The decades-long strategic rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran for power and influence has destabilized the entire Middle East. The war in Yemen has entered its fourth year and the conflict has escalated to such an extent that U.S.-supplied Patriot missiles intercepted a ballistic missile fired at the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Feeling unease over its shrinking influence in the Middle East stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf and Arabian Sea, Saudi is making an attempt to curtail Iran’s regional hegemony by pursuing military campaign in Yemen backed by US, provided financial assistance and weapons to anti-Assad forces in Syria to promote regime change and is also making contacts with potential groups in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia reacted and countered the spring revolution in the Arab world that began from Tunisia in 2010 by establishing the pro-Saudi government in Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia but Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya remain plagued with civil war and insurrection. Riyadh continues to stoke sectarian tensions in the Middle East with the assistance of non-Arab Sunni players such as Turkey and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Jordan is threatened by Islamic State and burdened with sheltering with over 650,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria, which amount to its 10 percent of the population. While Egypt faces many domestic challenges including continuing jihadist insurgency in Sinai.
Libya has two competing governments entangled in a violent, nationwide power struggle, targeting Libya’s lucrative oil sector. To reclaim its influence in the region and give an impression of aggressive behavior, Saudi Kingdom pressurized Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri to resign in November last year who publicly accused Iran of an assassination plot against him.
Kingdom’s heavy-handed approach with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hariri alienated even its staunch allies like the United States, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt including Hariri’s Lebanese Sunni party. It was reflected when Pakistan refused to send its army to assist the kingdom in Yemen and Egypt, the Kingdom’s “strategic partner” also reportedly refused to send large numbers of ground troops, instead, a small contingent of several hundred soldiers and three to four ships were sent to assist Riyadh.
Prince Mohammed is on a mission to shake up the power structure of his own country and of the entire region to revive its hegemonic role in the Middle East. But certain actions including the beheading of a prominent Saudi Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in 2016 sparked protests throughout the world—from the Middle East to South Asia and even Europe.
As Iran integrated into the international community due to the nuclear deal, Tehran’s economy re-entered the oil market. Iran contains the fourth largest crude oil reserves, and the second largest natural gas reserves in the world.
Through his calculated decision of reigniting sectarian strife in the Persian Gulf, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to exert his aggression toward his adversaries so as to revive its influence in the region that declined under King Abdullah’s rule.
The civil war in Yemen has been transformed into a proxy battle among Mideast rivals.While as the forces succeeded in eliminating Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, Turkey is exploiting the situation by expanding its war against Kurdish fighters in both the countries, by arguing that Kurdish groups are linked to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has launched a decades-long separatist insurgency against Ankara.
Turkey has invaded northwest region of Afrin in January to oust the YPG, consequently at least 150,000 people have been displaced in this area along the border between Turkey and Syria. There are reports in the online media of Lebanon that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has stated that Saudi Arabia offered Syria hundreds of billions of dollars for reconstruction if the war-torn country severed its ties with Iran, but the offer was turned down by Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 1950 to 2016, the United States provided Saudi Arabia with more than $34 billion worth of arms, while the United Kingdom with more than $10 billion, and France with more than $7 billion.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a classified cable in 2009 “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,”While Riyadh “takes seriously the threat of terrorism within its country, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” she explained.
In other words, Sunni-based extremist groups continue to carry out Saudi Arabia’s interest in undermining Iran and Iran’s Shia allies across the Middle East.
Thus all the developments in the region show how the world institutions such as United Nations have failed to act and stabilise the Middle East and address the great game of power struggle between Saudi and Iran, the threat posed by Sunni-based extremist groups that has created world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in the region.
The leaders of the countries who are aspiring to increase their influence and power must bear in mind to enhance their countries status, political social and economic structures so that more and more countries would desire to join for their own prosperity and betterment.