saudi arabia iran geopolitics

What’s happening in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia and why now. How this could undermine the fight against ISIS and the Yemeni Civil War

Saudi Arabia’s shock decision to execute the dissident Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 others convicted of terrorism offences has pushed the kingdom’s simmering cold war with Iran to boiling point. Yet Riyadh would have been aware that the execution of the country’s most prominent Shia cleric would rile Iran.

The severing of ties is the latest escalation in a growing sectarian-tinged standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is the Persian Gulf region’s Sunni Muslim power, while Iran is predominantly Shiite.

On Saturday, January the second we saw both the end of the truce between the Sunni coalition and Shiite rebels in Yemen and the execution of Shia religious figure Nimr al-Nimr who was among 47 men executed on terrorism charges by Saudi Arabia’s authorities .These events are unlikely to calm the relations between the two major powers in the region , yet alliés in the fight against the Islamic State .

Aljazeera reports that Nimr, who led anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia’s east, was previously convicted of sedition, disobedience and bearing arms. Nimr did not deny the political charges against him, but said he never carried weapons or called for violence.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday over attacks on its embassy facilities in Iran by people protesting the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, the kingdom’s foreign minister said.

The kingdom has requested that all members of Iran’s diplomatic mission leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours, Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh.

Recent context of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, these two main powers in the Middle East,were already extremely tightened, but Iran and Arabia relations turn from now on into an open conflict.

Hardliners in Tehran stormed the Saudi embassy this weekend as a renewed war of words erupted between the two rivals as they vie for dominance in a region ravaged by the Arab spring and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Further protests are being planned in Qatif in Saudi’s Eastern Province, heartland of the country’s minority Shia population, as Saudi security forces bolstered their presence in the oil-rich region.

The level of the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia had reached an unequalled level lately with the pursuit of the conflicts in Syria, in Iraq where both countries are in confrontation in a indirect way and the jostling during the pilgrimage of Mecca which led to the death of about 500 Iranian pilgrims. This cannot have any prospect of an exit of the political currentcrisis in Syria where these two rivals do not find a common ground. It is known, fighting against Daech for Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is partially due to to offer a political prospect to the concerned populations, in particular the Sunni community in Syria, so that the latter stops supporting Daesh (ISIS).

 

A question of Geopolitics and power in the Middle East

For FT.com as Saudi Arabia surveys the region, it sees Tehran’s interfering hand in a host of conflicts including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. Its response has been aggressive, sending troops to Bahrain to back a crackdown on Shia pro-democracy protests, funding rebels in Syria and fighting alongside the ousted Yemeni president against Iran-allied Houthi forces.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s leaders are obsessed by an ” Iranian threat ” which would be present everywhere in the Middle East in the Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq as said above. Saudi Arabia thus thinks of ” doing well” fighting against this threat!!! by supporting the groups salafist groups to Bashar Al- Assad(as Turkey and Qatar do). Yet, the agreement reache last year between the United States and Iran on the nuclear program of the latter has just exacerbated this rivalry , Saudi Arabia believes that has been betrayed by its American ally .

Saudi Arabia applies the same key in order to understand what is happening there: in the Yemeni Civil war while the support of Iran seems minimal and while the conflicts between Houtis and the Yemenite central government have nothing to do with any Iranian influence.

yemeni civil war 2016.PNG

Green: Controlled by Revolutionary Committee    Red: Controlled by Hadi-led government and the Southern Movement   White:  Controlled by Ansar al-Sharia/AQAP forces   Grey: Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Yet, the Islamic State took advantage of the civil war in Syria and in the Yemen to develop its presence there. Finally, Saudi Arabia to fight against this Iranian threat develops a Saudi Arabia to fight against this threat from Iran develops a “cause” such as “a Sunni community deprived of his political rights because of an Iranian Shiite imperialism”

Some analysts believe Iran may now look to assist an escalation of Shia unrest in Bahrain and in Eastern Province, where popular demonstrations have so far been contained by the security forces.
In Bahrain on Sunday, the strife-torn area of Sitra witnessed a second day of clashes between mostly young protesters and police. Witnesses said several hundred protesters faced off against the security forces in armoured personnel carriers using tear gas and shot guns, causing several injuries.

The rivalry between Saudi and Iran has been aggravated by the virulent spread of sectarianism through Middle Eastern societies. Some of the Arab spring revolts, which began with calls for democracy, have mutated into political struggles amplified by the centuries-old Shia-Sunni divide, such as Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

US-led coalition in Syria, in which Saudi Arabia is a country key into it, faces a fundamental problem. Iran officially is not a part of the coalition but is the only country whose army actually fights against the Islamic state . Saudi Arabia is officially part of the coalition but prefers to fight against the Houthis in Yemen, and for some pro-iranian analysts is participating in this way to the development of the influence of the Islamic state and Al Qaeda in that country ( because these groups benefit from the civil war to expand their presence ) . In fact , it is mainly through the diplomatic efforts which have been made to find a solution to the Syrian crisis where Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to be involved in this conflict.

Talks in Geneva have so far failed to find a political solution to the fighting in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition ended a ceasefire on Saturday. The US brokered talks on Syria at the end of last year that brought Saudi and Iranian officials around the same negotiating table, but the fighting has raged on.

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