BEIRUT/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was quick to condemn the execution of Saudi cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, stating: “Without a doubt, the hated Saudi regime will pay a price for this shameful act.”
For an organization deeply involved in wars in Syria and Iraq this looks no idle threat, at least in the eyes of Sunni Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia who say Shi’ite rival Tehran is bent on undermining their security.
The Guard’s furious comment is not a call for direct conflict with Riyadh, something neither country wants. But it is a reminder to Gulf Arabs that the IRGC, with connections in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, has many ways to wage the long cold war between Tehran and its Arab foes.
Tehran denies interfering in Arab lands. But the Quds Force, the arm of the Guards that operates abroad, has contributed fighters, weapons and military supplies to back Iran’s interests and policies across the region.
“They have their operatives, their people, their connections everywhere in the region who will answer what the Saudis did and actually escalate. Iran is in a very strong position to respond in the Saudi Arabian eastern province. And they can do a lot in Bahrain.”
Moderate voices on both sides do not have an interest in seeing the situation escalate into a full conflict, experts say.
And yet the rivals often compete indirectly through allies, which lends the contest an element of unpredictability: Some Iranian proxies may be encouraged by the tough rhetoric coming from Tehran to carry out attacks not sanctioned by the Guard.
“I think the Iranians think they can actually have a victory in Bahrain which would be a red line for the Saudis,” said a Western diplomat in Beirut who asked not to be identified.
“A key part of the Iranian narrative is that Bahrain is a majority Shi’ite nation that is being oppressed and not allowed democracy.”
“Iran has created a Frankenstein with the Shi’ite militias in Iraq,” said the Western diplomat in Beirut.
“When you keep emphasizing this notion of Saudi Arabia and its proxies oppressing Shia — and you’ve got these angry militiamen — at some point they’re going to be out of Iran’s control. There’s always the risk of that kind of escalation.”
“The fact that the Saudis have decided to sever their diplomatic relations with Iran means that they are, in their own minds, ready for an all-out confrontation with Iran,” Khashan said. “There is nothing the Saudis can do to destabilize Iran whereas the Iranians on the other hand have every means conceivable to destabilize Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, namely Bahrain.”
Full article: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Delivers a Warning to Saudi Arabia (Newsweek)