Saudi Arabia and Iran are moving ever closer to war after Riyadh accused Tehran of “direct military aggression”. It comes after Saudi Arabia intercepted a rocket fired by militia near the airport in its capital city, something they blamed Iran for, Daily Express reports. Long-term rivals, the two nations have seen tensions escalate in recent days after a series of explosive incidents. The latest has seen Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman accuse Iran of arming militias – something he warned could be considered “an act of war”.
Meanwhile, Iran has done little to calm the situation, mocking Saudi Arabia and accusing it of hypocrisy.
“KSA bombs Yemen to smithereens, killing 1000s of innocents including babies, spreads cholera and famine, but of course blames Iran. KSA is engaged in wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations. It blames Iran for the consequences,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted on Twitter this week.
Both states are refusing to back down in the face of looming war – but who is in better shape if an all-out conflict does break out? After analyzing the two state’s military strength it is clear both sides boast their own advantages and disadvantages. What cannot be argued, however, is that anyway between Iran and Saudi Arabia would result in a horrific death toll and push an already-toxic toxic region into deeper chaos.
Saudi Arabia has already opened a new front in its regional proxy war with Iran, threatening Tehran’s powerful ally Hezbollah and its home country Lebanon to try to regain the upper hand. With Iranian power winning out in Iraq and Syria, and Riyadh bogged down in a war with Iran-allied groups in Yemen, the new Saudi approach could bring lasting political and economic turmoil to a country where Tehran had appeared ascendant.
“The Saudis appear to have decided that the best way to confront Iran is to start in Lebanon,” a European diplomat said.
Crown Prince Mohammed told Reuters last month the war in Yemen would continue to prevent the Iran-allied Houthi movement from becoming another Hezbollah at Saudi’s border. While Saudis vowed that Hezbollah would be forced back into “its caves” in southern Lebanon, and any Saudi military action in Lebanon – such as air strikes – would come as a major surprise.
The question is whether the Saudis will push even harder against Iran — and what will happen if they do. Though Saudi Arabia said it reserved the right to respond over the Yemeni missile, it is unlikely to take direct military action against Iran.
A direct military action would risk huge destabilization in the Gulf and beyond, disrupting oil shipments vital to Saudi Arabia and its allies. The kingdom is unlikely to act without a green light from Washington, where the policy has been to avoid direct confrontation with Iran.
But so far, the kingdom’s policies appear to have the full support of U.S. President Donald Trump. The crucial news keeps flying out of Saudi Arabia at a frantic pace, but here’s the bottom line: The Saudis are marching ever closer towards a wider regional war. And the U.S. may have helped send them down that path.
The direct line to these more bellicose moves begins earlier and goes directly to the White House. While still deputy crown prince, bin Salman visited with President Trump in March of this year. During that meeting, they publicly declared Iran as the key regional security threat in the Middle East. That was step one.
Step two was President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May which resulted in Trump’s green light to the Saudis to use new measures to crack down on terrorism in the Middle East. And the Saudis seem to be taking “terrorism” to specifically mean Iranian-backed terrorism and military forces.
Step three came almost exactly a month after that visit when bin Salman was made crown prince and step four seems to have come in September, when bin Salman reportedly secretly visited Israel to discuss Iran and other potential cooperative measures.
And now we’re on step five, which appears to be a combination of the purge to remove any possible internal hurdles towards a greater anti-Iranian push, and blatant protests against any real or perceived Iranian aggression. There may be more intermediate steps to come, but we can all see where this is leading. A direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as opposed to the proxy war they’re fighting in Yemen, looks inevitable.
Whether the U.S. initiated this or the Saudis took advantage of a new administration, it’s not clear where it goes next. Some kind of peace deal or cooperation agreement between the Saudis and the Iranians does not seem very likely. But if full blown war breaks out directly between the two countries, it’s hard to see the U.S. being able to sit it out without at least some form increased weapons support and other aid.