Iran and Saudi’s falling out: A proxy war explained

Published April 12th, 2016 - 05:52 GMT

Executions, drug busts, and deportations - here is everything about the current Iran-Saudi proxy conflict you were too embarrassed to ask. Call it the Middle East’s 'Cold War'. The tension between these two regional powers is more complicated than mere rivalry over religious influence, and can be traced back to Iran’s Islamic Revolution which called for the overthrow of monarchies, anathema to Gulf Arab states.

It also links to more recent events, like Saudi quelling the uprising in Shia-majority Bahrain, and ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, with each backing opposing sides. But watch the economic and diplomatic moves, as countries in the region subtly shift alliances and struggle to maintain or usurp old forms of power.  Come behind-the-scenes of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic row.

 

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demonstration Nimr al Nimr execution

The Iran v. Saudi Arabia (KSA) rivalry predates the Islamic Revolution, but recently came to a head on Jan 2 when KSA executed a leading Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr and 47 others convicted on “terrorism” charges. (Image: Iranian women demonstrate in the capital Tehran on Jan. 4, 2016 against the execution of Nimr al-Nimr AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

demonstration Nimr al Nimr execution

The executions angered Saudi’s Shia minority, and protesters in Iran attacked the KSA Embassy in Tehran. Regionally, this is where the plot thickens, with economic, diplomatic, and military fallout. (Image: On Jan 2, Iranian protesters set the KSA embassy ablaze during a demonstration against the Nimr al-Nimr's execution. AFP/Mohammadreza Nadimi)

KSA Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir

After the attack, KSA cut ties with Iran and recalled its diplomatic mission. UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Sudan swiftly followed suit in the rush to choose sides, expelling Iranian diplomats or downgrading their status. (Image: KSA Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir during a press conference held in Riyadh on Jan 3. AFP)

Iran nuclear deal

On Jan 16, the internationally-brokered nuclear deal with Iran was enacted, bringing Iran back into global commerce. Iran begins exporting oil even as prices drop, while KSA refuses to scale back its production. (Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (2R) in Vienna on Jan 16. AFP/Kevin LaMarque)

Saudi airstrikes in Yemen

Meanwhile, KSA and Iran continue battling in Yemen, where the KSA-backed government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi went into exile after Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran much of the country. The KSA military campaign began in 2015, and has killed more than 6,000 Yemenis. (Image: A search for airstrike survivors in Sanaa. AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

war in Yemen

Next, KSA halted $3BIL in military aid to Lebanon, citing its failure to condemn the attacks on their Tehran embassy. Last October, a KSA prince was arrested on drug charges after two tons of illegal substances were seized at Beirut airport. Was aid cut in retaliation, or due to falling oil prices and the price of war in Yemen? (AFP/Ahmed Farwan)

By March, KSA, then the Arab League and GCC, officially labels Iran-backed Hezbollah as a “terrorists". Only Lebanon and Iraq express reservations. Lebanon's Foreign Minister said, "Hezbollah enjoys wide representation...and is a main component in the country." KSA and the UAE then urge/ban citizens from Lebanon travel. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

By March, KSA, then the Arab League and GCC, officially labels Iran-backed Hezbollah as a “terrorists". Only Lebanon and Iraq express reservations. Lebanon's Foreign Minister said, "Hezbollah enjoys wide representation...and is a main component in the country." KSA and the UAE then urge/ban citizens from Lebanon travel. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Gulf nation deports Lebanese

Let the deportations begin! By April, at least 1,000 Lebanese or Shia workers of other nationalities in Gulf nations begin facing legal troubles, revoked work permits, and deportations over perceived links to Hezbollah. Some get ample time to prepare to leave, but “dangerous cases" are given only 48 hours before flying out. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Saudi and Yemen war

