11:57 GMT15 August 2020
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    Although Iran and Saudi Arabia have been locking horns for decades, analysts from both countries say their governments are not interested in a full-scale conflict.

    In a rare move, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly sent a letter to Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on Monday, urging him to put an end to the conflicts raging in the Middle East and offering himself as a potential mediator in any peace process.

    Iranian experts and officials have rushed to downplay Ahmadinejad's move, saying his gesture did not represent the official position of the country, which has been locking horns with Saudi Arabia for decades.

    Battle of Civilizations?

    The death of Prophet Mohammad in 632 started a feud, with Muslims unable to agree on who his successor should be, eventually leading Islam to split into two denominations: Sunna practiced by the Saudis and the majority of the Muslim world and Shia which predominates in Iran and a number of other states.

    But for Ahmed Al Ibrahim, a Saudi political analyst, it is far beyond religion, it is a clash of civilizations.

    "Iranians think they are a dynasty, whereas the Saudis are not more than a bunch of Bedouins. But the truth is that we have been the custodians of the two holy sites for centuries. We have been around for years. That's not the case with Iran, whose former Supreme leader [Ayatollah Khomeini born in Iraq - ed.] landed in Tehran on an Air France flight, putting an end to Iran's progress and taking them years back," he said referring to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that led to deteriorating relations between Tehran and Riyadh. 

    Throughout the years, the two nations have been vocal opponents of each other's policies and their war of words has also spilled over to various Middle Eastern conflicts, with Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting rival sides.

    "The current rulers of Iran don't have a legitimacy so to justify their presence they find an outside enemy, be it Saudi Arabia or Israel", Al Ibrahim says.

    Iranians feel equally strong about Riyadh and Mohammed Marandi, a political analyst from Tehran University, blames the Saudis for using the same tactics and says that in order "to stay afloat" they "distract their people's attention from their own internal problems and fuel conflicts elsewhere".

    Over the years, these mutual accusations have ripened into several standoffs. In 2016, Riyadh cut off its ties with Tehran after its embassy in the Iranian capital was stormed by angry mobs, who were protesting against the Saudi decision to execute a Shiite cleric.

    Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016
    Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016

    And in 2019, Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, allegedly opened fire in Islam's holiest site of Mecca by launching two missiles towards the shrine.  

    Although reports suggested that they were intercepted and no damage was reported, for Al Ibrahim the mere fact of an attack was unacceptable and "showed the real intentions of Tehran" that wants to expand its influence in the region.

    No War in Sight?

    Yet, despite differences in narratives and mutual accusations both experts believe that neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia is interested in a full-scale war, especially now when both countries are facing financial difficulties.

    The drop in oil prices shrank the Saudi economy. Iran, whose economic situation has been crippled by Western sanctions, was given another devastating blow as a result of the pandemic, with the authorities forced to throw many resources into the fight against the virus.

    But Marandi believes that even before the outbreak of COVID-19, Iran was superior to Saudi Arabia in its military might.

    "The Saudis are not strong, when they had great wealth they couldn't win the war in Yemen. Now they don't even have that sort of money. They would have no chance in any conflict with Iran".

    According to Global Fire Power, Iran boasts a wide array of ballistic missiles, considered the largest arsenal in the region.

    Iranian army troops march
    © AP Photo / Vahid Salemi
    Iranian army troops march

    Although its air force lacks wide capabilities, Iran's army, with its years of battle experience, has more than a million active personnel.

    In comparison, Saudi Arabia, has a relatively smaller army that consists of 230,000 soldiers.

    Saudi troops
    © AFP 2020 / STR
    Saudi troops

    That, however, is not a reason for panic, thinks Al Ibrahim, especially now, in an era when "battles don't require boots on the ground. They require technology of which we have plenty".

    With a military budget that exceeds $60 billion annually, and with regular arms supplies from various states, the Saudis have managed to accumulate an impressive arsenal of advanced weapons, including jets, missiles, rockets and "secret projects".

    But Al Ibrahim says his country would rather not use that arsenal as "it prefers to invest money in projects and progress, not in wars".

    "The Saudi government has invested trillions of dollars into the development of the country. We don't want a war, and, unlike the Iranians, who have nothing to lose, we do. Yet, we won't be the ones firing the first bullets," Al Ibrahim said.

    Marandi says that Iran has no plans for a first strike either.

    "Iran is not interested in a confrontation, and as long as the US and their allies don't do anything stupid to harm Iran, they can be sure that we will not attack them first".

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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