Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Sunni - Shia War Heats Up

Iran-Saudi Arabia row

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran was ransacked and set alight on Saturday, after it executed Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others.  Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in response, followed on Monday by its allies Bahrain and Sudan. The Kuwaiti government said it was recalling its ambassador from the Iranian capital...".

Saudi authorities on Sunday severed diplomatic relations with Iran. They said that all commercial and air traffic links were being cut and that Saudi citizens were banned from travelling to Iran. Bahrain's transport ministry also suspended all flights to and from Iran on Tuesday, the official Bahrain News Agency reported.

As well as the moves by Bahrain, Sudan and Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has downgraded its diplomatic team in Iran. And on Monday, the UN Security Council issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attack on the Saudi embassy - making no mention of the execution of the cleric.

Iran-Saudi sectarian proxy wars set to explode - Ariel Ben Solomon

Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr seems likely to escalate sectarian Sunni- Shi’ite violence in the Middle East, experts told The Jerusalem Post. Gulf Sunni states, with the exception of independent- minded Oman, are expected to publicly back the Saudis, while Shi’ite-dominated Iraq and allied Syria back Iran.

“The Shia Sunni conflict is boiling,” Eliezer “Geizi” Tsafrir, a former Arab affairs adviser to the prime minister and senior Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) official, who is currently a fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, told the Post.

Tsafrir pointed at how tensions were already rife since the Saudis, having had enough of Iranian subversion near its border, launched a war in Yemen last year to defend its interests against Iranian- backed Houthis taking over the country.

Tsafrir added that the decision by Sudan, until recently in Iran’s orbit of influence, to cut off diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, may be a sign of things to come. He said Khartoum’s maneuver demonstrated how far the conflict between the Sunni and Shi’ite factions has escalated.

“We can expect more steps,” Tsafrir said.

Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, an expert on Saudi Arabia and the modern Middle East, told the Post that since King Salman took over a year ago, “he and his advisers have pushed for a more muscular foreign policy to assert Saudi responsibility for Sunni Muslims.”

In addition, Teitelbuam, a senior research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, sees Saudi action as a response to American retrenchment in the region. “The Saudis perceive it as creating a vacuum that the pro-Iranian Shi’ite forces are filling,” Teitelbaum said.
[Jerusalem Post]

Saudi-Iran Breakdown May Prolong Syrian Civil War - Herb Keinon

Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, the former head of Israel's National Security Council, said the breakdown in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia could prolong the Syrian civil war, in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are backing different forces. Referring to attempts to negotiate an end to the Syrian crisis, Amidror said: "It is clear that so much oil has been poured on the flames now that I don't know how long it will take to put them out."  

(Jerusalem Post)



Iran TV Shows Off Nuke-Capable Missiles

Iran unveiled a new underground missile depot, with state television showing weapons in store that the U.S. says are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Emad precision-guided missiles shown in the footage also violate a 2010 UN Security Council resolution.

Iran's boasts are a challenge for the Obama administration as the U.S. and EU plan to end nearly all international sanctions against Tehran under the nuclear deal reached in July. 
(Reuters-NBC News)

Is the U.S. Tilting toward Iran? - Josh Rogin & Eli Lake

When the White House sold the Iran nuclear deal to Congress, its message was that nothing in the deal would prevent the U.S. from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear issues. Yet that has not been the case. Last week, the Treasury Department balked at the last moment on sanctioning 11 entities and individuals it deemed responsible for helping the Iranian government develop its ballistic missile program in violation of UN sanctions. The State Department had intervened at the last minute, following objections by the Iranian government.

A week earlier, Secretary of State Kerry wrote personally to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to assure him that the Obama administration could waive new restrictions that would require visas for anyone who had visited Iran to enter the U.S. Iran's sentencing of a U.S. journalist on espionage charges in November, and its detention of a U.S.-Iranian dual national in October, have led to no downgrade in relations.

U.S. officials tell us Iran has extraordinary leverage at this moment, as the world waits for it to implement all of its obligations in the nuclear deal. Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said, "The Iranians hold the Obama legacy in their hands. We are constrained and we are acquiescing to a certain degree to ensure we maintain a functional relationship with the Iranians."  

Iran Sacks Another Embassy - Elliott Abrams

Iran is a police state, with plenty of manpower available to stop "protesters" or "students" from entering embassy grounds that the Islamic Republic government is pledged to protect

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.
The writer, a senior fellow at CFR, was a deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration.
(Council on Foreign Relations)

The Saudis Are Rightly Concerned about Iran - Dennis B. Ross

The Saudis see the Iranians and their Shiite militia proxies as their preeminent threat. They are far more ready to challenge them, particularly in the aftermath of America's nuclear deal with Iran.

The Saudis see the Obama administration as unwilling to challenge the Iranians and worry about how Iran will exploit the sanctions relief it will soon receive.

In effect, by provocatively executing the nation's leading Shiite cleric, the Saudis are drawing their own red line with Iran because they doubt that the U.S. will.

Iran - in Iraq, in Syria, in Bahrain and in Yemen - has added much to the worsening of the Sunni-Shiite conflict. Will the Iranians provide additional material support to their proxies once they receive sanctions relief? Nearly all of America's friends in the region, including both Arabs and Israelis, are convinced they will and are watching to see how the U.S. responds.
The writer, a former State Department and National Security Council official, was a special assistant to President Obama for the Middle East.

(New York Times)

Nuclear Pakistan Threatens to ‘Wipe Iran the Map’

Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif has reiterated that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity will would evoke a sharp response. He said Pakistan would “wipe Iran off the map.”

Sharif made the remarks in a statement after Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman visited him in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital. Salman earlier arrived in Islamabad, making him the second top Saudi official to visit Pakistan in a week amid growing tension with Iran.

The bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are historically close and extremely friendly, occasionally described as constituting a special relationship. Pakistan has been called “Saudi Arabia’s closest Muslim ally.
[United with Israel]

Is the U.S. Leaning toward Shiite Iran? - Jackson Diehl

After Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric was followed by militants sacking the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, the State Department carefully refrained from blaming the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei for the violence and adopted a neutral position on the bilateral dispute - an extraordinary stance given the decades of U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and enmity with the Islamic Republic.

It quickly became clear that the White House's overwhelming priority boiled down to avoiding any words or action that would disrupt the ongoing implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal. That was of a piece with its last-minute retreat on Dec. 30 from imposing sanctions on Tehran for missile launches and a promise to waive new congressional restrictions on visas for foreigners who visited Iran.

The embarrassing retreat from imposing missile sanctions was particularly damaging. The administration first accused Tehran of violating a UN Security Council resolution linked to the nuclear deal by testing long-range missiles, then pulled back a relatively mild set of financial penalties on companies and individuals hours after notifying Congress they were coming. The resulting message is that Washington lacks the will to punish Iran for clear violations.

If the bloodletting is to end, minorities - whether Sunni or Shiite, Christian or Kurd - must gain basic rights. It means abandoning the impractical and immoral position that reconstituting Iraq and Syria takes precedence over allowing a Kurdish homeland. And it means removing the vicious regime of Bashar al-Assad, whose crimes against humanity are responsible for much of the chaos.
(Washington Post)

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