The West Asian Battleground—Understanding the Saudi-Iran Conflict

West Asian politics cannot be defined without discussing the spat between the Sunni Arab States and the Shiite Iran. The spat has a history almost as old as the inception of Islam. Islam’s prominence over the Arabian Peninsula has characterised the region for centuries. But while the Arabian Peninsula embraced Sunni, Persia turned Shia. The religious discord was fuelled by a set of battles to overthrow the powerhouse in the region. Many buffer countries suffered in the process of redeeming Islam. The latest countries to suffer the repercussions include Syria and Yemen. However, many countries were affected because they were in between the line of fire of Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two countries who claim to profess the true way of Islam.

The break between the two organisations started after the demise of Muhammad in 632 A.D. In all, disagreement regarding the identity of Muhammad’s religious successor made the Muslims separate into Sunnis and Shiites. The Sunnis trust that Muhammad had no legitimate beneficiary and that a religious chief ought to be chosen through a vote among the Islamic kin. They trust that Muhammad’s supporters picked Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s dear companion and guide, as his successor. Shiites, however, trust that the just Allah, the God of the Islam, had already chosen religious pioneers, i.e. Muhammad’s successors must be his immediate relatives. They maintained that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful heir to the leadership after Muhammad’s death. Another contentious religious difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims concerns the Mahdi, which is the Arabic word for ‘guided one.’ Both groups perceive the Mahdi as the sole ruler of the Islamic community. The Sunnis hold that the Mahdi is not yet born so they anticipate his arrival. However, the Shiites believe that the Mahdi was born in 869 A.D. and will return to Earth under Allah’s orders.

The debate and conflict today is politically motivated than the respective differences in practice of faith. Persians have a long history as invaders and rulers and had invaded even some of the present day Arab States like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Libya. Apart from having a rich history, Persian culture had its own charm which the Arab history lacked. Arab States were constantly under oppression until their recent independence from the Ottoman Empire which was the supposed custodian of the two holy mosques, Mecca & Medina. Later, the House of Saud took over the region and declared Saudi Arabia as a separate country. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran was brewed over a long period of time. It grew especially when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran. It not only deteriorated the relationship between the countries, but Iran’s prospect to turn into the next regional bighead was challenged. Saudi’s arrogance to the Shiites living in the Arabian Peninsula and its close handed relationship with Iran along its attempt to destabilise Iran through Iran-Iraq War led to a never ending animosity between the two States.

The grounds became especially muddy after the American entry, as Iran had animosity towards the U.S. as the latter had enforced a dozen of sanctions on Iran, ever since the Shah was overthrown. The Saudi’s cozening up to America led to Iran being isolated in various places both politically and economically. The situation improved after its reform from being a theocracy to somewhat democratic. Its attempt to turn into a nuclear power created a furore not only in the West Asia and U.S., but also in Israel. Although once an enemy of Islamic countries, the new political development made Arab countries forget the Palestinian problems and focus on the Iranian problem. Saudi even allowed flights to use its airspace to fly towards Israel. The recent alliance is not one of goodwill, but due to obtain military accessibility. Saudis are also aware of the fact that if any untoward happenings do occur, Israel would be the best country to limit it. In this untoward war, Iran seems to gain an upper hand not due to their abilities but of the mistakes committed by the Saudi Government and its Prince Mohammed Bin Salman who had caused Qatar to turn to Iran by imposing an inefficacious blockade. The assassination of the Journalist Jamal Kashoggi also seriously dented Saudi’s image to an extent that for the first time in decades it was no longer the axis of evil. And so the conflict shimmers and boils even today.

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