Pros: Yes, there is Cold War underway between Saudi Arabia and Iran because of the following reasons:
- Saudi Arabia and Iran are both fighting over control and influence within Middle East, leading to a number of activities like spying on each other, informational rhetoric and assembling of proxy forces.
- Bad blood between the countries that come from their traditional religious and ethnic composition creates tension. Saudi Arabia has the native Arabic population who are majorly Sunni Muslims, while Shiite Muslims who are originally Persians rule Iran.
- Attack and burning of the Saudi consulate and Embassy in Tehran as a retaliation of the execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, led to the breaking up of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
- Each of the countries has formed regional allies as per the ideological standpoint, in an attempt to stamp authority.
- Ideological excess by both leaderships tend to take different approaches. Iran thrives on religious revolutions and tends to make decisions on the pretext while Saudi Arabia seems to present somehow democratic approach.
Cons: No, there is no Cold War underway between Saudi Arabia and Iran because of the following reasons:
- The current president Rouhani condemned the attack of Saudi’s consulate and embassy in Tehran, going ahead to arrest protesters and government officials.
- Both countries are working towards de-escalation of any possible conflicts between them. Iran’s president holds moderate views as opposed to the immediate president. Saudi Arabia practices restraint on the standoff.
- Tehran is working towards reducing ideological policies that isolate them within the region and at the global arena.
- Both of these countries are Islamic and within a common region. It is unlikely that Iran can attach a neighbor with a nuclear weapon.
- Standoff between the two countries only comes from their relationship with the west.
Elaboration and Discussion
The standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran poses great danger to the peace within Middle East. The escalation of the hostilities is evident in many areas of operations, each state working hard to prove to each other of supremacy over the region. Indeed, this is Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran. One fact that proves the presence of Cold War comes from the fight between the two states in an attempt to control the region. According to scholars within Middle East, military power and presence is a strong indication of dominance. Therefore, both countries have continued to engage a number of spying tactics against each other. Strong talk and rhetoric has also been a strategy that each state uses to portray dominance against the other. In some cases, propaganda that includes misinformation also comes to play.[i]
Bad blood between the two states has always created tension, escalated by the quest for dominance. Saudi Arabia is a kingdom ruled by the Sunni Muslims who are traditionally Arabs, while Iranians are Persians who are Shiite Muslims. Historically, Sunni and Shiite Muslims have been revivals for many decades, beginning from the fight to succeed Prophet Muhammad. For this reason, it is unlikely that any of the states will work towards success of one of them. Rulers accuse each other of lack of legitimacy within their territories.
Escalation of the hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia was heightened by the conviction and execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. As much as this prisoner was a Saudi, Iranians saw the act as an aggression and attack to the Shiite, given that Nimr al-Nimr was critical to the reigning Saudi monarchy. Saudi Arabia executed almost 50 prisoners who had been convicted of terrorism; however, Nimr al-Nimr’s execution led to mass protests in Iran and allied states. In retaliation, protestors invaded Saudi consulate and embassy in Tehran, leading to the breakage of all diplomatic ties with each other. These incidences almost led to the reality of war within region. There were numerous verbal threats from Iran and other allies thrown towards Saudi Arabia and interests in the region.[ii]
Each of the countries has formed regional allies as per the ideological standpoint, in an attempt to stamp authority. Traditional, the ideological differences and the need to have more voice has led to a spirited campaign by Saudi Arabia and Iran to win allies within the region. Iran thrives of revolution tactics and is very anti-west. Therefore, the states works with likeminded neighbors in order to support each other in case any need. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has states that share in their ideologies. During the Arab Spring, a number of Arab countries faced serious protests in agitation for changes within their domestic territories. Similar protests were witnessed in Bahrain, growing by the day. The government lacked the capacity to deal with the protests, calling for help from Gulf Cooperation Council, a formation of Shiite nations in the region. Saudi responded by sending more than 1,000 troops into Bahrain to help contain the situation. On the other hand, Iran seemed to enjoy and support the protests in Bahrain, going ahead to broadcast some of the speeches by Ayatollah, Iran’s supreme leader made during his visit in Bahrain.
