Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “We risk creating a Shiite Daech”

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “We risk creating a Shiite Daech”

The Saudi embassy burned Tehran, diplomatic agents repatriated Saudis … The tension rose a notch between two major powers in the Middle East, namely Iran (Shiite majority) and Saudi Arabia (to Sunni majority) after decapitation Riyadh by Sheikh Nimr Baqir Shiite al-Nimr, who was fighting against the treatment of the Shiite minority in Saudi kingdom. How to explain the recent events? What impact can they have on the region? Interview with Didier Leroy, a researcher at the Royal Military Academy and assistant researcher at the ULB specialist of the Arab world.

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How do you analyze this rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia early this year?

The clashes early this year were triggered by the death of the Shiite cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr but he was arrested in 2011. These two powers are engaged in a standoff for many years. They are even more at loggerheads since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the disintegration of Syria since both countries were the two major players in the region. We can also talk of Turkey but this tends to align lately about Saudi Arabia.

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“Imagine a direct conflict, this falls a bit of a Hollywood scenario”

What was the historic turning point in the disintegration of relations between these two countries?

There have been various turns. For decades, the main ideology of pan-Arabism region was aimed at unifying all Arab peoples without distinction. The defeat in 1967 of Egypt, Jordan and Syria against Israel during the Six Day War spelled the end of pan-Arabism. There was a pendulum effect to another ideology of Islamism. These two ideologies are the only ones capable of uniting the masses. One can also mentionthe Iranian revolution of 1979 which proposed a new model for the countries in the region, but that was a turning point in intra-Muslim sectarian retreat and encouraged a significant rise of the religious dimension in the region. Also during the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, we saw clashes on religious bases and particularly between Shiite and Sunni factions. The Iran – Iraq war between 1980 and 1988 has accentuated this intra-Islamic antagonism. Finally, in recent years with the Arab Spring, the Gulf states are worried about their future. This led them to stand together against Iran and its republican system.

Are there was a risk of direct confrontation between the two countries?

They compete through interposed actors. This is the case in Syria, for example, where the Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni jihadist movements such as Daech, which has links with Saudi Arabia, clash.Next, imagine a direct conflict, this falls a bit of a Hollywood script. Iran is a demographic juggernaut, with a size of army, formidable but the country is hit by economic sanctions. Therefore fear the scenario of a war that is costly. The Gulf States are less populated but rich, very well equipped – it is the major arms importers in the world – and what’s more overprotected by the Americans present in the Persian Gulf.These two major actors play the ultra-religious card in terms of image but are rational and pragmatic actors who practice Realpolitik.

“The Sunni-Shiite confrontation is only one aspect”

Especially as the Iranian policy is contradictory to the extent that the country supports both the Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah …

This is not a sectarian colloration. Sunni-Shiite confrontation The is only one aspect. These antagonisms are also political and economic. By supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran is playing both ways to be sure to win on both sides.

What consequences can have the exacerbation of these tensions?

This will encourage clashes either in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Above all, this climate will benefit Daech.First, it feeds hate speech against Shiites. We must not forget that the hatred of Daech focused first on Iraqi Shiites. This hatred is nourished by the politics of Nouri Al-Maliki, former pro-Shiite Iraqi Minister to the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni. On the other side, there is a fear that the Iraqi Shiite population, already scalded, is increasingly inclined to fall into vis--vis the Sunni hatred. There is a risk of a Shiite Daech. Attention, this is an image, but do not forget that the al-Sistani, the highest Shiite religious authority in Iraq, has called the creation of Shiite militias to protect themselves from Daech.

Similarly, the opposition against the Islamic state is fragmenting. This was already the case with the history of Turkey and Russia, it’s the same with Saudi Arabia and Iran. They were not acting together but made efforts in parallel. This further complicates the fight against EI.

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