Small Wars Journal

Middle East Tensions Boil as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Cut Ties with Iran

Middle East Tensions Boil as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Cut Ties with Iran by Sam Wilkin, Reuters

Iran accused Saudi Arabia on Monday of using an attack on its embassy as a pretext to sever ties in a diplomatic crisis deepening their often violent struggle for influence across the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran on Sunday and fellow-Sunni Bahrain followed suit on Monday, two days after Iranian demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest at Riyadh's execution of a senior Shi'ite cleric.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also downgraded its ties with Iran, as the dispute between the region's top Sunni and Shi'ite powers rippled across the region, driving up oil prices and threatening to widen the Middle East's sectarian divide…

Read on.

Comments

Outlaw 09

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 8:02am

For now 100 days the Russians have been deliberately targeting and killing civilians and both Assad and Putin are in clear violation of international humanitarian law that states the use of starvation as a battlefield tactic is illegal---- end of story.

BUT WAIT all we hear out of Obama and Kerry is..."we are a few days away from full implementation of the Iran Deal"...not a single word of Assad and Putin killing in 100 days approx. 2000 civilians and starving literally thousands....

YET we wonder WHY the KSA is parting ways with the US.......

Almost 2000 civilians killed, 1730 identified, victims of #Russia airstrikes in it's 100th days occupying #Syria.

45 martyrs including 12 children & 7 women
23 #Damascus
19 #Aleppo
3 #DeirEzzor
2 #Hama
1 #Idlib
#Syria JAN 7

Ten more IRGC and terrorist Quds Force fighters killed in #Syria
http://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/terr...entalism/19770 … …

SAA warplanes carried out airstrikes on #Douma
#Damascus cs #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Tel_Refaat
#Aleppo cs #Syria JAN 8

SAA terrorists shelling with Grad Rockets on #Darayya
#Damascus #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Palmyra
#Homs #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Raabia village
#Latakia cs #sYRIA JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Salma village
#Latakia cs #Syria JAN 8

SAA warplanes carried out airstrikes on #Douma
#Damascus cs #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Jabal_Alhmar
#Latakia cs #SYria JAN 8

US_Coallition carried out airstrikes in #Raqqa countryside, killing 11 civilians #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Hamimah village
#Aleppo cs #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Faysal_Mills
#Aleppo cs #Syria JAN 8

7 #Russia airstrikes so far in 30 minutes ONLY in #Deir_Gamal
#Aleppo cs #Syria JAN 8‏

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #al_Zeyarah village
#Hama cs #SYria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Tel_Wassit village
#Hama cs #Syria JAN 8

SAA warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #al_Shifouniyah village
#Damascus cs #Syria JAN 8

4 civilians killed after step over landmines АО -2.5РТМ dropped by #Hezbollah in the surrounds farms of #Madaya
#Damascus cs #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Tel_Refaat
#Aleppo cs #Syria JAN 8

Russia warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting #Deir_Gamal town
#Aleppo cs #Syria JAN 8

Two #Russia warplanes flying together carried out airstrikes on #Sheikh_Meskin
#Daraa #Syria JAN 8

Outlaw 09

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 1:18am

Further prove that the Obama FP for Syria has now totally caved on their initial demands that Assad leave....but signing onto basically what the Putin plan is for allowing Assad to remain until March 2017--IS now Obama complicit in the campaign of starvation being used by both Putin and Assad against the Syrian civil society...?

That is an interesting question because it is virtually impossible that the US IC did not know this was happening.......

Any other Assadists want to pen their signature on the national scale production of emaciated detainees & civilians?
pic.twitter.com/lbkBw0omrR

Check the wording of the photo attached....

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 11:40am

I use to use this video as a perfect example of the BCT Staff decision making processes seen in 2006 through 2012----dug it out as it is a perfect example of what the US FP in the ME looks like to the KSA and the other Sunni Front States......the only difference is in the video the many cats do make it to their destination whereas our FP is lost somewhere in outer space...

A good cat herder is hard to find, no doubt
http://youtu.be/wz5vwUM_uuM

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 10:48am

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/01/middle…

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.

Jan. 6 2016 1:50 PM

“Iran Is the Arsonist and the Fire Brigade”

By Isaac Chotiner

Last week, the government of Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric who had protested against the regime. Forty-six other people were also put to death on “terrorism-related” charges. The Sunni monarchy that runs Saudi Arabia has a long and poor record of dealing with the country’s Shiite minority, but the brazenness of this execution, amidst Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, and Yemen, was shocking to both the country’s allies and adversaries. Indeed, the country’s principle adversary, Iran, encouraged or allowed a number of its citizens to attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The Iranian government also does not have a great record on the death penalty or sectarianism: It not only backs Bashar al-Assad’s Sunni-massacring dictatorship in Syria but also executes more people than any country on Earth besides China.

In response to the embassy attack, Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Iran; a couple of Saudi allies have now done the same. For some insights into all of this, and the broader turmoil in the region, I called up Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment who is an expert on Iran and the Middle East and who used to be based in Iran with the International Crisis Group. We discussed America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, why ISIS has very few true enemies in the Middle East, and whether the Sunni-Shiite split is fixable. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Chotiner: Some analysts have suggested that Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a sense seeking out this crisis because it is helpful for hard-liners in both countries. Do you agree with that analysis?