For long, Iran has used revolution tactics in order to rule the people. The leadership thrives on the total hatred for anything associated with the West. In most cases, the public display anger on the streets by burning flags while chanting phrases like, ‘death to America’. On the other hand, Cold War is in place because of Saudi’s support to the West, especially the United States. Therefore, the US plays a major role, militarily, in the region by deploying troops and anti-missiles around the region, just in case of a threat from places like Iran.[iii] The effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons makes them appear to be fighting towards being the super power in the region, instead of the US.[iv] Saudi Arabia benefits from the relationship with the US and cannot allow Iran to take control of the region. The differences come from the national interests of each of the countries. The above are the reasons for the Cold War that exists between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On the other hand, it may not be true that the sand off between Saudi Arabia and Iran amount to a Cold War. Some of the conflicts by the two states may only amount to the process of adjustments to the present political and ideological changes in the world. As noted above Iran was founded on a revolution by the supreme leader. Therefore, the government has always made decision using such political ideologies, mostly at the expense of the common people. For example, under the former president, Iran faced isolation because of the nuclear program and military hardware, at the expense of service delivery to the people.[v] The current president expresses commitment towards reducing some of the ideologies in order to spend more money on essential public services. One of the reasons for doing is to create an atmosphere where Iranians can work, do business and grow.
When violent protestors burnt Saudi embassy in Tehran, the Iranian president took it upon himself to bring into book the perpetrators. An investigation helped come up with culprits, who were arrested and prosecuted. Some of the culprits included top government officials and the police who were dismissed with immediate effect. This is an indication of the departure from extreme ideologies by the current leader. Otherwise, the previous ideological stand could have led to extreme revolutionary standpoint by the leadership. The decision by president Rouhani does not prove the Cold War narrative by analysts. Iran has always taken extreme anti-west ideological position in most issues, especially on security and development of nuclear development.[vi] On the hand, Saudi Arabia has always come up as a supporter of the west, especially the US. For this reason, the US has various interests within Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. The relationship has led to unilateral cooperation between Saudi Arabia and other western states. However, Iran’s anti-west propaganda has always led to various sanctions, creating domestic problems. As it stands, Iran balances between holding the traditional revolutionary tactics and adopting changes in order to reduce sanctions.
Analysis shows that the state has worked to improve its relationship with other neighbors, in a bid to allow for trade. Rumors of Cold War within the region may not be the reality at a time when Iran’s president works hard to improve the lives of the people. Analysts show that the Iran’s plan to develop the nuclear technology is the reason for the hostilities between the Iran and Saudi Arabia.[vii] It is important to note that nuclear development requires huge financial commitment, something that Iran may not commit towards, at the expense of improving the lives of the citizens. The effort by the current president indicates an effort towards improving lives of the Iranians, rather than concentrating on the revolutionary tactics to prove their ability in the region. Therefore, Cold War may not be true situation of what is happening between Saudi Arabia and Iran.[viii]
My Position: There is a Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran
The proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is an indication of a tussle for influence within the Middle East. The conflict for influence is traceable from the Iranian revolution times when it was declared an Islamic Republic in late 1979. The fact remains that Iranian authorities have never had positive relationship with the Saudis. The first problem starts from suspicions that arise from the type of leadership between the two states. The Islamic divide plays a role in making these countries wary of each other. As noted above, the Saudis are aligned to the Sunni Islamic while Iranians are Shiite Muslims. This divide has led to the realignment within Middle East, with states with Shiite faithful forming a camp with the Iran while Sunni have an alliance with the Saudis. Therefore, the desire to rule the region is a real force towards the standoff between the two nations.
Nuclear power production is a central theory that defines the Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran is on record insisting on developing nuclear technology in order to produce power. However, the neighbors like Saudi Arabia are opposed to such plans because Iran could easily use such technology to make nuclear head. Iran has always supported extreme measures against her perceived enemies, especially Israel and the US. States that are pro-west like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are literally wary of Iran’s capability to develop nuclear power. Iran may use such weapons against pro-west states within the region.
Presently, the US plays a major role in the Middle East, ensuring security of the region by the deployment of the marines at different locations. US military hardware installations ensure that Saudi Arabia and other allies are safe from Iranian threat. Iran and allies are equally not happy with the continued presence in the Middle East, working out to stamp their authority. The Cold War is supported by other nations like Russia that support Iran. In the recent past, Russia has stepped up its development of military hardware in a sign of might. Therefore, the Cold War may be an extension of the show of might between the US and Russia and other allies.
The differences between these states have been open when it comes to dealing with some of the regional conflict, especially in Syria and Iraq. Most of the time, the approaches towards dealing with such conflicts have made it clear of the desire for supremacy between them. The rhetoric has been high, with each side threatening one another of dire consequences for provocations.[ix] The suspicion is also brought about by the assumption that Iran may be supporting the minority Shiite Muslims within Saudi Arabia to oppose the reigning royal rulers.[x] On the same note, Iran is on record for openly working with a number of armed terrorists like Taliban and Hamas within the region.[xi]Cold War does exist between the two countries and escalation of such hostilities may lead to civil wars within the region. The main issue comes from the desire by both states to show their authority in the Middle East. Accusations and counteraccusations is reason to get worried of what may come next.
