Tensions Escalate in Saudi-Iran Crisis

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the execution of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain, January 3, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

In a further indication that tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to rise, Kuwait has recalled its ambassador to Tehran, citing the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran by protesters angry about the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Kuwait described the attacks as a “flagrant breach of international norms”.  The government did not immediately announce the expulsion of Iran’s ambassador in the country or state any other measures that it would take.

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that it was cutting diplomatic relations with Iran and gave Tehran 48 hours for its diplomatic officials to leave the Kingdom.  Shortly after, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates also either cut or downgraded ties with Tehran.

The rapidly deteriorating relations between the major Sunni-power of the region, Saudi Arabia, and the Shia-power Iran came after Riyadh executed 47 prisoners, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry released a statement after the executions saying the 47 had been convicted of “terrorist crimes against innocent people, properties, and security forces” or of “spreading disorder and exposing national security and safety to dangerous threats.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani continued to hit Riyadh over the killing of al-Nimr saying on Tuesday that it can’t “hide its crime of beheading a religious leader by severing political relations with Iran”.

Al-Nimr was seen as a central figure in the Arab Spring-inspired protests by the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province.  He was also a vocal critic of the ruling monarchy in neighboring Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority but is ruled but the Sunni-majority Al Khalifa family.

Supporters of al-Nimr say that he only advocated peaceful protests against Saudi Arabia and the ruling Al-Saud family and avoided all violent opposition to the government.

Protests over al Nimr’s death continued on Tuesday with protesters marching south of Bahrain’s capital, Manama.  An Associated Press journalist reported that police fired tear gas and bird shot as protesters threw gasoline bombs.  This follows days of protests and outrage across the region from Lebanon to Pakistan.

With tensions at an all time low, concern has mounted that reaching a diplomatic solution to the five-year civil war in Syria could be made harder, despite plans for the parties to convene later this month in Geneva.  Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposite sides in the conflict, with Riyadh actively supporting the rebels and Tehran backing the government of Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was quoted as saying that “the recent tensions that impacted the region negatively will not affect … the operations that the United Nations carries out alongside the international community to achieve a political solution in Geneva soon.”

Riyadh and Tehran also back opposite sides in Yemen, where a civil war has killed nearly 2,800 civilian since Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes in March 2015 to push back the Iranian-backed Houthis who ousted the internationally recognized, Saudi-backed government.

Garret Pustay
World News-Politics Contributor

World News-Politics Contributor at The Atlas Times.

Avid follower of international news, with a particular interest on the Middle East. A frequent commuter between New York and the Middle East.

Twitter: @garretpustay

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