Saudi rift with Iran intensifies

The diplomatic spat between Saudi Arabia and Iran, sparked by the recent mass execution including Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, has intensified and spread.  Bahrain has expelled Iranian diplomats from their country and severed diplomatic ties with Iran in reaction to the burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Sudan likewise announced a severing of diplomatic ties with Iran and the United Arab Emirates said that it would severely limit the number of Iranian diplomats in their country.

Saudi Arabia announced a series of steps as well:

We will also be cutting off all air traffic to and from Iran. We will be cutting off all commercial relations with Iran. And we will have a travel ban against people travelling to Iran,” he said.

Al-Jubeir said, however, that Iranian pilgrims were still welcome to visit Saudi Arabia’s holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

There is no escalation on the part of Saudi Arabia. Our moves are all reactive. It is the Iranians who went into Lebanon. It is the Iranians who sent their Qods Force and their Revolutionary Guards into Syria,” he said demanding Tehran “act like a normal country” before any talks of restoring the severed diplomatic relations.

The minister added that Riyadh was right to execute leading Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Al-Jubeir accused him of “agitating, organizing cells, providing them with weapons and money.” Riyadh should be applauded for executions, not criticized, he said.

Unrest following the execution of al-Nimr is ongoing in Iraq, Iran, and Bahrain.

Regional tensions are at a particular high water mark with the easing of sanctions on Iran due to the Nuclear Deal reached between Iran and the Power 5 Nations. Despite the hopes of the Obama Administration that reaching an accord with Iran might help usher the once diplomatically isolated country back onto the world stage, Iran continues to act provocatively, including recent rocket launches near US and French warships and ballistic missile tests that are expected to bring new sanctions from the US.

The Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, says the regional peace process need not be threatened by the current row:

“From our side it should have no effect because we will continue to work very hard to support the peace efforts in Syria, in Yemen,” he told reporters. “We will attend the next Syria talks and we’re not going to boycott them because of Iran or anybody else for that matter.”

“The Iranians, even before the break of diplomatic relations, have not been very supportive, have not been very positive in these peace efforts,” he added. “I don’t think the break in relations is going to dissuade them from such behavior.”

The US, and the Obama Administration in particular, finds itself in an increasingly complicated relationship with regional actors including long-time ally Saudi Arabia.

[Russia Today] [Reuters] [Associated Press] [NBC News] [New York Times]