Saudi Arabia as well as Iran are at loggerheads. They have long been rivals, nevertheless the idea’s all recently got a lot more tense. Here’s why.
How come Saudi Arabia as well as Iran don’t get along?
Saudi Arabia as well as Iran – two powerful neighbours – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.
The decades-old feud between them is usually exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main sects in Islam – Iran is usually largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.
This specific religious schism is usually reflected inside the wider map of the Middle East, where different countries have Sunni or Shia majorities, some of whom look towards Iran or Saudi Arabia for support or guidance.
Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy as well as home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However This specific was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a completely new type of state inside the region – a kind of theocracy – of which had an explicit goal of exporting This specific product beyond its own borders.
inside the past 15 years in particular, the differences between Saudi Arabia as well as Iran have been sharpened by a series of events.
The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This specific removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iranian influence in Iraq, which has been rising since then.
Fast-forward to 2011 as well as uprisings across the Arab world caused political instability throughout the region. Iran as well as Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain as well as Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.
Iran’s critics say the idea is usually intent on establishing itself or its proxies across the region, as well as achieve control of a land corridor stretching by Iran to the Mediterranean.
- Saudi Arabia country profile
- Iran country profile
How have things suddenly got worse?
The strategic rivalry is usually heating up because Iran is usually in many ways winning the regional struggle.
In Syria, Iranian (as well as Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is usually trying desperately to contain rising Iranian influence as well as the militaristic adventurism of the kingdom’s young as well as impulsive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – is usually exacerbating regional tensions.
He is usually waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian influence there, nevertheless after nearly three years This specific is usually proving a costly gamble.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, many observers believe the Saudis put pressure on the prime minister to resign in order to destabilise a country where Iran’s ally, Shia militia group Hezbollah, leads a politically powerful bloc as well as controls a huge, heavily armed fighting force.
- Lebanon inside the crosshairs
- Who are Hezbollah?
There are also external forces at play. Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support by the Trump administration while Israel, which sees Iran as a mortal threat, is usually in a sense “backing” the Saudi effort to contain Iran.
The Jewish state is usually fearful of the encroachment of pro-Iranian fighters in Syria ever closer to its border.
Israel as well as Saudi Arabia were the two countries most resolutely opposed to the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, insisting of which the idea did not go far enough to roll back any chance of Iran obtaining the bomb.
- The power behind the throne
- Crown prince’s ruthless streak
Who are their regional allies?
Broadly speaking the strategic map of the Middle East reflects the Shia-Sunni divide.
inside the pro-Saudi camp are the different major Sunni actors inside the Gulf – the UAE, Kuwait as well as Bahrain, as well as Egypt as well as Jordan.
inside the Iranian camp is usually Syria’s government, which has been strongly backed by Iran, as well as where pro-Iranian Shia militia groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have played a prominent role in fighting predominantly Sunni rebel groups.
The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is usually also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically the idea also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom the idea has depended for help inside the struggle against so-called Islamic State.
- Iran as well as Saudi Arabia: Their friends as well as foes
How is usually the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being played out?
This specific is usually in many ways a regional equivalent of the Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union in a tense military standoff for many years.
Iran as well as Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting nevertheless they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars around the region.
Syria is usually an obvious example while in Yemen Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi territory by the Shia Houthi rebel movement – an incident which heightened the war of words between the two countries.
nevertheless having become bogged down in Yemen as well as essentially defeated in Syria, Saudi Arabia seems to have its eye on Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield.
Lebanon risks being tipped into Syria-like chaos nevertheless few analysts see Saudi interests prevailing there.
Conflict in Lebanon could so easily draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah as well as This specific could lead to a third Israel-Lebanon war far more devastating than any of the previous encounters.
Some cynics wonder if the Saudi crown prince’s game plan is usually to trigger a war between Israel as well as Hezbollah as well as deliver a heavy blow to the group This specific way!
- A night of long knives as well as missiles
Are we heading towards a direct war between Saudi Arabia as well as Iran?
So far Tehran as well as Riyadh have fought via proxies. Neither is usually genuinely geared up for a direct war with the different nevertheless one successful rocket attack on the Saudi capital by Yemen could upset the apple cart.
One obvious area where they could come into direct conflict is usually inside the waters of the Gulf, where they face each different across a maritime border.
nevertheless here too fighting could risk a much broader conflict. For the US as well as different Western powers, freedom of navigation inside the Gulf is usually essential as well as any conflict of which sought to block the waterway – vital for international shipping as well as oil transportation – could easily draw in US naval as well as air forces.
For a long time the US as well as its allies have seen Iran as a destabilising force inside the Middle East. The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat as well as the crown prince seems willing to take whatever action he sees necessary, wherever he deems the idea necessary, to confront Tehran’s rising influence.
The danger is usually of which Saudi Arabia’s completely new activism is usually fast generating the idea a further source of volatility inside the region.