Iran and Saudi Arabia exchange bellicose threats. Harbinger of war between the two countries?
Thus far the ethnic and religious rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia has been limited to indirect conflict between the two countries in the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Yemen. However, if current Iranian and Saudi rhetoric is an accurate indication, then direct conflict may be a likely occurrence in the future.
During a Channel 1 interview on May 2, when the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud was asked “can there be direct dialogue with Iran in the future” he responded:1
“How can you reach any understanding with a person, or a regime, which holds a firm conviction in the extremist ideology on which it is based, which appears in the constitution and in Khomeini’s legacy, according to which they must take control of the Muslim world, and spread their Twelver Jaafari ideology throughout the Islamic world, until the appearance of the Mahdi? How could I possibly convince somebody like that? What common interests do I share with him? How can I reach an understanding with him?
When I have a problem with another country, we try to resolve it. If it is an economic problem – what do you want? What do we want? How can we reach an understanding? If we have political problem, for example, with Russia over Syria we try to reach an understanding: What are your interests? What are mine? The same is true regarding Yemen. But how can we possibly reach an understanding with (Iran)?
According to the logic of Iran, the Mahdi is expected to come, and they must prepare the ground for his coming, by taking control of the Islamic world. They have denied their people more than 30 years of development – subjecting them to famine and poor infrastructure – in order to accomplish that goal. They will not change their mind overnight, and their legitimacy within Iran will not be over.
What are the common denominators on which we could agree with the regime? There are practically none. We tried (a dialogue with) that regime more than once in the past. We tried it with Rafsanjani [a prominent Iranian politician of the pragmatic camp who died in January of a heart attack], and it turned out to be nothing but a show. After the Khomeini revolution, they began their expansion, enraging the world, and then they brought forth the peaceful leader, Rafsanjani, in order to win the trust of the world – indeed, he even won our trust – and after establishing a new phase, with an agreeable environment, they brought forth an extremist leader, who would continue the expansion.
We have seen this with Ahmadinejad … and he stayed in power eight years, not four. They spread in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Then came a (peaceful) leader, who could preserve their achievements by making the world happy, before another extremist leader will rise, in order to continue the expansion.”
Such a response, while revealing the Saudi attitude toward Iran, may not seem overly provocative, but Prince Mohammad bin Salman was not finished. He continued (emphasis mine):
“This will not happen again. It’s over. Once bitten, twice shy. We were bitten once but it will not happen again. We know that we are a primary goal of the Iranian regime. Reaching the Kaaba is a main goal of the Iranian regime. But we will not wait for the war to be waged on Saudi soil. We will make sure that the war is waged in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”
So Saudi Arabia is not going to wait for Iran to make its move on Mecca, and not being content to wage proxy war against Iran in Syria and Yemen, will instead strike Iranian soil if necessary. Such bellicose remarks from the Saudi Deputy Prince, who many believe is actually running Saudi Arabia and not his reportedly sickly father Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, may indicate that the Saudis have had enough with their Iranian rivals and are willing to militarily take the latter out. Such a possibility is consistent with the recent increase in Saudi military spending and weapon procurements,2 not to mention the talk of them developing nuclear weapons.3
As is to be expected the Iranians responded with their own aggressive threats. Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan responded as follows:4
“Today, we see that Saudi Arabia has reached such a level of self-annulment and pleading that it is even willing to ingratiate itself [with] Netanyahu, in order to incite him against us. What kind of behavior has Saudi Arabia adopted? How is it that whenever a nation refuses to obey Wahhabism and Salafism, Saudi Arabia takes action against it – spending money and sending weapons – in order to quell (the rise) of that nation?
The Saudi rulers should bear their responsibility and answer these questions: Do the interests of the Muslim nations lie in unity with either Israel or America? Will handing the region over to America bring security to the Muslims? Does spending the money of the Muslims to establish a failing monarchic regime in tatters constitute a step toward securing the interests of the Muslims?
We have never sought to occupy any Arab or Muslim country, and we never will. Today they believe that they can flex their muscles at the nations – especially the great, deep-rooted, and civilized Iranian people. I think that their brains do not comprehend what their tongues are saying, and the reason for this is that they are arrogant, conceited, ignorant, and young.”
