The Saudi Arabia/Iran Crisis Reminds Us -- In the Middle East, Things Can Always Get Worse

by David French

A day after it launched its latest decapitation spree — including executing a noted Shiite cleric — Saudi Arabia has severed diplomatic ties with Iran:

Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran on Sunday amid the furor that erupted over the execution by the Saudi authorities of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair told reporters in Riyadh that the Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave the country, citing concerns that Tehran’s Shiite government was undermining the security of the Sunni kingdom.

Saudi Arabian diplomats had already departed Iran after angry mobs trashed and burned the Saudi embassy in Tehran overnight Saturday, in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr earlier in the day.

For months, the Saudis have watched with alarm as the Iranians have engaged in the Mideast equivalent of an extended touchdown dance following the conclusion of the so-called nuclear “deal” with the U.S. The Saudis’ chief regional enemy is set to receive a massive economic infusion, access to international arms markets, and permission to further develop its ballistic missile capabilities. The Iranians have celebrated by reaffirming their support for Shiite terrorists, conducting missile tests in defiance of the U.N., and — most recently — firing a rocket within two kilometers of an American aircraft carrier. In the meantime, the emerging Iran/Iraq/Syria alliance received a considerable boost in the form of direct Russian intervention on behalf of the Assad regime.

While the U.S. has been largely impotent, the Saudis have responded by forming a multinational alliance to counter Iran (under the laughable pretense of “fighting terror”) and launching an intense air and ground campaign against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr is an act of pure defiance. Iran’s response — permitting a “mob” to burn the Saudi embassy — demonstrated its own lack of regard for the House of Saud.

Nothing is easy or simple in the Middle East, but we can be certain of two things: Power vacuums will always be filled, and things can always get worse. American passivity has left an enormous power vacuum in the region, and the Iranians and Saudis are rushing to fill the void. The Iranians are our sworn enemies, and the Saudis are among the worst of “friends.” It’s hard to see how the continued aggressive emergence of either regional power advances American national interests, and a direct clash could have dramatic consequences for the world economy. The Middle East has long been on fire with violence and instability. This weekend, the fire blazed hotter still.

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