Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was one of the 47 people executed in Saudi Arabia on New Year’s Day. His death prompted mobs in Shia dominated Iran to burn down the Saudi Arabian embassy, and to damage a consulate on the weekend.
Now Saudi Arabia and its allies have cut diplomatic ties with Iran.
“The Saudis hope to demonstrate that they are on the offensive in terms of the Sunni-Shiite divide, and they have just upped the ante on that significantly,” Theodore Karasik of Gulf State Analytics, a consulting group, told The Washington Post.
A delicate situation has reached dangerous levels, one that could result in open conflict between the two regional foes, or at the very least, further destabilize the Middle East region.
The two Gulf nations have been jostling for power through several proxy wars over the past five to six years in places like Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.
It is both a geopolitical struggle between the two nations, as well as a sectarian clash between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims.
The increasing sectarianism plays into the hands of militant groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. The escalation between the two sects furthermore kills any hope of peace talks resolving the Syrian civil war, or the finding of a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Yemen.
The situation is additionally dangerous because there is no third party to help broker a peace between the two nations. Neither side trusts the West. Major Middle East nations are pretty much forming two camps. Turkey and Qatar are with Saudi Arabia, while Iraq and Syria are siding with Iran.
“These countries (Saudi Arabia and Iran) don’t trust one another, and they see every event as an opportunity to raise tensions,” said Abbas Kadhim, a senior foreign policy fellow at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
“Both countries will try their best to try to fortify their proxies and their activities, which is going to create more trouble,” Kadhim told The New York Times.
See this FRANCE 24 English report about the situation: