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A New Nail in the Coffin of the Iranian-Saudi Relations

11 January 2016 11:40


Darko Lazar
The departure of Saudi diplomats from Tehran may have spelled an end to Riyadh’s foreign mission in the Iranian capital, but it marks the beginning of an unprecedented diplomatic spat between the two bitter regional rivals.

A New Nail in the Coffin of the Iranian-Saudi Relations

Riyadh’s decision to permanently silence its most vocal domestic critic, prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, set off a chain of events across the already turbulent Middle East.

But the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran by furious protesters, along with a wave of global condemnation, would hardly have come as a surprise to the monarchy in Riyadh.

Months had passed between Sheikh Nimr’s so-called conviction and the actual execution, giving Riyadh plenty of time to consider the possible fallout.

As such, the Saudi rulers’ motives can be interpreted as purely confrontational.

Attempting to capitalize on the attack against its embassy, the Saudis proceeded to sever diplomatic ties with Iran.

Even the Iranian government, which has been working toward a thaw in its frosty relations with the KSA in recent months, was taken aback by the move.

Iranian President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani accused Riyadh of attempting to cover up its crimes.

“Of course, the Saudi government, in order to cover up its crime of beheading a religious leader has resorted to a strange measure and severed its ties with the Islamic Republic, whereas, undoubtedly, such moves will never hide that great crime,” said President Rouhani.

In the days that followed, Saudi warplanes, which have been bombing Yemen since mid-March, targeted the Iranian embassy in Sana’a.

The move further highlighted Saudi attempts to exacerbate regional tensions, fueling conflicts from Syria to Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia’s alliance with “Israel” and the US is the source of its regional hegemonic contest with Iran. Sunni-Shia divisions have been stoked by the Saudis who support insurgent and radicalized Salafist-type groups, and mercenary armies, which it sends to fight against Iran’s regional allies,” stated Joaquin Flores, an analyst at the public geostrategic think-tank, the Center for Syncretic Studies.

Needless to say, Riyadh’s hawkish policies have already created a ripple effect throughout the Middle East.

In Syria, where Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in the country’s civil conflict, talk of bringing warring factions to the negotiating table has now been put on the backburner.

Consequently, the execution of Sheikh Nimr coincided with an announcement from Riyadh that it was ending an already inexistent ceasefire in Yemen and resuming its bombing campaign, which has claimed thousands of civilian lives and destroyed the country’s infrastructure since its inception.

And while the Saudis have ruled out a direct military confrontation with Iran – which was never really on the cards to begin with – the ‘Cold War’ between the two states looks certain to intensify.

All of this will undoubtedly play into the hands of the Americans and Israelis, who have been working tirelessly to undermine the Resistance Axis, which consists of Iran and its regional allies and has recently been boosted by Russia’s military involvement in Syria.

Washington will, of course, be more than happy to oblige if asked to deploy more of its military to ‘assist’ Saudi/”Israeli” interests in the region.

However, Flores thinks that, “in a continued conflict with Iran, Saudi Arabia is projected to emerge as the loser. The Iranian economy is more complex, and has better developed social, technical, demographic, and military resources to draw from.”

In fact, Saudi Arabia’s policies in recent months can also be interpreted as an act of desperation.

The kingdom is becoming increasingly unstable, facing social class tensions, and infighting amongst the members of the royal family who are vying for power.

Furthermore, its policy of driving down oil prices – best explained as a poorly veiled attempt to starve the Iranian and Russian economies – has virtually emptied Riyadh’s coffers.

Combined with a costly war in Yemen, projections by the International Monetary Fund estimate that Saudi Arabia will be bankrupt by the year 2020 if it maintains its current course.

In the grand scheme of things, the execution of Sheikh Nimr appears to be only the tip of the iceberg in a series of destructive moves and provocations by the House of Saud, which are almost certain to continue. In short, the future looks bleak, both for the kingdom and its relationship with its most prominent regional adversaries.

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