00:16 GMT +327 February 2017
    Flames rise from Saudi Arabia's embassy during a demonstration in Tehran January 2, 2016

    Saudi-Iranian Conflict Threatens to Explode Into Region-Wide Sectarian War

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    Mass Execution in Saudi Arabia Whips Up Tensions (108)

    The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shia cleric is escalating, threatening to turn the region's ongoing conflicts into wars of religion, warns Russian Middle East expert Vladimir Ahmedov.

    On Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that "divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians" for "the unjustly spilled blood" of prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, executed by the Saudis on Saturday.

    Considered a terrorist by Saudi authorities for his criticism of the government, calls for free elections and demands that authorities respect Saudi Shias' rights, al-Nimr's execution sparked outrage and an escalation of diplomatic tensions across the Middle East, but only a cautious criticism from Riyadh's allies in Washington and Brussels. 

    The cleric was killed along with 46 others in the country's largest mass execution in decades, sparking anger and violent protests in Shia areas of Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Pakistan, and Iran, where protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in the Iranian capital and attempted to set the building on fire.

    Trying to prevent the explosive situation from escalating out of control, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed to bring to justice those responsible for Saturday's attack. "The Iranian people should not allow [al-Nimr's death] to become an excuse for rogue individuals and groups to commit illegal acts and damage Iran's image," Rouhani said.

    Speaking to his EU counterpart on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Iranian authorities had taken steps "to defuse the tensions and protect the Saudi diplomats." 

    Nevertheless, Saturday's execution has only resulted in the further deterioration of relations which were already less than cordial. In several of the region's ongoing conflicts, Tehran and Riyadh are on opposite sides of the barricades. 

    In Syria, Iran has offered the secular government of Bashar al-Assad, embattled by over five years of war, political, economic and military assistance against a coalition of Saudi, Turkish and Qatari-funded jihadist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the al-Nusra Front and Daesh (ISIL/ISIS).

    Furthermore, in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has formed a military coalition to try to crush the Shia tribesmen known as the Houthis, who overthrew the government of Saudi-backed president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi last year. Accusing the coreligionists of being a proxy for Iran (claims which both the Houthis and Tehran have denied), Riyadh launched a military campaign, including a naval blockade, prompting criticism that the intervention has caused a 'humanitarian catastrophe'.

    At the same time that it has struggled with real and imaginary Iranian threats abroad, the Saudi dynasty has also grown fearful of Shiites living in Saudi Arabia itself.

    Commenting on the escalating conflict for Russia's Gazeta.ru, Vladimir Ahmedov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Asian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, called the emerging situation "somewhat frightening." According to the academic, the conflict in the Middle East threatens to gain a new, religious dimension, openly becoming a war between Sunnis and Shiites.

    "Living in the 21st century, we have been thrown back into the Middle Ages, when the main factor of wars was religion," rather than geopolitical considerations and the capture of territory. "This," Ahmedov warned, "reduces the possibility of coming to an agreement in the most acute conflicts in the region."

    "In Yemen, Saudi Arabia has announced that it has decided to resume hostilities. It will be just as difficult to come to an agreement on Syria, where that Saudis will begin coordinating with Turkey, in my view."

    As far as Russia is concerned, the analyst warned that the cleric's killing portends positive negative consequences, with the regional sectarian conflict threatening to to Russia's borders, "to the neighboring states of Russia's underbelly in Central Asia." Ultimately, the analyst suggests, "I have no optimistic forecasts on this situation being resolved in the near future. Still, we can only place our hopes in the true authorities of the Muslim world."

    Mass Execution in Saudi Arabia Whips Up Tensions (108)
    expert analysis, religious violence, regional conflict, conflict, Shia, Sunni, Nimr al-Nimr, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia
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    • Baybars
      Bring on the "divine vengeance"!
    • avatar
      Iran and Putin are in shock....Turkey shoots down his plane and he does nothing...Saudi plants a bomb on Metrojet and he does nothing...Putin and Iran are getting crushed everywhere because they fear KSA and NATO war machine
    • avatar
      Ivan Zadorozhny
      It's been long in the making. My bet is on Iran.
    • avatar
      tony pin reply toJg38691(Show commentHide comment)
      Jg38691, Billions in sanctions is nothing ... and your response would what exactly?
    • avatar
      Popcorn, anyone?
    • avatar
      the Saudi's in bed with ISIS will get whats coming to them and none can stop the wheels in motion moving their way...merciless and barbaric beheading of the innocent on trumped up charges was a fuse they fully intended to light ...there is no room on the planet for their kind ...take away their riches and white robes they are unfit to wear and what are they?.. poor excuse for humans
    • Mother Gorilla
      These developments again show how little we know about the dynamics in this region. A couple of weeks ago, German foreign minister Steinmeier was still praising himself for successful mediation between the Saudi Crapdom and Iran, and now look, the whole thing exploded into his face...
    • avatar
      Saudi Arabia has been at war with the region, so it's about time others starting fighting back.
    • avatar
      michaelin reply to (Show commentHide comment)
      vendor, I always enjoy sardonic humour in the morning :) Seriously, a well considered pithy comment.
    • avatar
      I Stand with Iranians because they do not breaking all basic human rights as the Saudi Royal Family does, the Saudis execution more people than ISIS/Daesh does, I hope the Saudi Kingdom crush already!
    • avatar
      Note that the demands from the late Shia cleric are those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--the very same rights the Saudis must uphold as current president of the UN Human Rights Commission. I like that the Saudi royals were called "politicians"--a big denigration!

      Will there be war? There already is, and it's the Saudis who're under attack.
    • avatar
      Well british special operative soldiers carried out false flag operations in Iraq after the last 'gulf' war with british soldiers disguised as sunni gunmen shooting at shia people. The british soldiers were caught and revealed after which the local section of the british army came and rescued them at gunpoint.
      This story was brought some places, but did not get so much wide attention. But it shows clearly the plan to create a divide amoung sunni's and shia's from british hands. The americans naturally did their further work with the Bremer 'caretaker' government.

      Added to that was a whole series of bombing incidents at mosques, where the perpetrators mostly were not identified.
    • avatar
      in reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
      michael, oh well, you know, I try to keep it simple and enjoyable :)
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