Relations between Riyadh and Tehran have been tense ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in the Iranian revolution of 1979. In recent time religious competition between the Islamic world’s Shia and Sunni powerhouses have also turned into burgeoning geopolitical rivalry.
But current decision of Saudi Arabia’s to execute prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr has brought the Saudi-Iranian relation to the lowest. The two Middle Eastern giants are raising the level of hostilities between them, at considerable risk to peace in the region. Because of Iranian and Saudi tussle in recent day’s whole region is looking divided on sectarian lines. Chain reaction of diplomatic fallout has unfolded over the past few days across the region. Saudi Arabia severed all diplomatic relations with Iran. Saudi allies Bahrain, Sudan and Djibouti quickly followed the same. Other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies like Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates opted for the less drastic measure of recalling their ambassadors. On other hand Shia camp also have reacted very sharply. The Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah issued a statement calling al-Nirm’s execution an “assassination” and an “ugly crime”. In Tehran Iranian hardliners storm the Saudi embassy which is against universally agreed-upon rules of foreign relations that is safeguarding diplomatic missions. But all these developments are just the start of major conflict that is about to start in the region.
The struggle between Riyadh and Tehran for political and religious influence has geopolitical implications that extend far beyond the placid waters of the Gulf and encompass nearly every major conflict zone in the Middle East. A diplomatic rupture between the major Sunni and Shia powers in the region will resonate across the Middle East, where they back opposing sides in many destructive wars and simmering conflicts. The first casualty happened was of collapsed of ceasefire between Houthi rebels and Saudis. Next one will be will probably be the planned UN-led conference in Vienna to negotiate a political settlement between the warring parties in Syria, which is not wholeheartedly supported by Saudi Arabia anyway. Moreover more unrest can be expected in Iraq, Lebanon and even Bahrain because of recent Saudi and Iran tussle. Now in such a supercharged atmosphere, the moderate middle ground has been sorely weakened and advocates of a hardliner approach to regional affairs now hold sway. Some analysts believes that Saudi Arabia may be deliberately fanning the flames of war in its region in a bid to sabotage the agreement between the Iranians and the international community led by the United Nations Security Council permanent members plus Germany. But Iranian also didn’t responded in whole episode maturely.
The embassy attack makes it clear that Iran has failed to protect international diplomats which is totally unacceptable. Tehran has arrested some people but the incident could have been averted with prompt action which Iranians failed to take. It’s being believed that embassy attack in Tehran was executed by the powerful group of hardliners who are trying to derail President Rouhani’s foreign policy initiatives in an effort to weaken his domestic political power and image. The defiance and anger in both capitals will not fade soon while neither government is eager to step back from the brink, both know a direct military confrontation would be ruinous, bloody and asymmetrical. Avoiding direct confrontation, both are likely to escalate instead their role in proxy wars across the region which will definitely create a havoc in the already burning region.
The bilious rhetoric between the two countries sours by the day, it is still the people caught in the crosshairs of proxy conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon who are paying the heaviest price of this bull fight. Some effective and immediate steps should be taken by the international community and the United Nations to calm down the boiling equations between the Saudis and Iranians. First of all January 25 international conference in Geneva that seeks a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war, should be postponed in order to give Saudi Arabia and Iran a calming period. Secondly United States should reassure Saudi Arabia that they are not in going in favour of Iran at its cost so that Saudis remain calm and don’t feel insecure.
Finally United Nations should send it’s envoy to both Riyadh and Tehran to convince Saudis and Iranians to de-escalate the situation. We have to understand that it is very important to have the cooperation between the S Arabia and Iran as they are two major powers in West Asia for resolving the conflicts in the region. Moreover this conflict between Saudis and Iranians will also complicates the fight against ISIS in the sense that ISIS will take the opportunity to exploit two regional powers going after each other rather than going after it.