Update on the Iran Saudi Arabia situation
The tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia generated by the execution of Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr have not abated. In the oil rich Qatif region of Saudi Arabia, which is predominantly Shiite, an Aramco truck was torched by rioters. The culprits are unknown but it is quite possible that they are Shiites seeking retribution for the killing of al-Nimr. In Bahrain protests in support of al-Nimr were dispersed by authorities using tear gas and birdshot, with 35 protestors being arrested by authorities. The situation in Bahrain is of interest as, while it is ruled by Sunnis, half its population is Shiite, so there is a high probably of further and escalating sectarian conflicts there.
On the political front there has been further developments. Bahrain, in addition to severing diplomatic relations, has cut all air travel to Iran. Kuwait has, not surprisingly, taken the side of Saudi Arabia and has recalled its ambassador from Iran.
On the Shiite side, Iran in a letter to the U.N. Security Council has expressed regret for the torching of the Saudi embassy by protestors and vows to prosecute those responsible. However, as Dr. Majid Rafizadeh points out “it is intriguing that Iranian forces which are very quick at identifying demonstrations, are always late to act when it comes to these types of pre-organized and sophisticated attacks on embassies.” Notwithstanding Iranian regrets, at the very least, we can presume that Iranian officials ‘allowed’ the attack on the Saudi embassy to occur.
While we may suspect Iran of underhanded practices, there may be reason to be suspicious of Saudi Arabia. Iranian media is alleging that the Saudis may get the country of Djibouti to raise the fee for Iranian oil ships to pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb straits (which is the entrance from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea) in an attempt to economically injure Iran’s oil exports to Europe. In Iraq, the recent bombing of three Sunni mosques, which some have suspected to be reprisals by Shiite extremists, have been blamed on ISIL by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as a tactic to foment sectarian strife within Iraq.
Mohammed al-Nimr, the brother of Nimr al-Nimr, has partially blamed the American government for the death of his brother as they did not intervene to prevent the Saudis from carrying out the execution, in spite of his pleas to American consular officials. It should be noted that Mohammed’s 17 year old son, Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, is under Saudi custody and has been sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion for protesting against the Saudi government in 2012 during the Arab Spring. It will be interesting to see if Ali is executed what the reaction will be of the Shiite world. Undoubtedly it will lead to a further escalation in an already tense situation.
So there you have some of the developments in the ongoing dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia. For further information, including political cartoons on the Sunni and Shite reactions, including examples of political cartoons, can be found in these two MEMRI articles here and here. If there are any further developments I will be sure to post on them.