Saudi Arabia’s order for its citizens to evacuate Lebanon is the latest ominous signal in an escalating confrontation between the Middle East’s chief regional rivals, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The two nations have long fought proxy wars against each other, but many fear that the newly empowered Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is looking to assert Saudi Arabia’s regional dominance at any cost. The conflict heated up last year when Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric and then severed diplomatic ties with Iran.
Now the Saudis are publicly airing their disapproval with Iran’s chief foreign affiliate, Hezbollah, which has significant representation in Lebanon’s parliament and has asserted its influence in neighboring Syria.
Experts, however, don’t think a regional conflagration is imminent. “The Saudis have always thought the wrong solution for their problem with Iran and now their hope is the Trump administration will come in and tilt the balance in their favor,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran project director at Crisis Group. “It’s unlikely to change Iran’s regional policy — Iran will continue to support its allies and proxies in the region — but it’s unlikely to result in a major conflict.”
Even if the conflict doesn’t boil over, there is plenty at stake for the U.S. and the world in the battle between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. There’s the price of oil, which rises during crises — an ironic benefit to the belligerents, who have some of the world’s largest oil reserves — and there’s the regional balance of power. (Read more from “Saudi Arabia and Iran Battle for Power in the Middle East” HERE)