“We are not talking about a Saudi government run by Wahhabi Kissingers or Brzezinskis. This government does not have a deep bench of strategic thinkers.”

Karim Sadjadpour

Sadjadpour: I sometimes think we ascribe too much strategic forethought to governments in the Middle East. I don’t share the view that Saudi Arabia had a sophisticated regional strategy in executing Sheikh Nimr. They were executing about four dozen Sunni radicals, which was going to alienate some segment of society. So they executed a few prominent Shia at the same time.

So there was no broader strategic thinking? It was a pretty big decision.

I think when you look at the arenas where Saudi Arabia and Iran are in conflict, whether Syria or Bahrain or Lebanon or Yemen or Iraq, Iran has an upper hand. When you look at it in a broader regional context, the increasing prevalence of sectarianism benefits Saudi Arabia because they have more numbers. Eighty-five percent of the region’s Muslims are Sunni. For the Saudis, if sectarian politics outweigh anti-imperialist politics, that is beneficial. But at the same time, we are not talking about a Saudi government run by Wahhabi Kissingers or Brzezinskis. This government does not have a deep bench of strategic thinkers. They are not playing a game of chess.

It’s interesting that you think Iran is doing better in these conflicts even though the region is overwhelmingly Sunni. Why? Is the Iranian regime smarter or more strategic?

We have to look at each situation in its own context. In Iraq, there is a Shia majority. But that certainly isn’t the case in Syria, where the Alawites only represent 15 percent or so of the population. But Iran has now almost 40 years of experience building militias in the Middle East, starting with Hezbollah. They have a committed ideology and worldview. They have a very clear goal in Syria, which is the continuation of the Assad regime. The Saudis don’t really have a clear alternative worldview, and they have often been compromised by the fact that they are aligned with the United States. It’s tough for them to win an ideological battle. It’s easier to win a sectarian one.

Do you think the Saudi regime is in an especially weak place now, with oil prices so low and with the Iranian nuclear deal?

I am not sure they are feeling existential angst at home. Four or five years ago, people had romantic thoughts about the Arab Spring. Now I don’t think many Arabs watching television think popular uprisings will be successful. So except for the Shia population in the East, there are no signs that they feel they have to quell a popular uprising. Oil prices are trouble, but they have billions more in reserves than Iran.

But in the region it has been a time of humiliation for them. In today’s Middle East, everyone feels like they are the oppressed victim. Shiites have long felt repressed. But now Sunnis feel that way.

Self-pity is always so helpful in situations like this. And you do have a non-Sunni president dropping barrel bombs on a largely Sunni population in Syria.

Absolutely. The Saudi population watches television every night, which shows Sunnis being massacred by an Iranian-supported president.

Were you surprised by the Iranian reaction?

Given how many embassies Iran has ransacked, I don’t think that was uncharacteristic either.

When you say “Iran has ransacked,” I assume you think this was done at the urging, or with the consent, of the regime.

If there were a group of 50 Iranians who got together to protest the government’s human rights or labor rights practices, they would be crushed in a matter of minutes. Nonsanctioned protests in Iran are now rare. Policemen in Iran were told not to interfere. Starting with the U.S. Embassy in Iran in the 1970s, and continuing with the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies in the following decades, there is a precedent.

Someone joked that no government hates embassies more.

Yeah.

Do you think this was part of an internal power struggle between the president and hard-liners?

President [Hassan] Rouhani is not in charge of the Revolutionary Guards. He is a protégé of former President Rafsanjani, who was long an advocate of better Iran-Saudi relations. So I have no doubt that he did not order or approve this. It is detrimental to the interests of his government, which is trying to open Iran up to business. The hard-liners benefit.

Are you optimistic about Iran normalizing relations with the West and America? And are the Saudis rightly worried about this?

The Saudis have long had an inferiority complex. The paradox of Iran and Saudi Arabia is that the Saudis have a superiority complex vis-à-vis the Shia and an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the Persians. The Saudis have long felt that America favors Iran and that Obama has less respect for Saudi Arabia. I think there will be normalization between Iran and Europe, but as long as the supreme leader remains in power, I don’t think Iran and American will normalize relations. But many gulf rulers think the rapprochement has already taken place, whether it was the U.S. removal of Saddam [Hussein], or the refusal to attack Assad. That is a mainstream conspiracy theory in the gulf.

Are you surprised by how quiet the Obama administration has been over the past week?

Countries often choose allies based on shared values, whether those values are tolerance or free-market economics. Saudi Arabia is an ally who doesn’t share our values.

Except about executing people: us, Iran, Saudi Arabia.

Yeah, Iran is No. 1 per capita.

What, if anything, do you think the United States could be doing to minimize tensions?

I just read a piece that said we should abandon Saudi Arabia and commence an alliance with Iran. And yet the Saudi government wants to ally with the United States, and Iran’s official slogan remains “Death to America.” I think Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry would love to normalize relations, but it takes two to have an alliance. As for what we can do now: The Obama administration doesn’t want to do anything to mess up the nuclear deal. We have long been a bulwark against Iran but have said that other regimes should do some of the work. But now that the Saudis have, in Yemen, it is doing more damage than good. It’s a dilemma with no good answers.

