Avoiding a clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran

Escalating tensions in Saudi Arabia's relations with Iran are a warning that the situation may get out of control

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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This is the highest level of tension that the two neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have reached since the end of the Iraqi-Iranian war 27 years ago. For those acquainted with the situation, it's not difficult to understand the reasons of Saudi concerns over Iran. Iran has expanded to the extent where it is now militarily present in Saudi surroundings. It has a presence north of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and south of it, in Yemen while its affiliates are active as opposition groups in Bahrain in the east. Iran is also present in Syria where it is directly managing battles. Iran is investing plenty of its men and funds in a project which seemingly aims to be besiege Gulf countries.


If it hadn't been for this tension, the Iranian command, including its most high-ranking officials such as the Supreme Guide and President Hassan Rowhani, would not have politicized the deadly Mina stampede knowing that such incidents are possible during Hajj, considering the presence of 2.5 million pilgrims. Iran's aim of politicizing this case is to incite Iranians against the kingdom and justify its government's foreign escapades.


Iran's other protest against Saudi Arabia is what it calls "the Saudi military war in Yemen." Iran objects to this intervention in Yemen although all U.N. Security Council members approved it and dozens of Islamic countries supported it. Iran has realized that its investment in supporting the Houthi rebels - who are a small group - is evaporating after they were close to seizing power in Yemen following their coup and capture of the legitimate Yemeni president. “Saudi intervention” blocked the path of Iranian military supplies - destined for the Houthi rebels - by sea and by air as it shut down Hodeida port, shelled the runway of Sanaa Airport and sought the help of the American navy to impose naval inspections on supplies from Iran.


There's also an indirect clash in Syria as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' forces are directly leading militias from Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan to fight in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime. This has led to the worst tragedy in the history of the region, as more than a quarter of a million have been killed and 12 million have been displaced.


Meanwhile, Iraq is about to turn into a third touchline, which is extremely dangerous considering that Iranian domination over governance in Baghdad has become clear and that Iranian forces are fighting in many governorates in Iraq.

Escalating tensions in Saudi Arabia's relations with Iran are a warning that the situation may get out of control

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Iranian government's increased appetite to spread its activities in the Middle East contradicts U.S. statements that the nuclear deal will turn Iran into a country that will be preoccupied with its domestic affairs and will therefore give up its foreign adventures and seek to cooperate for the sake of economic openness and eventually improving the quality of services it provides to its citizens. What is happening is the complete opposite of that!

Escalating tensions in Saudi Arabia's relations with Iran are a warning that the situation will get out of control unless both countries work to put these relations in a context stipulated by standard diplomatic protocol.

The nuclear agreement has led to an increase in concern from Arab countries, as it has ended economic and military sanctions that were imposed against Tehran. This has increased disputes with Iran and also worsens bickering in the media and in diplomat circles.

However, the surge in tension also calls for improving means of communication, not the opposite. The reasons and motives behind this tension must be understood. We expect regional disputes in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and other countries to continue. It will also be accompanied by sectarian tensions, but it will not be easy to banish away religious strife after the political disputes end. Still, both sides should not let this tension get out of control.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct 4., 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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