and ramp up that aid, despite the opposition’s inability to effectively challenge the Syrian president. Even a shooting war with Iran is possible in extremis; the kingdom will push back wherever it views Tehran to be gaining an advantage. More generally, expect an isolated and domestically weaker kingdom to lash out in new ways.” Eurasia Group report for 2016 risks

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