The United States, and especially John Kerry, has worked tirelessly to get Iran and Saudi Arabia in the room to discuss peace regarding Syria. How has the past week changed the odds of success?

Before this week, I would have given the odds of success 4 out of 10. Now I would say it’s 3 out of 10 or 2 out of 10. There is an old proverb that states when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The people who are most going to be hurt are Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis, Lebanese. They are living through the proxy war.

Where does this end? Is sectarian violence just going to get worse?

If you look over the past four decades, 40 years ago the most notorious terrorist group was considered to be the PLO. Then Hezbollah made the PLO look moderate, and then came al-Qaida, which made Hezbollah look moderate. And now we have ISIS. The trend lines haven’t been in positive directions.

Sectarianism wasn’t as prominent an issue three decades ago. Journalists who covered the Lebanese civil war would say that they didn’t know who was Sunni or Shiite. … There is a notion that the Saudi-Iran sectarian war is fueling all these conflicts. I think the reality is the opposite. You have these regional conflicts, which have their own dynamics, and are driven by many of the factors that led to the uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite ends of those conflicts, and exacerbated them. But when there aren’t regional conflicts, such as in the 1990s, there was a relatively peaceful modus vivendi between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia will always be competitors, but they aren’t destined to be sectarian adversaries.

One of the main reasons we are allied with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states is anti-terrorism. And yet none of these states seem all that concerned about ISIS. They often seem more concerned about Houthi rebels in Yemen and hate Assad much more than ISIS.

The spread of ISIS poses much more of an existential threat to the Gulf states than it does to Iran. Iran is a country that is 90 percent Shia. And ISIS has provided Iran a useful pretext to expand its influence. The dilemma that Saudi Arabia faces is that its citizens watch television images of Sunnis being slaughtered, and it is tough for them to side with Iran.

Sure, but you could say the Taliban poses a bigger threat to Pakistan than India does, and yet Pakistan supports the Taliban. Countries aren’t always rational.

It is often difficult to distinguish between official government funding and private citizens. I have seen no evidence that the Saudi government is actually providing money to ISIS or al-Qaida. But yes, Saudi Arabia hates Iran more than it hates ISIS. The conventional wisdom is that ISIS is a radical Sunni group that is being funded by Sunnis in the gulf and opposed by Iran. But Iran is the arsonist and the fire brigade. Iran’s support for Assad and the [Nouri al-]Maliki government in Iraq led to many Sunnis supporting ISIS. It will have to be Sunnis who put out the ISIS fire.

So Shia militias won’t do it?

They pour more gasoline.

It’s hard to find countries in the Middle East that truly want to see ISIS disappear. Assad probably doesn’t—it’s his lifeline. And the Gulf states don’t.

Everyone has bigger enemies.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 10:04am

And silence out of the WH and Obama when it concerns the use of starvation by Assad and Putin......as a battlefield tactic....

VIDEO: Children are starving to death in #Madaya - EU must take action to lift siege & ensure humanitarian access
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S587ncQR8ps&feature=youtu.be

Breaking: #UN says that #Assad regime refused #UN's request to send food aid to city of #Madaya #Syria

At what point does Obama and Kerry become complicit in this ongoing genocide when they have the full knowledge of exactly what is ongoing and yet say and or do nothing to stop it.......simply to protect their Iran Deal legacy?

BTW----Appears social media has won this round against Assad.....again.....

BREAKING Syria government agrees to allow aid into besieged Madaya: UN

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 9:41am

AND the Obama Syrian strategy was what again.......????

Another #MustWatch from #Marea, where the #FSA fights #ISIS and gets bombed by #Russia.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxOoMXJr1-I
pic.twitter.com/YFTQYeF6drBUT

BTW--an interesting comment in the video about a quote from Malcolm X--if you believe the MSM they will have you believing the oppressor......

BUT WAIT both Obama and the DoD say there is no military solution in Syria...appears there is but they are backing the wrong horse again as usual...

FSA repeatedly has stated once Assad is fully gone they can turn their full attention to IS but in the meantime they still are fighting IS WHILE Putin bombs them....instead of IS...which is why he claims he is in Syria.....

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 9:23am

Iranian FM makes a super big deal with their claim that the KSA bombed their
Yemen embassy....BUT WAIT......

The Associated Press ‏@AP
AP reporter in Yemen's capital says he sees no damage at the Iranian Embassy after airstrike:
http://apne.ws/1mI3fvk

Witnesses in Sana saying Iranian embassy not hit by airstrike, but rather house across the street, with shrapnel possibly injuring guards.

The Russians are the worlds' best lairs but Iran seems to come in as a great second.....AND Obama and Kerry appear to not see that....

Outlaw 09

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 12:43am

DOZENS OF MEDIA ORGANISATION REPORT ON #MADAYA AS THE MASS MURDER HAPPENS.

CAN YOU HEAR THE POLITICAL REACTION?

... hush ...

Me neither!

And yet we seem to have a number of SWJ articles wondering about Obama's Syria strategy...there is none and if there appears to be one then it is Iran heavy and is basically built around a total US retrenchment nothing more than that and Obama is counting the 13 months until he can kick the FP problems that he has created to the next President.....

