The Diplomatic rupture between Teheran and Riyadh: Heading towards a Saudi-Iranian war?

As some issues discussed during FerMUN 2016, like those tackled within the NATO conference, concerns terrorism directly and considering recent news, it seems important – even necessary- to try to understand the Saudi-Iranian conflict and its possible consequences on terrorism.

The Saudi-Iranian conflict is considered as one of the world’s most intense. Tensions are not only between the two different religious sects: Sunnite and Shia.There is a very critical political context which must be taken in account. Saudi Arabia is, since 1945, a major ally to the first World Power, that-is-to-say, to the United States of America (USA). In 1979, the Iranian’s pro-American government collapsed. After defeating the shah, Khomeini raised to power, and set up an Islamic government. The tensions within the Saudi-Iranian conflict has worsened the situation between Iraq and Iran, during which Saudi Arabia has gained self-assurance. By financing Iraq, and creating the Gulf Cooperation Council to counteract Iran, Saudi Arabia has become Iran’s main opponent. The tensions reached the breaking point in 1988 with the interruption of all diplomatic relations at the end of the Iraqi-Iranian war. This situation stayed the same until 1991. Like all the main powers, possessing a certain supremacy over their respective regions, the conflict also found itself at the centre of political interests common to other states. Saudi Arabia and Iran, wanting official recognition from Palestine, were put in an uncomfortable situation. The alliance with the United States of America has been brought forward to critique the Saudi enemy many times by Iranians. The tensions are very frequent, without break. The most recent one is of a religious order.

The execution of about forty Sunnite jihadists linked to Al Qaida and Shiite leader, Nimr Baqer al-Nimr, revived these tensions. To understand the reactions which followed, the figure of the Shiite dignitary must be examined. Nimr Baqer al-Nimr, representative of the Shiite minority in the wahhabite kingdom, led his community’s revolt in 2011. While openly criticizing the Saudi country, he was rapidly suspected by Riyadh of being an Iranian spy. An arrest warrant was issued against him and in 2014, he was sentenced to death for conspiring against his king and terrorism. Following this event, many NGOs reacted, accusing the judgment of being unfair. They mentioned that the condemned did not call for a violent uprising. At first, this execution could be seen as a solution to the dilemma between the necessity to contest the Sunnite radical movement and the key to controlling the Iranian expansion without giving the Sunnite jihadists the advantage. On later inspection, this execution seems to be part of the anti-Iranian politic. The reactions were numerous. The Saudi embassy, located at Teheran, was besieged for many hours; Shiite mobs rioted in not only Iran, but also in Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan, with “death to the Saudi American soldiers” as their slogan.

We have been spectators, since the 2nd January, of a crises between Riyadh and Teheran, two powerful countries are already at war by proxy in Yemen and Syria. The execution has indeed made the risks of things sparking off greater and has had a direct consequence: the rupture of the diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. But what does that really change? The fact is, this time, the consequences do not materialise just within a specific territory: everybody is affected and the aftershocks reach every country. The Sunnite coalition led by Saudi Arabia bombarded Yemen. In addition, on one side, is the Iran’s tightening on the negotiations with Syria, and on the other, Saudi Arabia supporting the Salafists. The existence of these oppositions aids the Islamic state.

Given the repercussions of this act on the fight against terrorism, Moscow and Washington together, have called for calm. It seems from now on necessary to favour communication between those two great powers as to avoid an Iranian-Saudi war.

Louis La Fay

Appoline Amoureux