Following two successful prisoner swaps between Yemen and Saudi, the warring parties agree to tribal-brokered peace talks on April 18 in Kuwait. Despite continued airstrikes, Saudi has been hinting for weeks that the main hostilities in Yemen were “almost over.” (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

demonstration Nimr al Nimr execution
demonstration Nimr al Nimr execution
KSA Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir
Iran nuclear deal
Saudi airstrikes in Yemen
war in Yemen
By March, KSA, then the Arab League and GCC, officially labels Iran-backed Hezbollah as a “terrorists". Only Lebanon and Iraq express reservations. Lebanon's Foreign Minister said, "Hezbollah enjoys wide representation...and is a main component in the country." KSA and the UAE then urge/ban citizens from Lebanon travel. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)
Gulf nation deports Lebanese
Saudi and Yemen war
demonstration Nimr al Nimr execution
The Iran v. Saudi Arabia (KSA) rivalry predates the Islamic Revolution, but recently came to a head on Jan 2 when KSA executed a leading Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr and 47 others convicted on “terrorism” charges. (Image: Iranian women demonstrate in the capital Tehran on Jan. 4, 2016 against the execution of Nimr al-Nimr AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
demonstration Nimr al Nimr execution
The executions angered Saudi’s Shia minority, and protesters in Iran attacked the KSA Embassy in Tehran. Regionally, this is where the plot thickens, with economic, diplomatic, and military fallout. (Image: On Jan 2, Iranian protesters set the KSA embassy ablaze during a demonstration against the Nimr al-Nimr's execution. AFP/Mohammadreza Nadimi)
KSA Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir
After the attack, KSA cut ties with Iran and recalled its diplomatic mission. UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Sudan swiftly followed suit in the rush to choose sides, expelling Iranian diplomats or downgrading their status. (Image: KSA Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir during a press conference held in Riyadh on Jan 3. AFP)
Iran nuclear deal
On Jan 16, the internationally-brokered nuclear deal with Iran was enacted, bringing Iran back into global commerce. Iran begins exporting oil even as prices drop, while KSA refuses to scale back its production. (Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (2R) in Vienna on Jan 16. AFP/Kevin LaMarque)
Saudi airstrikes in Yemen
Meanwhile, KSA and Iran continue battling in Yemen, where the KSA-backed government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi went into exile after Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran much of the country. The KSA military campaign began in 2015, and has killed more than 6,000 Yemenis. (Image: A search for airstrike survivors in Sanaa. AFP/Mohammed Huwais)
war in Yemen
Next, KSA halted $3BIL in military aid to Lebanon, citing its failure to condemn the attacks on their Tehran embassy. Last October, a KSA prince was arrested on drug charges after two tons of illegal substances were seized at Beirut airport. Was aid cut in retaliation, or due to falling oil prices and the price of war in Yemen? (AFP/Ahmed Farwan)
By March, KSA, then the Arab League and GCC, officially labels Iran-backed Hezbollah as a “terrorists". Only Lebanon and Iraq express reservations. Lebanon's Foreign Minister said, "Hezbollah enjoys wide representation...and is a main component in the country." KSA and the UAE then urge/ban citizens from Lebanon travel. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)
By March, KSA, then the Arab League and GCC, officially labels Iran-backed Hezbollah as a “terrorists". Only Lebanon and Iraq express reservations. Lebanon's Foreign Minister said, "Hezbollah enjoys wide representation...and is a main component in the country." KSA and the UAE then urge/ban citizens from Lebanon travel. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)
Gulf nation deports Lebanese
Let the deportations begin! By April, at least 1,000 Lebanese or Shia workers of other nationalities in Gulf nations begin facing legal troubles, revoked work permits, and deportations over perceived links to Hezbollah. Some get ample time to prepare to leave, but “dangerous cases" are given only 48 hours before flying out. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)
Saudi and Yemen war
Following two successful prisoner swaps between Yemen and Saudi, the warring parties agree to tribal-brokered peace talks on April 18 in Kuwait. Despite continued airstrikes, Saudi has been hinting for weeks that the main hostilities in Yemen were “almost over.” (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)