The last time the US FP retrenched a la Wilson it truly cost with a very big C cost the US heavily to reengage --namely WW2.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 2:58pm

Reference the US supported SDF-----

Fighters in YPG led Jaish Al Thuwar in "Syrian democratic forces" defect because they claim to have been misled they claimed they were told they would be fighting Assad & ISIS in Aleppo but found themselves engaged against rebels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMD_VfjonfA

Yup, that's correct. About 100 went AWOL already in mid-December, immediately after SDF's defeat on the western side of the Azaz corridor (you've posted some of related Twitter reports too). Another 200 joined the Mare'a OR: they just wanted to fight Daesh, so were transferred from one side of the corridor to the other.

I'm just waiting for WP, WSJ, FT or Guardian to catch with the story and declare a 'stab in the back' of the US 'vetting' efforts...

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 2:33pm

BREAKING EXCLUSIVE BY THE NEW @OrientNewsEn
#MADAYA IS STARVING TO DEATH!!
#SYRIA
https://youtu.be/vEgNCrftbMA

This is like Srebrenica, but orders of magnitude worse. Complete indifference from the world https://twitter.com/HadiAlabdallah/s...09643441438720

Hezbollah entered #Syria 3 years ago to kill w/int'l community's blessing. Now they're slowly starving 40K people to death w/#Madaya siege.

Not a single word from Obama, Kerry and company........

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 1:43pm

Actually an interesting read from another direction other than my rants....

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2016/01/04/obamas-ir…

Obama’s Iran blunder

By Jennifer Rubin January 4 

President Obama came into office imagining he could turn our Middle East policy on its head. Withdraw rather than assert our interests; put the screws on Israel while reaching detente with Iran; leave longtime Sunni allies to fend for themselves. It was a monumental error, based on the false notions that the United States had been the real problem (while Iran was a victim desiring return to “the international community”); that Israel was the impediment to peace with the Palestinians; that a smaller U.S. footprint would reduce tension; and that George W. Bush’s administration had exaggerated the threat of Islamic terrorism. Each of these goals was illusory, and each assumption just plain wrong.

The latest incident bears this out. The Post reports:

Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran on Sunday amid the furor that erupted over the execution by the Saudi authorities of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair told reporters in Riyadh that the Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave the country, citing concerns that Tehran’s Shiite government was undermining the security of the Sunni kingdom.

Saudi Arabian diplomats had already departed Iran after angry mobs trashed and burned the Saudi embassy in Tehran overnight Saturday, in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr earlier in the day. . . . The Saudi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashad was also set on fire during the protests that erupted after Nimr’s execution was announced.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emeraties have now joined Saudi Arabia in severing ties with Iran.

Unlike the Obama administration, the Saudi government recognizes that one cannot deal with a country that refuses to abide by international norms, including respect for the sanctity and protection of diplomatic facilities. This is hardly the first time Iranians have demonstrated their willingness to use violence against diplomats. Whether it was attacking the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and taking American hostages or the 2011 attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Iran has treated diplomats as legitimate targets.

As former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams writes:

What these events have in common is the repeated failure and refusal of the security forces to protect embassies, despite whatever apologies come later. Iran is a police state, with plenty of manpower available to stop “protesters” or “students” from entering embassy grounds that the Islamic Republic government –like all governments– is pledged to protect. Iran’s top police official later said police were working to defuse the situation and remove “protesters” from the building. But it was obvious the moment the Saudi Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr was executed on Saturday that the Saudi embassy would need protection, so the decision not to provide it until it was too late was just that–a political decision.

Indeed, we will never know what proportion of the crowd of “protesters” were actually from the basij, the paramilitary “volunteer” mobs organized by the Revolutionary Guards. . . . So it is another piece of evidence that Iran refuses to live by the rules of civilized diplomatic practice, and that its behavior has gotten worse not better since the signing of the nuclear deal–whose “outreach” was supposed to change Iran’s conduct.

Not without cause, Iran has come to believe there are no consequences for its aggression and illegal conduct. Iran conducts impermissible ballistic missile tests; the U.S. president decides to delay sanctions. Iranian forces move into Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad; the administration invites Iran to talks on Syria’s future. The Obama negotiators conclude a nuclear deal without insisting on the release of Americans held in Iran; Iran takes this as a green light to grab another American.

Such is the nature of appeasement. It is not only morally abhorrent; it never works, because aggressive regimes and tyrants are never satisfied with their gains. Ultimately they must be confronted, but by then they have gained strength and confidence while Western democratic governments are shown to be foolish and weak. It will take a new president to arrest the pattern of serial concessions to the United States’ adversaries. We should brace ourselves for the havoc dictators will cause before Obama leaves office.

LATEST--Qatar has now recalled their Iranian Ambassador

LATEST---Obama WH/DoS has admitted they view Assad remaining in power until March 2017---SO he is basically kicking the can to the next US President....

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 12:31pm

Aleppo: 4 Iranian revolutionary guards officers killed in Brive Abdul Mehdi Kazemi battalion commander Colonel Hussein Abdullah, Ismail Karimi and Mohammad Reza Khani

Iran's Foreign Minister: Saudi Arabia fuelling tension and we are trying to calm it

Appears the Iranian FM has totally forgotten where his IRGC, the Iraqi Shia militias and the Shia mercenaries from 12 different countries are currently fighting.....

Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 7:21am

Who those SWJ readers who really do not want to believe the US/Obama has fully swung over to the Iranian/Putin/Shia positions DO read the following...AND YET we wonder why the KSA is acting in it's own self interests..........?????

HERE is exactly why the KSA is disconnecting now from the US and it is the specific fault of Obama no one else and "blaming others" just does not cut it any longer........

https://www.yahoo.com/news/provoke-peril-obama-administration-sending-2…

'Provoke at your peril': The Obama administration is sending a 'message' to Saudi Arabia

Natasha Bertrand

Saudi Arabia cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday, after Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran amid a row over the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

The US State Department on Saturday criticized Saudi Arabia's execution of Nimr al-Nimr.

It issued a statement expressing concern that Riyadh's actions were "exacerbating sectarian tensions." On Monday, State Department spokesman John Kirby noted that Iran had arrested some protesters who ransacked the embassy, undercutting the Saudi claim that Iran's government had an implicit hand in the embassy attack.

This comment, and the administration's overall response to the spat, has led some experts to wonder whose side the White House is really on.

Tony Badran, a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he believes the Obama administration has set a "very dangerous precedent" not only by failing to express support for its ally, but also by framing the conflict as a Sunni-Shiite religious war.

Indeed, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday that the conflict "breaks down along sectarian lines." He said the US had raised "direct concerns" to Saudi officials in advance "about the potential damaging consequences of following through on the execution" of al-Nimr.

"Unfortunately, the concerns that we expressed to the Saudis have precipitated the kinds of consequences that we were concerned about," Earnest said.

But this rhetoric, Badran said, only adds fuel to Iran's argument that the execution of al-Nimr "was a deliberate provocation" against Iran and its Shiite allies — which, in turn, implies that Iran is a legitimate representative of the region's Shiite Muslims.

"The White House is therefore sending a new message to Saudi Arabia," Badran added. "'Provoke at your peril.'"

That message, Badran said, is sent in conjunction with the Obama administration's vision for a new Middle East order — one in which Iran plays a central, if not leading, role. That vision, Badran believes, stems from Obama's desire to preserve a nuclear deal that will be the cornerstone of his foreign-policy legacy.

"Attacks on Saudi diplomats are attacks on the US order in the Middle East," Badran said, referring to Saudi Arabia's long-time status as a major US ally. "By not stepping up to defend that order, the US has essentially given Iran permission to try and tear it down."

Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator who is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, echoed this sentiment in an interview with Bloomberg View.

"The Iranians hold the Obama legacy in their hands," said Miller, who worked in the State Department for more than two decades. "We are constrained and we are acquiescing to a certain degree to ensure we maintain a functional relationship with the Iranians."

Other analysts have suggested that Iran's rising influence in the region led an increasingly isolated Saudi Arabia to push back against Iran and its allies, partly explaining the decision to execute al-Nimr.

"The key source of Saudi anxiety is Iran," the political-risk firm Eurasia Group noted in its 2016 analysis of the top risks to the world. "Soon to be free of sanctions, Iran's economy will strengthen, and its government will have more money to spend in support of regional clients."

But Badran said the US maintaining that functional relationship is key to the success of what he termed as the administration's "misguided approach to Syria," which aims to minimize US involvement in the conflict while recognizing Iran as a legitimate stakeholder in the country's future.

That policy was articulated most clearly in November when Russian officials, with the US's blessing, invited Iran to Vienna to participate in peace talks over Syria for the first time since the war erupted in 2011.

The invitation was "in line with Obama's long-held perception of Syria as an Iranian sphere of influence, and his desire to legitimize Iran as a regional interlocutor of the US," Badran said at the time. "Indeed, that was the whole point of the Iran deal — to establish a broader regional partnership with the Iranians."

Last week, an abrupt about-face from the administration also contributed to this perception.

It originally informed Congress that it would sanction Iran for violating a UN resolution and testing ballistic missiles at least twice in 2015. But it quickly backed away from those sanctions, indicating that it will take a lot — much more than a spat between Saudi Arabia and Iran — to derail a new relationship nearly eight years in the making.

Especially since, as Brookings' executive vice president told The New York Times on Monday: "We haven’t been on the same page with the Saudis for a long time."

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 1:47pm

Bill M---this is the second major Syrian anti Assadist executed who was also supported by KSA that was also at the recent KSA meeting .....so was it carried out by the IRGC, Shia mercenaries, Assad paramilitaries and or the GRU Spetsnaz.....

There has been a nasty rumor in Syria that the Russians had a hit list out for all individuals who attended the Syrian Conference meeting recently in KSA.....

Yet we wonder just why KSA is on an anti Shia campaign and why they distrust anything Obama says as they view his supporting Iran.

2-days ago, Sheikh Abu Rateb issued a broad call for improved levels of unity among the armed opposition in #Syria:
pic.twitter.com/KbDIlqZ6Q0

Ahrar al-Sham's chief in #Homs, Abu Rateb (former Liwa al-Haq leader) has been assassinated by gunmen.

