Saudi Iranian Strategic Competition: Lust of power in the folds of religion

The Saudi-Iranian rivalry is for power first and ideology next.


Shia Sunni conflict began some fourteen centuries ago. Then the question was of Muhammad’s (PBUH) heir only, but today it has become one of the worst rivalries of the world. Even many term it as ‘Cold War in the Arab World’. The ties between both the states were normal until both the states were pro-West after the Second World War. But terms got twisted in 1979 when Iran cut off relations with the West. It can be verified here that the tussle is for power first and ideology next. Iran supports Shia communities in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, and Lebanon, etc. Whereas Saudi Arabia counters it with supporting the expansion of the Wahhabi version of Sunni sect of Islam. The tensions raised when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s (1980–88). The invasion of Baghdad in 2003 by the US-led coalition further smoothed the grounds for Iran to create its space in the internal affairs of Iraq. The conflicts between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran intensified after the so-called Arab Awakening in 2011. Since then both the states are fighting to dominate the region of the Middle East, the chessboard of the 21st century.

Keywords: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Middle East, US, power, ideology.

Claim: Saudi-Iranian rivalry is for power first and ideology next.

The rough understanding of hybrid warfare can be witnessed in the enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both the countries are peaceful and their citizens are living comparatively better lives than many in the region. For instance, Syria is a proxy state for both countries. The Syrian president Bashar Al Assad is from the Alawite sect of Islam, the religion of merely 12 percent Syrians. Iranian clerics declared Alawites Shias and Assad had nothing to do with that as he is a secular himself. Whereas Saudi Arabia is against Shia inclination of Bashar Al Assad. In this tussle millions of Syrians have become refugees, a mounting number of them are internally displaced and many Syrians will never be able to see the Syria they knew. Iran and Saudi Arabia are not the only players in Syria but they are the main players to spoil the country, after Bashar Al Assad.

Middle East is the most torn region today and Yemen is another example in the strategic competition between the two states. Houthi rebels are supported by Iran against Saudi Arabia and in revenge, Saudi Arabia not only targets Yemeni Shias, but also Saudi Shias. For instance, in January 2016, Saudi Arabia executed a famous Shia cleric Nimr al Nimri. The execution of Nimri raised anger in Iran. Thoroughly it looks like an ideological war but it is a game of power first and ideological conflict next. Because if Houthi rebels continue hosting the Iranians, it can damage Saudi designs of dominating the region and this is what Iranians want, to do.

The third example in this regard is of Iraq. Where after the execution of Saddam, Iran, and Saudi Arab both started to have a hand. Iran got the lead and the Shia community runs most of Iraq today. As it is noticeable that the commander of Iranian Al-Quds force, Major General Qassem Soleimani was allegedly involved in running the show in Baghdad against the allies of the United States. Soon after his assassination, the air echoed with the news that he was to target a few key players in Baghdad, who were anti-Iran. Even the rallies in Iraq after Soleimani’s death were divided into two groups; one in the favor of his assassination and one against the same.

It is also right to argue that Iran has five capitals today, Tehran, Damascus, Baghdad, Sana, and Beirut. The first four are discussed, let’s move towards the last one. Beirut is the capital of Lebanon and Hezbollah operates for Iran there. Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist political party and militant group based in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing is the Jihad Council, and its political wing is the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc party in the Lebanese parliament. This shows the real power of Iran against Saudi Arabia. Even if Israel, US, and Saudi Arabia choreograph an allied offense against Tehran, they will have to face the guns from many other parts of the region. This point also signifies that the Saudi Iranian rivalry is more for power and less for ideology, as Israel and US are Jewish and Christian countries respectively, whereas Saudi Arabia is a leading Islamic state including her rival Iran. If the tussle is ideological first, then Iran and Saudi Arabia needed to be in the same bloc, but they are not.

Last and conclusive example to prove the claim of the article is related to Hamas, Taliban, and Daesh. Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist militant organization. It has a social service wing, Dawah, and a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. It has been the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip since its takeover of that area in 2007. But despite being a Sunni organization it has cordial terms with Iran. Not only have that but also Hamas and Iran taken Riyadh as a friend of infidel states i.e. Israel and US. Taliban is another Sunni organization located in Afghanistan. During the 1990s Iran was against the Taliban and vice versa but over time, the tables turned and anti-US and anti-Saudi Arab sentiments brought Iran and the Taliban on the same page. Today, Iran supports the Taliban in Afghanistan. If ideology was the priority, then it could have never happened, but it’s happening. Lastly, the so-called Islamic State (IS) is a radical Sunni Extremist organization which accepts no nation to be Islamic and according to Shariah law at all, but Saudi Arabia is alleged to support this extremist group including many other terrorist organizations for balancing power in the region of Middle East for resisting Iran.

Middle East Writer

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