A decisive storm of a decision
Iran failed to realise that it is facing a new Saudi mindset that can perhaps best be described as a “decisive storm” after the military operation that Riyadh launched in Yemen to combat the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and restore the legitimate government there to power.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Tehran following the storming of its diplomatic missions in Iran was certainly decisive.
Iran seemingly failed to realise that Nimr al-Nimr was a Saudi citizen, not an Iranian national, and that his execution January 2nd took place after a trial and according to Saudi laws. Nimr was executed alongside 46 others, most of whom had links to either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (ISIS) and all of whom had been found guilty of terrorism-related charges.
Though Nimr was a Shia cleric, is every Shia across the world Iran’s responsibility? Are there no free Shias who reject Iran’s authority and disagree with its religious mandate?
The issue did not stop with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vowing “divine retribution” against Saudi Arabia for Nimr’s execution. Iranian protesters subsequently stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad with police and security failing to provide protection.
If Iran is responsible for every Shia on the face of the Earth, that completely invalidates the concept of national sovereignty and international law.
Iraqi officials and clerics also criticised Nimr’s execution, not least Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — the highest ranking Shia authority in the country — who has previously taken a divergent line from that of Tehran.
Surprising nobody, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah also strongly backed the Iranian position, issuing a statement that, at best, can be characterised as offensive. Nasrallah paid little attention to the historic ties that bind Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the national interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.
What Iranian officials could not or would not say, Hezbollah — the spearhead of Iran’s regional policy — and its chief were more than happy to. Nasrallah does not care about Lebanon and its national interests and he did not stop to think about how his comments would affect the Lebanese — of all religious and sectarian backgrounds — who are working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, or what larger effect this would have on Lebanon’s economy.
Nasrallah is completely incapable of asking such questions; his job is to issue inflammatory statements and attempt to isolate Lebanon from its Arab neighbours. This is something that most Lebanese oppose, rejecting the idea that freedom from Syrian tutelage necessarily means falling under Iranian hegemony, as represented by Hezbollah.
So Iran completely failed to realise it was dealing with a kingdom that, at this particular time, rejects any form of interference in its affairs and does not broach any encroachment against its sovereignty and is ready and willing to respond strongly to any such attempts.
Saudi Arabia refuses to place sectarian considerations above national concerns. For Riyadh, a Saudi national is, first and foremost, a Saudi national — before he is Sunni or Shia or anything else. Saudi Arabia’s highest reference is the state. As for Iran, it prioritised Nimr’s Shia identity above his national affiliation.
Hezbollah does not recognise international borders, as can be seen in its ongoing presence in the Syrian conflict. It, too, places sectarian identity over national identity. It is clear that Tehran wants to replicate the Hezbollah experience elsewhere, prioritising sectarian affiliation over all else. However, it has forgotten that there are those, including Arab Shias, who reject this and who do not want to be pawns in Iran’s game.
By severing its ties with Tehran, Saudi Arabia has taken a strong stance showing that it places international law above the sectarian policies being pushed by Iran and its regional lackeys. This was a decisive storm of a decision and completely in line with the Saudi-led Gulf coalition’s Operation Decisive Storm, which is confronting Iran’s regional project in Yemen.