When asked “Is Saudi Arabia capable of transferring the war into Iran and striking Iran?” Dehqan answered:
“I do not understand how they would do this. They think that they have an air force capable of doing something, but I advise them not to do anything stupid. But if they do, I doubt that any place in Saudi Arabia will remain intact, with the exception of Mecca and Medina.”
Backing up Dehqan’s warning was the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri who issued his own, more general warning. Speaking to Iran’s enemies he warned “any mistakes in calculation or [perpetration of] the smallest act of aggression against the establishment and the Muslim territory [i.e. Iran]. … [our] immediate, decisive, and crushing response in the points that we determine, will bring about their regret and defeat.”5 So it appears that the Iranians are not taking Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s threat lightly.
This back and forth between Iran and Saudi Arabia is nothing new. In July 2016, while speaking before a MEK gathering in Paris, Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former Ambassador to the US and former Director of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, responded to the crowd chanting “The people want to topple the [Iranian] regime” by saying “I too want to topple the regime.”6
May be the current bluster will lead to nothing, but it is also possible that we are witnessing more gas being poured on Saudi-Iranian relations, which a single requisite spark will ignite into an inferno. If one is skeptical of such a possibility, then they should not forget nor discount the hatred that the Sunni and Shiites have for one another.
According to the secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah “Wahhabism [which emanates from Saudi Arabia] is more evil than Israel, especially [in] that it seeks to destroy others and eliminate whatever thing that has to do with Islam and its history.”7 Conversely many Sunni Salafists see the Shiites as a greater threat than Israel.8 Fueled by such mutual hatred, a direct Iranian-Saudi conflict cannot be ruled out.
It is also interesting to consider that with Trump as US President, Saudi Arabia may be emboldened to take action against Iran. Differing from the proceeding administration, Trump’s is adopting a firmer stance against Iran and is becoming closer with Saudi Arabia. With regards to Iran, Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn declared “As of today [February 1, 2017], we are officially putting Iran on notice.”9 Secretary of State James Mattis called Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world” and averred “Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the [Middle East] region, you find Iran.”10
As for the Saudis, their Prince Mohammad bin Salman had a fruitful meeting with Trump at the White House, which some have described as a “resetting of US-Saudi relations.”11 As a further show of improving US-Saudi relations, Trump is set to make his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia.12
With these developments, increasing US support for Saudi Arabia and increasing US hostility towards Iran, the Saudis may feel now is the time to act against their Shiite rival. Throw in increased Saudi military spending, weapons procurement from the US, Israel salivating for and most likely willing to cooperate in any Saudi take down of Iran, and Sunni-Shiite enmity, the likelihood of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the future is very likely. The only uncertainty is when.
 https://www.memri.org/tv/deputy-crown-prince-al-saud-war-iran-saudi-arabia-no-direct-dialogue , https://www.memri.org/tv/deputy-crown-prince-al-saud-war-iran-saudi-arabia-no-direct-dialogue/transcript
 http://www.janes.com/article/66555/saudi-arabia-reveals-6-6-defence-spending-rise-for-2017 , http://news.antiwar.com/2017/02/17/saudi-military-spending-increasingly-focused-on-offensive-capabilities/ , http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-saudi-security-idUSKCN11D2JQ , http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-02-08/trump-set-approve-weapons-sales-saudi-arabia-bahrain-blocked-obama , http://www.janes.com/article/70160/saudi-lining-up-thaad-acquisition
 https://www.memri.org/tv/iran-defense-minister-dehghan-if-saudi-arabia-does-anything-stupid-no-place-intact , https://www.memri.org/tv/iran-defense-minister-dehghan-if-saudi-arabia-does-anything-stupid-no-place-intact/transcript , http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/05/07/520968/saudi-arabia-iran-warns-ignorance , https://glblgeopolitics.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/iran-threatens-saudi-arabia/
 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/mattis-iran-biggest-state-sponsor-terrorism-170204065048014.html , http://www.debka.com/newsupdatepopup/20400/Mattis-in-Riyadh-Wherever-there-s-trouble-in-Mideast-you-find-Iran , http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/04/19/Saudi-King-Salman-meets-US-Secretary-of-Defense-James-Mattis-in-Riyadh.html
 http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/03/14/Saudi-Deputy-Crown-Prince-arrives-to-US-for-meeting-with-Trump.html , http://saudisheikh.com/mohammed-bin-salman-trump-meeting-marks-resetting-of-us-saudi-relations-al-arabiya/