What is the Saudi Arabia vs Iran conflict?

Vivek Mishra
Vivek MishraNov 03, 2022 | 13:45

What is the Saudi Arabia vs Iran conflict?

While Iran is largely a Shia Muslim country, Saudi Arabia is a leading Sunni Muslim kingdom.

The decades-old conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is back in the news after Saudi Arabia shared intelligence with the US, suggesting Iran might be preparing for an imminent attack on the kingdom, reported The Wall Street Journal.

  • The feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a struggle for regional dominance and religious supremacy.

What is happening: One of the officials who confirmed the intelligence sharing, described it as a credible threat of an attack "soon or within 48 hours", reported AP.


The US National Security Council said in a statement:

"We are concerned about the threat picture, and we remain in constant contact through military and intelligence channels with the Saudis. We will not hesitate to act in the defence of our interests and partners in the region."

What Iran is saying: Iran has denied that it poses a threat to Saudi Arabia.

  • Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said reports had appeared in Western media of an Iranian threat against Saudi Arabia but they were "baseless accusations", reported Reuters.

Why the conflict: Also referred to as the Middle Eastern Cold War, the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict is a struggle to become the most powerful and authoritative nation in the Muslim world.

  • One of the major reasons for the feud is the religious differences between the two countries.
    • While Iran is largely a Shia Muslim country, Saudi Arabia is a leading Sunni Muslim kingdom.
  • Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, which always led to the monarchy seeing itself as the leader of the Muslim world. But this authority was challenged in 1979 when the Islamic revolution took place in Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leader of the Muslim world as it has the two holiest places in Islam: Mecca and Medina.
  • Iran, on the other hand, believes that political currents in the Muslim world should be seen as forces of change in the region, reported Al Jazeera.

Relations with US and Israel: While Saudi Arabia has good relations with the US and even Israel, Iran sees the two countries as its biggest enemies.

  • Iran feels that the Middle East region has long been exploited by the US and other Western powers and that Saudi Arabia has played a big role in it.

What is the problem now? Saudi Arabia severed official diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in response to Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric, reported CNN.

  • Saudi Arabia also blamed Iran in 2019 for being behind a major attack that halved the kingdom's oil production and caused energy prices to soar, reported AP.

  • The Saudis have been fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and they have been criticised throughout the world for airstrikes in Yemen that have killed scores of civilians.
  • According to a report in the AP, Saudi and Iranian officials met quietly in recent months to discuss security issues and the war in Yemen, but the truce between them expired last month, and it led to newly increased tensions between the countries.

Bottom line: Even though the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is for dominance in the region, it affects the entire world because the Middle East is the biggest oil supplier on the planet. A full-fledged fight between two of the biggest powers in the Islamic world will completely destabilize the world order especially when we are already witnessing the Russia-Ukraine war.

Last updated: November 03, 2022 | 13:47
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