Earlier today, as Iranian police struggled to disperse protesters gathered outside the Saudi consulate in Mashhad, we said the following about the rapidly deteriorating situation:
If crude needed an excuse to rally, then surely this is it as it now appears that in addition to the fact that Riyadh and Tehran are squaring off in Syria (where Iran is present and the Saudis fight by proxy) and Yemen (where the Saudis are present and the Iranians fight by proxy), the two countries are on the verge of a historic diplomatic crisis which has the potential to stoke sectarian violence across the Muslim world.
Well sure enough, just hours later, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Ahmad Al-Jubeir announced that Riyadh has cut diplomatic ties with Tehran. The Saudis have demanded the Iran mission leave the country within 48 hours.
Jubeir said the attack in Tehran was in line with what he said were earlier Iranian assaults on foreign embassies there and with Iranian policies of destabilizing the region by creating "terrorist cells" in Saudi Arabia.
"The kingdom, in light of these realities, announces the cutting of diplomatic relations with Iran and requests the departure of delegates of diplomatic missions of the embassy and consulate and offices related to it within 48 hours. The ambassador has been summoned to notify them," he said.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir
Riyadh also claims Iran did not attempt to stop protesters from storming the consulate.
Here's are the main bullet points:
- SAUDI TO FIGHT TERRORISM IN ALL OF ITS FORMS: AL-JUBEIR
- IRAN HAS SPREAD CHAOS, SECTARIANISM IN REGION, MINISTER SAYS
- AL-JUBEIR COMMENTS BROADCAST ON AL-EKHBARIYA SAUDI STATE TV
- ALL OPTIONS ON TABLE TO PROTECT SAUDIS, FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS
- IRAQ PROMISED TO PROTECT SAUDI DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS: AL-JUBEIR
SAUDI ARABIA DETERMINED NOT TO ALLOW IRAN TO UNDERMINE SAUDI SECURITY-FOREIGN MINISTER
Promptly thereafter, Washington responded to Saudi Arabia's decision by calling for leaders throughout the region to take "affirmative steps" to reduce tensions, Reuters reports.
"We're aware of reports that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has ordered the closure of Iranian diplomatic missions in the Kingdom," an Obama administration official said.
"We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions."
However, at this point the Saudis are beyond caring what Obama thinks, and made that quite clear. As reported previously, here’s the latest out of Riyadh, via Reuters:
- SAUDI ARABIA DOES NOT CARE IF IT HAS ANGERED THE WHITE HOUSE, SOURCE FAMILIAR WITH SAUDI GOVERNMENT'S THINKING SAYS: RTRS
- SAUDI ARABIA'S POSITION TOWARD IRAN IS 'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,' SOURCE FAMILIAR WITH SAUDI GOVERNMENT'S THINKING SAYS: RTRS
For those who might have missed it, the situation began to unravel on Saturday after Riyadh said it had executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 other prisoners. Protesters poured into the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan and before the night was done, the Saudi embassy in Tehran was in flames.
All of this comes as Iran is projecting its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, posing a threat to Saudi regional hegemony just as international sanctions on Tehran are set to be lifted.
The comments from Al-Jubeir seem to indicate that Riyadh is set to step up efforts to rein in the so-called "Shiite crescent", possibly by getting more involved in Syria, doubling down on the kingdom's commitment to the fight in Yemen, and, quite possibly, taking a more assertive role in Iraq by using the fight against ISIS as a smokescreen for some manner of intervention.
It's also worth noting how absurd it is for the Saudis to suggest that the Iranians are the ones "spreading chaos and sectarianism" in the region. After all, it wasn't Tehran that just executed a prominent member of another sect and it's not Iran that preaches a dangerous, ultra puritanical interpretation of Islam similar to that which Sunni extremists use to justify the execution of apostates. Further, it wasn't Iran that destabilized Syria by fanning the flames of sectarian discord.
In any event, this an exceptionally serious situation that could well mushroom into a direct conflict between the two countries which are already on opposite sides of multiple regional proxy wars.