War of words as Saudi-Iranian tensions escalate
LONDON - The fallout from the latest tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to mount with additional Arab states downgrading diplomatic relations with Tehran and protests lingering in response to the execution of a radical Shia cleric.
The latest standoff began after the kingdom executed 47 individuals, including the cleric, Nimr al- Nimr, for terrorism-related charges. Nimr’s death led to protesters attacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad.
Bahrain was first to announce it was severing diplomatic and commercial ties with Tehran, citing it’s “blatant and dangerous interference” in Bahrain and other Arab countries.
The United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador to Tehran and said it would reduce the number of diplomats stationed in Iran. According to an official government statement, the UAE “has taken this exceptional step in light of Iran’s ongoing interference in internal (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Arab affairs that has recently reached unprecedented levels”.
Sudan, which enjoyed better ties with Tehran before the southern section of the country seceded in 2011, gave Iranian diplomats two weeks to leave the country in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government accused its Iranian counterpart of organising the attacks on their diplomatic missions. Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said the embassy received death threats as early as the morning of January 2nd — the day the executions were carried out. When a mob gathered in front of the embassy that afternoon, calls to the Iranian Foreign Ministry requesting protection were allegedly not followed through.
The UN Security Council strongly criticised the attack on the Saudi embassy, saying in a statement: “The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran and its Consulate General in Mashhad in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which resulted in intrusions into the diplomatic and consular premises, causing serious damage.”
The Security Council also called on “Iranian authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel and to respect fully their international obligations in this regard”.
Violent demonstrations also broke out in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq, where three Sunni mosques were bombed, killing two people, south of Baghdad.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are also embroiled in a number of regional proxy wars. In the Syria civil war, Saudi Arabia is backing rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by the Islamic Republic and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition is at war with Iran-allied Houthi rebels in an effort to restore the internationally recognised Yemeni government.