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Saudi-Iranian crisis without diplomats or mediators

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

This is the worst phase of confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran in 30 years. The stances of countries in solidarity with the kingdom - such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan - and their decisions to shut down or downgrade their diplomatic missions in Iran are of great significance to Riyadh.

Tehran often resorts to violence and bullying against governments that disagree with it, while Riyadh responds via its political weight and international relations.

As smoke billowed from the burnt Saudi embassy in Tehran, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman voiced surprise that the Saudis withdrew their mission and shut down the burnt building!

Speaking like he represents a peaceful Scandinavian country, he said nothing justified the Saudi decision. He said that despite the fact that the embassy building was burnt in front of Iranian police who did not intervene.

History repeating

Saudi Arabia did well to shut down its embassy in Iran and recalling its envoys, because whenever there is a crisis, the Iranians target ambassadors and diplomatic missions. Iran’s history is the worst in this regard. The Saudis in particular have bad memories of the Iranian assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Karachi. Pakistan is still demanding that the perpetrator be handed over.

Iran orchestrated a bomb explosion in the Saudi embassy in Beirut. In 2011, U.S. officials uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, then-Saudi ambassador to the United States, and the perpetrators were convicted and imprisoned.

Every time Iran disagrees with a country, it besieges its embassy via protests, raids, looting and attacking its employees

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Abdulaziz Khoja, former Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, was subjected to threats that forced him to return home. Iranian “protestors” previously killed a Saudi employee in the embassy in Iran by throwing him off the third floor, while another Saudi diplomat was attacked and his eye gouged out.

Nothing is more important than diplomats during dangerous crises, but Tehran did not give envoys the chance to work. Setting the Saudi embassy on fire was carried out by employees linked to a security apparatus and pretending to be protestors. No one believes they were protestors because this has happened repeatedly. Every time Iran disagrees with a country, it besieges its embassy via protests, raids, looting and attacking its employees.

Speculation

Despite that, there is speculation over the burning of the Saudi embassy. Was it a vengeful act following the Saudi execution of extremist preacher Nimr al-Nimr? Was it directed against Iranian President Hassan Rowhani to undermine his authority? Was the aim to sabotage dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran over Syria?

In Iran, the president’s authority is always governed by conflicts, which is why other governments are always suspicious of Iranian official promises. The Saudis have been previously told they must understand the circumstances of decision-making in Iran, but for how long will they do that?

Now that bilateral ties have been severed, there are no direct diplomatic means of communication. As such, the dispute, which is already huge, will worsen and affect the region.

Iran is turning the dispute into a cause of defending Shiites, but most Muslim countries are boycotting it or are upset with it, such as Indonesia and Sudan recently. Tehran has also lost its Arab allies, in which it invested for years, since its military involvement in Syria, where it is a partner in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 5 , 2016.

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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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