Iran Saudi Arabia Cold War

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The Middle East is one of the most complex regions in the world. Since the 20th century, it has experienced various wars, uprisings and invasions. Today there are four failed states and three ongoing wars. While the Islamic State may be close to defeat, other extremist groups are gaining strength across borders as major powers use them against each other.

Iran Saudi Arabia Cold War

Iran Saudi Arabia Cold War

But beyond all the conflict, there are two common players: Saudi Arabia and Iran. They are bitter rivals whose feud dates back almost 40 years. Each country believes it is the legitimate leader of the Middle East and feels threatened by the other. But they never declared war on each other. Instead, they support opposing groups in other conflicts, such as the civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. This has only created more violence throughout the region and the conflict continues to escalate without end.

Circa 1980’s, Afghanistan: Mujahideen Fighting Against Ussr In The Rugged, Inhospitable Terrain Of Afghanistan. Insurgent Groups In Afghanistan (known Collectively As The Mujahideen) Fought A Nine Year Guerrilla War Against The Soviet Army

Watch the video above to learn about the origins of the Saudi-Iran dispute, how it escalated, and where it’s headed.

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Gifts from readers support this mission by helping to keep our work free, whether we’re adding nuanced context to unexpected events or explaining how our democracy got to this point. Although we are committed to preserving freedom, our particular brand of investigative journalism requires a lot of resources. Advertising alone is not enough to sustain you. Help make work free for everyone by making a gift today. Shia Muslims burn an effigy of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a protest against the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was killed along with others in Saudi Arabia, in front of the Saudi embassy in New Delhi on January 4. Ednan Abidi / Reuters

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Us And Iran Have A Long, Troubled History

A few weeks ago, as the civil war in Syria continued, US Secretary of State John Kerry persuaded his Saudi and Iranian counterparts to sit down at the same table for a meeting in Geneva. The goal was to create a framework for a peace agreement to end the war. Since the conflict began, some 300,000 people have been killed and 9 million displaced, so agreeing to a settlement of the countries in a preliminary meeting may not seem like progress. But given the fierce rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran and their support for opposing sides in the four-year conflict, getting them to come forward was a major diplomatic feat.

Today, with the start of talks on January 25, it seems that the achievement is in danger. On January 2, Saudi Arabia captured Cheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite religious leader. In response, angry mobs in Tehran burned down the Saudi embassy. Riyadh then severed diplomatic ties with Iran, and in solidarity several Sunni Arab countries took similar steps. Now the prospects for a peace deal in Syria seem increasingly remote, and although few expect the Saudi-Iranian cold war to escalate and lead to war between the two powers, it is likely that their ongoing proxy battles along the region’s former Sunnis. – The Shiite difference. to reinforce. “The rivalry is not going away,” says Aaron David Miller, a former senior Middle East adviser in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The unlikely nature of the conflict is bad news for President Barack Obama, who for years has been trying to divert American focus from the Middle East. But analysts say the battle between Riyadh and Tehran could derail major U.S. efforts in the region, from the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, to resolving the civil war in Yemen, where a Local Al-Qaeda is gaining strength. As Wally Nasser, a former senior State Department adviser in the Obama administration, says: “The Saudis have essentially dismantled American policy in the region.”

Iran Saudi Arabia Cold War

Nimr’s execution is the latest sign of increasingly strained relations between Washington and Riyadh after decades of close cooperation. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, when the country’s theocratic leaders began exporting their brand of radical Islamism to minority sects across the Middle East, the United States has supported Saudi Arabia in its rivalry with Tehran. As Iran gained a foothold in Lebanon through the Shiite movement Hezbollah and formed an alliance with Syria’s Shiite Alawite rulers, America remained silent while Riyadh backed down. The royal family, which owes its legitimacy to the kingdom’s Sunni clergy, used its vast oil wealth to build puritanical mosques and madrassas around the world to contain what its religious leaders had long considered a heresy. of Islam. So when the Iraq-Iran war broke out in 1980, Saudi Arabia, with a cool head from Washington, helped finance Saddam Hussein’s army in Baghdad, bringing in about $1 billion a month. Later in 1988, Riyadh severed diplomatic relations with Tehran after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy to protest a deadly riot during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Media Guide: Iran/saudi Relations — American Iranian Council

The two countries restored official ties in 1991, and in the following decades their relations improved under the moderate leadership of Iranian presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, who sought better relations with the Sunni world. But after the US overthrew Hussein in 2003 and Iranian-backed Shiite leaders took power in Baghdad, Riyadh became more concerned that Iran would once again try to be the dominant religious and political force in the Middle East. In the years that followed, Iran and Saudi Arabia vied for influence on opposite sides of proxy wars in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. The outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 further exacerbated tensions between the two nations. Saudi Arabia has blamed Iran for sparking Shiite protests against Bahrain’s Sunni royal family and sent troops to quell the uprising. The Islamic Cold War then spread to Syria and Yemen, where it continues. And many experts say Nimri’s Bekhed was a strong message for Tehran to stay out of the kingdom’s internal affairs.

However, the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is also about domestic politics, and analysts say domestic pressure played a role in Nimr’s execution. Nimr, an outspoken critic of Sunni discrimination against the kingdom’s 5 million Shiites, angered the royal family in 2012 for celebrating the death of Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, an iron-fisted official who once led a bloody crackdown on protesters. “Let the worm eat him”, said Nimar in a video that is circulating on social networks. These comments led to his arrest that year for treason. Two years later, a Saudi court sentenced him to death. Since then, Western diplomats say Sunni scholars are demanding that Riyadh respect the decision. Because of Nimr’s popularity, Washington quietly asked the Saudis to spare his life, fearing sectarian publicity. However, the Saudis saw Nimri as another Osama bin Laden, a traitor and terrorist who did not commit murder but inspired others to kill.

After Nimri’s death, current and former US officials fear that ISIS could take advantage of the tension between Riyadh and Tehran. With his death stoking sectarian passions, the people say, Saudi Arabia’s proxies will be much more focused on fighting Iran’s allies, leaving ISIS freer to operate. Robert Jordan, former ambassador to Syria, “As the fighting intensifies and increases, it creates more of a vacuum in Iraq and Yemen for ISIS to come in and expand its influence.”

The president has yet to take sides in the Iran-Saudi conflict, leaving America without the trust of both countries and unable to influence the growing sectarian divide in the Middle East. Washington’s indecision further strengthened Riyadh’s fears that America is no longer committed to the US-Saudi alliance. Saudi Arabia’s concerns began during the Arab Spring in Egypt, when Obama called for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, another longtime American ally. But what really changed the relationship was Obama’s recent nuclear deal with Iran, a deal that largely curbs Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against it. Saudi officials have always viewed the deal in zero-sum terms and fear it is the beginning of an alliance between Washington and Tehran. “It makes the royal family wonder if Obama really supports them,” said a person familiar with the official Saudi line but not authorized to speak for the government.

Middle East Countries

The United States has tried to ease Saudi Arabia’s concerns with continued arms sales to the Gulf kingdom, among other things. But Riyadh’s suspicions are now at the center of an aggressive new Saudi policy. Over the past year, King Salman has increased his support for Syrian rebels seeking to oust him.

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