Sheikh Abu Rateb was a member of Ahrar al-Sham’s ruling Shura Council. He was shot dead while driving in Al-Farhaniya in northern #Homs

BTW--Putin has publicly stated that the two strongest anti Assad forces in Syria----JaI and al-Sham---both supported by KSA are terrorist groups and should not be allowed to participate in the ongoing Syrian talks....BUT resists Hezbollah and IRGC being declared terrorists as well.

BUT WAIT....Russia offered to mediate between Iran and KSA...so what does one think the KSA answer will be??

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 1:26pm

Eliot Higgins @EliotHiggins

UN Security Council to discuss weapons delivery from Turkey to Syria at Russia’s request

http://tass.ru/en/world/848312

© EPA/JUSTIN LANE UNITED NATIONS, January 5 /TASS/. The United Nations Security Council will discuss delivery of weapons from Turkey to Syria on Tuesday at Russia’s request, Uruguay’s Permanent Representative to UN Elbio Rosselli, who is presiding over the UN Security Council in January, told journalists on Monday. He added that the meeting would take place behind the closed doors. Read also Syrian ambassador to UN says Turkish Army directly helped terrorists "Yes. The question of delivery of (weapons) across the Turkish-Syrian border will be raised tomorrow (Tuesday) as part of the general discussion. The consultations will take place at Russia’s request," the diplomat told TASS. According to Rosselli, Jeffrey Feltman, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is to deliver a report. In December 2015, Vladimir Safronkov, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said that Moscow was extremely concerned with the ongoing arms supplies to Syria and the penetration of terrorists into the country via the U.N.-monitored checkpoints at which U.N. observers are supposed to check the relief cargoes. Safronkov said that Russia had suggested applying the U.N. monitoring mechanisms to all the cargoes bound for Syria, including those declared as relief cargoes. However, the United Nations Security Council ignored the Russian initiative as it was preparing Resolution 2258, which authorizes the delivery of relief cargoes to the conflict-stricken areas in Syria directly from the territories of neighbouring countries until January 10, 2017.

BUT WAIT--Russia has run 49 so called "humanitarian aid convoys" into eastern Ukraine AND has refused to allow any UN and or IRC controls on what was being transported....a recent Russian Red Cross official openly in an interview stated that Russia had been using the aid convoys to ship weapons to their mercenaries......

SO NOW will Russia start allowing controls of their so called aid convoys into eastern Ukraine...certainly not.

WILL BE interesting to see how the US handles this----Russia is not interested in weapons flowing to IS AS MUCH as they want the KSA and the Sunni Front States to stop weapons flowing to FSA......as their Shia mercenary army and their RuAF has basically been unable after over 90 days of constant attacks gain any major territory anywhere in Syria.....

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 12:08pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

NYTs from today......

To Have an Ally in the Middle East, the U.S. Needs a Strategic Vision

Iyad El-Baghdadi

Iyad El-Baghdadi is an entrepreneur, writer and Arab Spring activist. He is on Twitter.

January 4, 2016

A “reliable ally” is one that effectively aids you in accomplishing a strategic vision. Does the United States even have a strategic vision for the Middle East, to ask any allies to rally around?

If the U.S. wants reliable allies in the region it has to first figure out what it wants in the region – and it better be something the people of the region can sign on to.

For years, Saudi Arabia was a reliable ally in maintaining a certain “stability” in the Middle East, one focused less on human rights and more on energy security and counterterrorism. This longstanding alliance seems to be falling apart now, as the Gulf states pursue their own independent agenda, in a manner that is further destabilizing an already volatile region.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was as reckless, inflammatory and immoral as its decision to invade Yemen last year. However, try for a minute to take Saudi Arabia’s assumptions for granted – what if the Houthi rebellion in Yemen was an “Iranian intervention”? What if Nimr al-Nimr was a terrorist mastermind in the employ of an Iranian agenda? They weren’t – and he wasn’t – but if you somehow accept these assumptions, then Saudi Arabia was indeed acting assertively against an existential threat.

The U.S. may have thought the Iran deal was a strategic breakthrough, but it is beyond question today that the effects of the deal on the Middle East have so far been catastrophic. By excluding the strategic interests of Arab nations about Iranian interventionism, the Obama administration has allowed an ugly proxy war to get uglier, and has forced Arab nations to break rank to protect what they perceive to be their own self-interests, bringing more instability and more suffering.

If the U.S. wants reliable allies in the region it has to first figure out what it wants in the region – and it better be something the people of the region can sign on to. And please, put human rights on the agenda.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 12:03pm

From a UAE activist who was kicked out of the UAE that I tend to follow via his twitter account......

The other day Hezbollah leader Nasrallah referred to al-Nimr as one who "bravely told the truth". Nimr said Assad was a tyrant, Nasrallah

Either Nimr is right and that makes Nasrallah an oppressor, or Nasrallah is right and that makes Nimr ignorant. Which is it?

By framing this as an existential threat to Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah's rhetoric serves to rally average Saudis behind their regime more

What could truly threaten the survival of the Saudi regime isn't losing the consent of the Shia minority, but that of the Sunni majority.

Hezbollah's recent statements about "Saudi Arabia nearing collapse" demonstrate its strategic stupidity.

Just note that this isn't about Saudi Arabia vs Iran as cultures; it's about the regimes

Saudi Arabia's recent actions have been reckless and inflammatory - but they're not irrational. There's a cold logic to them.