All indications point to the existence of the Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both states may have their own reasons for their standpoints; however, it is important to note that such a situation may not work towards development of the two nations. Each of the two countries is working towards having a leading role into the affairs of the Middle East. With the withdrawal of the US troops from active presence in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia seeks to be the main voice towards affairs while Iran also makes strategies to be the superpower. Both states have plans to increase their military presence in their region with the support of their allies like US and Russia.[xii]
The Cold War has led to Iran’s renewal of nuclear activities, though they still insist such programs are not meant for nuclear weapons. Iran’s past records of supporting terrorists is an indication of the ability to misuse biological weapons. Whereas each state has the right for self-defense, there is need to prioritize country’s resources. The past Iranian regime thrived on threats and chest thumping towards the west, allocating more resources towards developing nuclear research activities. Sanctions have worked against Iran, preventing the country from accessing foreign markets, isolating Iranians from necessary developments.[xiii]The effort by the current administration to come up with measures to develop trade and quality of life has led into nuclear deals in the past meant to reduce the sanctions against the country. Iran should take this approach than to concentrate on the supremacy battles with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is equally threatened by the Cold War with Iran. At present, the Kingdom has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, a resource that would be affected by an instance of war. It is unfortunate that the two countries cut diplomatic ties with each after Iranian protesters invaded and burnt Saudi consulate and embassy in Tehran. Nevertheless, it is important to appreciate the effort by the Iranian president by condemning such acts, a departure from the former regime that thrived on public propaganda and street protests. The president used the rule of law in dealing with lawlessness againstSaudi interests within Iran. As things stand, the proxy war between the two countries threatens stability and economic development of the region. To make the matters worse, some of such extreme standpoints may only serve other foreign interests like the US and Russia, who all have interests in the region. Both countries should work toward creating economic ties by allowing trade between in order to improve business and quality of life instead of Cold War. However, after the Obama Administration, Trump Administration may out rightly condemn Iran’s nuclear programs, to the advantage of Saudi Arabia.[xiv]In anticipation for this, Iran went ahead to sign a number of deals with western companies on oil exportation.[xv]
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[i]Byman, Daniel. “After the hope of the Arab Spring, the chill of an Arab Winter.” The Washington Post, last updated 1 December 2011.
[ii]Koelbl, Susanne, Samiha Shafy and Bernhard Zand. Saudi Arabia and Iran:
The Cold War of Islam. Spiegel Online, last updated May 09, 2016.
[iii]Alvandi, Roham. “Nixon, Kissinger, and the Shah: The Origins of Iranian Primacy in the Persian Gulf.” Diplomatic History (2012) 36 (2): 337–372.
[iv]Fisher, Max. “The cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that’s tearing apart the Middle East, explained.” Vox, Jan 4, 2016.
[v]Chulov, Martin. Syria peace talks pin hopes for end to war on Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Guardian, last updated 30 October 2015.
[vi]Spindle, Bill and Coker, Margaret. The New Cold War. The Wall Street Journal, Updated April 16, 2011.
[vii]Koelbl, Susanne, Samiha Shafy and Bernhard Zand. Saudi Arabia and Iran:
The Cold War of Islam. Spiegel Online, updated May 09, 2016.
[viii]Fisher, Max. “The cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that’s tearing apart the Middle East, explained.” Vox, last updated Jan 4, 2016.
[ix]Spindle, Bill and Coker, Margaret. The New Cold War. The Wall Street Journal, Updated April 16, 2011.
[x]Marschall, Christin. Iran’s Arabian Gulf Policy. Routledge Curzon, 2003.
[xi]Maloney, Suzanne. Hot and cold: Understanding Iran’s response to the spat with Saudi Arabia. Brookings, last updated January 13, 2016.
[xii]Alvandi, Roham. “Nixon, Kissinger, and the Shah: The Origins of Iranian Primacy in the Persian Gulf.” Diplomatic History (2012) 36 (2): 337–372
[xiii]Black, Ian. “Iran blames Saudi leaders for hajj disaster as investigation begins.” The Guardian, 2015.
[xiv]O’Connor, Tom. “Saudi Arabia vs. Iran: How Will Donald Trump Influence The Middle East Cold War?” International Business Times, 24 November 2016.
[xv]O’Connor, Tom. “Saudi Arabia vs. Iran: How Will Donald Trump Influence The Middle East Cold War?” International Business Times, 24 November 2016.