Only a few days into the new year, the Middle East has already taken a significant turn for the worse. The region's greatest rivalry, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has become rapidly and significantly more toxic in the past few days, and it could have repercussions across the Middle East. On Saturday, protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi embassy, ransacking and burning it as Iran ignored or refused Saudi requests to protect the building. Saudi Arabia formally broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday, on Monday saying it would cut commercial ties and ban Saudi travel to Iran as well. Sudan and Bahrain, both Saudi allies, severed ties as well.
Relations between Shiite Iran and its oil-rich Sunni neighbors across the Persian Gulf have never been warm, and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen have fueled mistrust and proxy battles between the two countries for years. But even those conflicts didn't manage to bring about the diplomatic meltdown that occurred this weekend, when Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran and significantly ramped up tensions between two of the Middle East's most powerful players.
Most countries ushered in their new year by hosting increasingly beautiful displays of fireworks. Others, by increasingly archaic displays of public execution. Today Saudi Arabia executed 47 people which is the biggest mass execution in the kingdom since the early 1980s.
Saudi King Salman will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Friday to seek more support in countering Iran, as the Obama administration aims to use the visit to shore up relations after a period of tensions. The visit is the king's first to the United States since ascending to the throne in January, and comes after the United States agreed to a nuclear deal with Iran in July, raising Gulf Arab fears that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would enable it to pursue destabilizing policies in the Middle East.
$25 million. That’s how much, prior to Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, a hypothetical informant could have gotten for information leading to the whereabouts of the world’s most-wanted terrorist at the time. In the government’s story of bin Laden’s death, no one took that bait. In the controversial alternative version that journalist Seymour Hersh published recently—which the Obama administration vigorously disputes—the bounty was actually the key to bin Laden’s fate, the enticement for which a “former senior Pakistani intelligence officer betrayed the secret” of his whereabouts.
On Sunday, the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh finally released a story that he has been rumored to have been working on for years: the truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to Hersh's 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books, the official history of bin Laden's death — in which the US tracked him to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; killed him in a secret raid that infuriated Pakistan; and then buried him at sea — is a lie.
SAUDI ARABIA’S recently enthroned King Salman pulled off a striking diplomatic coup last month when he gathered a ten-country coalition of Sunni states to bomb the upstart Shia rebels in Yemen known as Houthis. Even Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, rivals in regional politics, put aside their differences to confront a perceived Iranian proxy. Egypt sent planes and ships. Countries as far apart as Morocco and Pakistan pledged help, too. Saudi Arabia is usually shy about speaking loudly and taking part in military action. Its uncharacteristic assertiveness may be a sign of the influence of the new king’s son and defence minister, Muhammad, who is in his 30s.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, was incensed enough over what was happening in Syria that in a 2013 press conference alongside Secretary of State John Kerry he declared, "I consider Syria an occupied land." The occupier, he said, was Iran, which had sent military forces to fight alongside of those of besieged Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. "How can a neighboring country that’s supposed to uphold good relationships get involved in a civil war and help one side over the other?" he asked.