News Analysis |
At a time when the Middle East is in the middle of a severe rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s omnipotent Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman called the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei “the new Hitler of the Middle East” in an interview with the New York Times published on Thursday, sharply exacerbating the war of words between the arch-rivals.
The Sunni Muslim Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran back rival sides in wars and political crises throughout the region. Both are bumping heads and are supporting opposite parties in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Ties between both the countries have also been marred because of Iran’s growing ties with Qatar and the dominant position enjoyed by Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Tensions simmered earlier this month when the Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at the Riyadh Airport.
Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the Saudi defense minister, suggested the Islamic Republic’s alleged expansion under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needed to be confronted. “But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Read More: Saudi Arabia raises temperature against Iran
Tensions simmered earlier this month when the Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at the Riyadh Airport. The Kingdom alleged Iran of being behind the attack, calling it as an act of war on part of Tehran.
Both countries are embroiled in a brutal proxy war in Yemen since 2015 that has seen 10,000 people losing their lives, mostly due to the unrestrained use of air power by Riyadh. However, despite intelligence and political support by the US, the Saudi-led coalition has been unable to evict the Iran-backed Houthis from urban centers. MBS told the Times that the war was going in the Kingdom’s favor and that its allies controlled 85 percent of Yemen’s territory.
Temperatures have risen because of the sudden resignation of Lebanese premier, Saad Hariri. He tendered his resignation from Riyadh, citing Iran’s involvement in Beirut’s internal affairs and also the predominance of its ally, Hezbollah.
Lebanon, a country still reeling from the 15-year long civil war, has now once again opened up as a new theater between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Analysts feel that given the milieu in the country, Iran and Hezbollah’s position is strong enough to thwart Saudi machinations.
Immediately after the Riyadh Summit, GCC countries severed diplomatic ties and blockaded one of its members, Qatar, because of its close ties with Iran
The war of words comes days before the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) is set to inaugurate. With the recent announcement of the end of ISIS, the question arises on the likely target of the new coalition.
Middle East watchers are certain that, bolstered by President Trump’s forceful plea to confront Iran in his speech in the Riyadh Summit, the coalition will press on the military campaign in Yemen.
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Immediately after the Riyadh Summit, GCC countries severed diplomatic ties and blockaded one of its members, Qatar, because of its close ties with Iran. President Trump, despite wanting an amicable end to the crisis, took personal credit for the blockade. Saudi enunciations are much in-line with Trump’s spite for the Islamic Republic.
For his part, Khamenei has referred to the House of Saud as an “accursed tree”, and Iranian officials have accused the kingdom of spreading terrorism. Iran has shown that it is not ready to buckle under pressure from the US and the Kingdom. Last week, President Rouhani said that his country’s might not be tested as it has failed in the past too. However, the desire to pull the plug on Iran has increased manifold after it has been successful in Syria and Iraq.
The real issue is that Iran’s campaign against ISIS is offset by its desire to expand its clout in the region, bringing it in direct conflict with the US and Saudi Arabia.
The complexion of the Yemen Conflict has changed as watchers feel that the campaign will ratchet up at the cost of innocent lives. Lebanon’s tenuous political compromise can be affected by the rivalries between the two bastions.
The Middle East is readying itself for a brutal and ramped-up Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the days to come.