A reliable ally helps you achieve a strategic vision. Does the US even have a strategic vision in the Middle East any more?

There is no question that the Iran deal has worsened the proxy war in the region.

I really doubt Saudi Arabia coordinated with the US before taking these moves.

nrogeiro

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 9:31am

The lack of leverage from Washington DC is compounded by the natural «transition» and even confusion of an election year.
No wonder than that even Moscow appears as having a chance of mediating.
As for Turkey, it is rather coy.
We should understand also that many countries - regional or others - are «tertius gaudens» in the Ryadh-Tehran duel: kind of «let's see who - badly wounded - rises from the rubble».

Nuno Rogeiro
Lisbon, Portugal

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 6:35am

Bill M---can this headline from today's WJS be any clearer concerning the opinion held by the Sunni Front States in the ME towards Obama----I have repeatedly said here---the ME is more often about perception and a perception of trust........utterly critical when working in the ME.

Obama needs to ask himself--was his hanging onto the Iran Deal for his legacy worth the destruction of the US ME FP in less than four years.....?

WJS
Opinion
Review & Outlook
Sunni Arab Solidarity
Bahrain and the U.A.E. join Saudi Arabia in ignoring a U.S. they don’t trust.

Ties nicely into the article I posted from the KSA...had the same exact thesis----they no longer really trust whatever the US tells them---we the US urgently need to understand the WHY---it is Obama nothing more nothing less....

The days of the US being the adult in the room in the ME is over and the Obama global retrenchment is fully underway--from the South China Sea, to eastern Ukraine to the ME---Wilson 1920 here we come.....

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 6:09am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

BTW--Obama has been largely responsible for holding back KSA major support for the anti Assad forces via the MOC in Jordan for the last four years which has held the Southern Front Army marking time and not engaging when they are urgently needed AND has restricted the KSA flow of TOWs to the SFA as well.

Now the KSA gloves are off and the SFA is listening to the KSA have now reengaged into the fighting yesterday....another indicator Obama has no further influence in Syria.

BTW--the so called US support of the SDF which is really a true Kurdish Army is actually designed to cut off the flow of supplies to the entire FSA via Turkey ALL the while Obama and Kerry claim it is designed to cut the flow of supplies to IS....AGAIN the KSA swallowed this as did Turkey BUT after the last week meeting between the KSA leadership and Edorgan with no leakage of what the meeting was about is setting the stage for a potential Turk cross over of the Syrian border north of Aleppo.

In ALL of this we in the US are totally forgetting that the so called Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is not Syrian and is not Arabic....over 35 Iraqi Shia militia are fighting inside Syria, there are Shia mercenary fighters from 12 different largely Shia based countries fighting to include AFG in Syria along with the IRGC and Hezbollah.

This is already a full scale Sunni Shia war whether we want to call it that or not.....

Sheikh_Meskin Op. Room announced retrieved back 60% of #Brigade82 in counter assault launched by #FSA
#Daraa #Syria JAN 5

This after 200+ Russian airstrikes

8 bodies of #Iran's Revolutionary Guards arrived in Mashhad- killed during battle in Sheik Miskin /southern #Syria

Douma after years of #Assad and months of #Putin air strikes ...
Some people want to stay.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OxSyOACujk

The starving civilians of Douma due to Assad starvation policy. Lots of evidence in this link
http://humanpains.com/2015/05/14/syr...weapon-of-war/

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 5:57am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill ----I had posted a recent open article written by an influential KSA insider complaining bitterly about the utter lack of US ME FP and the fact that no one on the Sunni side fully understood just what Obama was doing since his swing towards Iran for his legacy.

Now on top of this particular article comes an incessant social media campaign about the Russian AF deliberately targeting and killing an ever increasing number of civilians--mainly Sunni---now comes the news of the use of starvation on a 40K Sunni town and in other Sunni occupied areas.

Remember it was the US as part of the UNSC that has demanded in three resolutions that the bombing of civilians has to stop ---Kerry had brought up this issue twice with Putin and his FM BUT what was the RuAF response---even more killings....so in the eyes of KSA Obama has no influence on anything at all in the ME and is siding more and more with Russia and Iran.

Then the Obama total back down on his previous positon that Assad had to go before peace talks could begin a major anti Assad forces/KSA/Turkey/Qatar/UAE forces demand ..thus Obama totally taking the Putin position on Assad and Syria.....in the eyes of the Saudis....another Obama sell out....after his red line on the use of chemical weapons which the OWPC stated in their report yesterday that even Assad forces got gassed accidently with their on Sarin in Octo 2015.

THEN the Russian execution air strike on the JaI leader Alloush---probably the strongest individual anti Assad leader capable of uniting the various fighting factions under one banner..followed by a series of attempted Russian air strike executions of the other anti Assad leaders who had met recently in KSA.

That the peace talks have broken down is a side effect but not their key goal...Putin designed the talks to actually fail and they are over the names of supposedly terrorist groups...EXACTLY as he did the Minsk 2 agreement---it then allows him to keep on fighting and doing what he wants all the while arguing "it's the others that are causing the problem".

