Tension are High as KSA and Iran Face Off
If you haven’t been following the news during the holiday season, you’ve missed some major events that could shape the Middle East (ME) for decades to come. Terrorism, specifically radical Islam, has impacted policy making across the globe to the point that many governments, including Saudi Arabia (KSA), are taking aggressive, pointed action in response to what has become a political problem for elected and/or reigning governments.
On January 2, 2016, the KSA monarchy led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (King Salman) executed 47 people, including dozens of al Qaeda members and a prominent Shiite cleric. The move was intended presumably to signal a high level of intolerance towards terror attacks led by either Sunni jihadists or minority Shiites in the Kingdom. King Salman has been an aggressive leader of the KSA, engaging in conflicts in Syria and in Yemen against the Houthi rebels. A ceasefire officially ended in Yemen on January 2nd, although fighting has continued since the ceasefire technically began in mid-December.
Tensions continue to rise, as KSA formally broke off diplomatic ties with Iran on January 3rd, after the KSA embassy in Tehran was sacked and burned by Iranian protectors in response to the KSA executions. KSA Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir subsequently announced that all Iranian diplomats must leave the KSA within 48 hours as of January 3rd. According to Al Arabiya reports, KSA has already evacuated its diplomats from Iran. Iran is the most potent regional rival to KSA, and if tensions don’t ease quickly, a proxy war or worse is likely.
To that end, the dramatic rise in tensions between Iran and KSA and more broadly Shiite and Sunni factions, could lead to a regional conflict. This is important, as direct and outright conflict between the two nations will also likely envelop KSA’s Sunni allies and Iran’s Shiite partners – leading to a volatile and destabilized middle ease region at a minimum. Recognizing the potential for destabilization, the United Nations (nearly impotent in whatever it attempts) has announced that a special envoy will visit KSA ahead of a visit to Iran to attempt to ease tensions between the two nations. If history holds, the UN’s involvement in this evolving dispute is likely to have no impact.
KSA, currently running a national deficit due to low oil prices, might also see regional instability as a means of significantly increasing national revenue if oil prices spike in response to ongoing hostility. With this in mind, the incentive for KSA to compromise may not be forthcoming.