- Published: Sunday, January 17, 2016 - 2:36 PM
- Tags: Salman; Saudi Arabia;Iran;Arab League; Nabil al-Arabi;Javad Zarif; Yemen; Sanaa;Mahdi
Ever since Saudi Arabia executed the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr a week and a half ago, the crisis between the Shiite regime in Iran and the Sunni monarchy continues to escalate.
The longstanding conflict between the two countries reached a boiling point when Iran didn’t prevent the ransacking of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions in Iran.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has even accused the Iranian regime of encouraging arson in the diplomatic missions of his country.
Saudi Arabia reacted to the Iranian aggression by expelling all Iranian diplomats and severed not only all diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic–the Saudi regime also called for a ban on imports of Iranian goods after Iran announced a ban on imports from Saudi Arabia.
In addition, the Saudi authorities halted all air traffic from Iran and called upon Saudi companies to sever trade with the Islamic Republic.
This weekend, the Arab League, citing “Iranian provocations,” decided to side with Saudi Arabia. Nabil al-Arabi, the Egyptian Secretary-General of the Arab League, demanded that the Arab League “adopt a strong and clear common position calling on Iran to stop all forms of interference in the affairs of Arab nations.”
The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Javad Zarif, meanwhile, had noticed that the Obama administration refrained from criticizing Iran after the regime in Tehran allowed angry mobs to set Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions on fire. Zarif used the New York Times as a forum to rally public opinion in the US behind the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian FM lashed out at Riyadh for “standing in the way of constructive engagement” in the Middle East and “brainwashing those who carried out terrorist attacks against the United States,” The Times of Israel reported.
Zarif claimed that Iran contributes to peace and stability in the region, whereas Saudi Arabia continues “to impede normalization” and is “determined to drag the entire region into confrontation.” He charged that al-Nimr’s execution was an “act of barbarism” and claimed that Saudi Arabia supports Islamic State.
The media, meanwhile, speculate on whether the current crisis could end in a war between the two rivals.
The truth is that the two enemies have been at war with each other for quite some time now.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia use proxies to wage this war. In Syria, Iraq and Yemen the two countries support groups and regimes on opposing sides in the conflict. Iran supports the Assad regime and Hezbollah in Syria, whereas Saudi Arabia is known for its support of Jabhat al-Nusra (the local Al Qaeda branch) and the Jaish al-Fatah rebel coalition.
In Yemen, Iran supports the Shiite al-Houthi rebels, while Saudi Arabia in April 2015 cobbled together a Sunni coalition that last week ended a fragile cease-fire that had been in place since the 15th of December last year.
The breach of the cease-fire in Yemen by Saudi Arabia shortly after the attacks on its diplomatic missions in Iran was the clearest sign yet that the regime in Saudi Arabia considered the Iranian actions a declaration of war.
Last Friday, Saudi planes bombed buildings in the vicinity of the Iranian embassy in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The strike on the Yemeni capital was one of the heaviest Saudi aerial attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen to date. Scores of Houthi rebels have died since Saudi Arabia resumed air attacks on Sanaa, while local sources in Yemen accuse the Houthis of firing indiscriminately on neighborhoods in Sanaa and of blocking aid supplies to civilians in the capital.
The escalation in Yemen could spill over to Saudi Arabia, which shares a long border with the war-torn Gulf country.
Iran doesn’t recognize the custody of the Saudi monarchy over Mecca and Medina, the Muslim holy cities in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, during the rule of former President Ahmadinejad, the regime in Tehran produced a movie about the return of the Mahdi, the Shiite Messiah, in which the Mullahs predicted that Yemen would be used as a beachhead by Shiite forces for a future attack on Saudi Arabia. The Iranian actions in Yemen have a lot to do with this Shiite prophecy.
Saudi Arabia is well aware of the Iranian aspirations in the Arabian Peninsula and has treated the Houthi takeover of Yemen as an Iranian incursion aimed at Mecca and Medina from the beginning.
Since the new Saudi King Salman took over last year, the regime in Riyadh has taken a much more aggressive stance toward Iran. The new king has apparently come to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia cannot rely any longer on its long-time ally the United States and on proxy armies to defend itself from Iran’s ambitions.
This article was first published at Western Journalism. com