Too little too late.....and absolutely no influence since Obama and Kerry went full in on the Iran Deal...for the Sunni Front States Obama and Kerry in fact support Putin in his killing of Sunni's by Shia mercenaries.....AND the RuAF

White House goes into damage control on Syria peace talks via @POLITICO http://politi.co/1mvmvg2
pic.twitter.com/O2rwVXc83F

Iran got carried away talking so tough warmongering, terror sponsoring & death chants but knows Saudi can turn Sunni world against Iran

Kuwait has called back their Iranian Ambassador......

Al Arabiya English Verified account 
‏@AlArabiya_Eng #BreakingNews Correspondent: Iranian letter to Security Council expressing sorrow over what had happened to Saudi embassy

Bullies are deep down the biggest wimps. Iran is now begging & apologizing

Very true. Obama kept supporting Iran for his legacy allowing them to massacre Sunnis & holding the Saudis back. Too late now

Bill M.

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 10:51pm

I can't help but wonder if the Saudis did this principally to undermine the peace talks for Syria?

nrogeiro

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 2:42pm

Significant countries that condemned the storming of the Saudi Embassy at the n.1 of Pasdaran Avenue, Tehran:

Muslim

*Morocco, Mauritania, Pakistan, Kuwait, Sudan, Bahrain, UAE, Yemen, Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Djibouti, Libya, Turkey, Malaysia.

Muslim Organizations/NGO

*SG, Council of Arab Interior Ministers, Al Azhar, SG Gulf Cooperation Council, SG Organiz. Islamic Cooperation, Muslim World league

Non Muslim

*US, Russsia, EU, Australia

Countries that broke or reduced diplomatic relations with Iran:

*Sudan, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar rumoured, Jordan rumoured

Notable Countries that criticized the execution of Al Nimr:

*EU, Canada, UK

Notable absences in this (I think):

Indonesia, India, BiH, Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq

Some final notes

*Iran has three times the population of Saudi Arabia
*Saudi Arabia is the second world petroleum producer, while Iran is 7th.
*Saudi Arabia spends 4 times more than Iran in defense
*Nominal Saudi GDP is twice the Iranian one
*While 90% of Saudis are Arabs, only 71% of Iranians are Persians
*Iran's armed forces are twice as big as the Saudi ones
*Nominally the Iranian AF has the same number of combat planes as Saudi Arabia, but while this one fields modern aircraft, the former has a mixed bag of old, very old, refurbished and transformed units, some largely untested in real combat.
*The countries with notable Shiite populations that didn't condemn the attack on the embassy are India and Iraq.

Nuno Rogeiro
Lisbon, Portugal

(Source: Saudi Press Agency)

RantCorp

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 4:23pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw,
I imagine as a sign of good faith the KSA would demand a nuke sans triggers or delivery system to be prepositioned inside the KSA. I suggest the latter option as without triggers you are just promising delivering bits of metal.

One is reminded of the hundred tactical nuclear short-range missiles the Soviets had in Cuba without us knowing.

Mind you a nuclear test in the Empty Quarter could be explained away as a Bikini Atol, Moruroa Atol type excuse and would focus many, many minds.

RC

Outlaw 09

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 3:45pm

In reply to by RantCorp

At the last count Pakistan had 120 nuclear devices.....nasty rumor is alive about the possible transfer of one to the KSA in recent days......

What is bad is Obama and Company have since their push for the Iran Deal absolutely no leverage whatsoever anywhere within the Sunni world.....in some apsects both Obama and Putin are in fact supporting the Shia....and that is dangerous.

RantCorp

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 3:37pm

I would guess the Pakistan Army has given the Gulf States their support for this diplomatic brinkmanship. If the Pakistan Gov sever diplomatic ties as well then we have a completely different ball game.

The Mad Mullahs are slowly but steadily marching into a two front war. They are shaping a strategic shit-storm consisting of several hundred thousand Pak Army troops on their eastern frontier and the same numbers of Arabs on a western frontier (bolstered by tens of thousands of Pak regulars) that forms a 800 km wide noose around the Shia neck.

The Fruitcake on both sides are now pulling both ends of the Gordian Knot. For the life of me we had the Iranian Fruitcake in check for decades and as such there wasn’t anyone pulling on the other end. Instead of putting the Gulf Fruitcake in the same political straitjacket we did the opposite and let the rabid dogs out.

So what?

The Paks carry the big stick that trumps all other sticks. If you believe the average Pakistani doesn’t loathe the Shia as much as the average Gulfie then you are a dangerous imbecile. The only thing that would be exercising the Pak High Command is would ‘Bare-chested Idiot on a White Horse’ Putin give the Mad Mullahs a kiloton match for what the Paks would give the KSA. After all the HoS have already paid for it and chesty Putin has thousands to spare

The great irony is giving someone a nuclear arsenal wouldn’t violate the treaty that has triggered this whole mess. The Mad Mullah would simply argue that sovereign States accepting a gifted nuclear capability to counter nuclear blackmail is the cornerstone of NATO, and indeed Western, peace and prosperity.

The big difference is they are treading this well-worn path to peaceful and prosperous democracy whilst engaged in a war of unspeakable barbarity.

Like the man said we may not be interested in their war but their war is interested in us.

You couldn’t make this shit up. How the hell did we get into this position??

RC