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Saudi Arabia Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Iran After Tehran Compares Saudis to ISIS

It's going to be a heck of a year

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The continuing controversy (and backlash) over the Saudi execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr has now reached a boiling point: Saudi Arabia has announced that it will cut all diplomatic ties with Iran. Iranian diplomats now have 48 hours to leave Saudi Arabia. (Presumably, they will be accused of sorcery and executed if they fail to comply.)

The announcement comes after demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. But this probably didn't go over too well with the Saudis, either:

<figcaption>Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on Sunday</figcaption>
Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on Sunday

The Iranian supreme leader’s website has posted a controversial image equating the executions in Saudi Arabia with the practices of the so-called Islamic State. 


The image comes as the Iranian supreme leader renewed his attack on Saudi Arabia over its execution of leading Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr-al Nimr. He said that politicians in the kingdom would face the divine retribution for his death.

Or this:

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard also shared the supreme leader’s sentiments. The Guard, comparing the kingdom’s execution of Sheikh Nimr to attacks carried out by Isis, said in a statement published on Sunday that Saudi Arabia’s “medieval act of savagery” in putting the prominent cleric to death will lead to “downfall” of the monarchy.

How "serious" is this? It's hard to say. Fact is, the Saudis and Iranians have never really hid their mutual disdain for one another. Iranian leaders have even said publicly that they believe ISIS is funded by "Saudi petrodollars." After its embassy was attacked on Sunday, Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of “blind sectarianism” and said that “by its defense of terrorist acts” Iran is a “partner in their crimes in the entire region”.

The reason for this hostility is pretty straightforward: Iran and Saudi Arabia have been on opposite sides of every major regional conflict since the beginning of time. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen are no exception.

To return to our question: Cutting diplomatic ties has a very "war is on the horizon" feel to it, but Saudi Arabia and Iran are basically already fighting proxy wars against each other in Syria and Yemen. "Proxy" is the key word here, because in a conventional war, Iran would stomp the living daylight out of Saudi Arabia. Despite lots of shiny and expensive toys from America, the Saudi military is borderline incompetent. The Saudis are already using Colombian mercenaries in their disastrous invasion of Yemen. The Iranians, on the other hand, have a highly motivated, well-trained army that is stocked with hardened veterans going back to the Iran-Iraq War. It would be a turkey shoot. So don't expect a war.

But this is definitely bad news for anyone who was hoping for diplomatic resolutions to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Cutting diplomatic ties probably won't start a new conflict, but it will almost certainly exacerbate existing ones. 

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