Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region – a kind of revolutionary theocracy – that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iran. It opened the way for a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and Iranian influence in the country has been rising ever since.

In Syria, Iranian (and Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has enabled his forces to largely rout rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.

Iraq’s Shia-dominated government is also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom it has depended for help in the struggle against so-called Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability has been demonstrated by these latest attacks on its oil installations. If a war breaks out, it will be more perhaps by accident rather than design. But the Saudis’ own activism, encouraged in part by a lingering uncertainty as to the Trump administration’s own goals in the region, inevitably adds another element of tension.

Article URL : https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42008809

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