Allies follow Saudi lead in cutting ties with Iran
Allies of Saudi Arabia followed the kingdom’s lead Monday and scaled back diplomatic ties to Iran after the ransacking of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic, violence sparked by the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Sudan and the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain said they would sever ties with Iran, as Saudi Arabia did late Sunday. Within hours, the United Arab Emirates announced it would downgrade ties to Tehran to the level of the charge d’affaires, while other nations issued statements criticizing Iran.
The concerted campaign by Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia highlights the aggressive stance King Salman and his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have adopted in confronting Iran, a longtime regional rival.
“What we have seen during the last 24 hours is unprecedented... It shows you Saudi Arabia has had enough of Iran and wants to send a message,’’ said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a political science professor at Emirates University. “This is the Saudis saying: ‘ There is no limit to how far we will go.’’’
The standoff began Saturday, when Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr alNimr and 46 others convicted of terror charges _ the largest mass execution carried out by the kingdom since 1980.
Al-Nimr was a central figure in the Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority, who long denied advocating violence. News of his execution has sparked Shiite protests from Bahrain to Pakistan.
In Iran, protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. By late Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced the kingdom would sever its relations with Iran over the assaults, giving Iranian diplomatic personnel 48 hours to leave his country.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority suspended all flights to and from Iran, saying the move was based on the kingdom’s cutting of diplomatic ties.
Iran expressed “regret’’ over the attacks on the diplomatic missions in a letter to the United Nations on Monday and vowed to arrest those responsible. In the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Iran’s U.N. envoy Gholamali Khoshroo says more than 40 protesters have been arrested and that authorities are searching for other suspects.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have long vied for influence in the Middle East, with their rivalry deepening following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which allowed Iran to assert dominance there, and the chaos of the Arab Spring, which gave rise to proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. An early battleground was Bahrain, where the Shiite majority staged mass protests in 2011 demanding political reforms from the Sunni monarchy. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent in troops to help quash the revolt, viewing it as an Iranian bid to expand its influence.
Bahraini officials have since accused Iran of training militants and attempting to smuggle arms into the country, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. In October, Bahrain ordered the acting Iranian charge d’affaires to leave within 72 hours and recalled its own ambassador after alleging Iran sponsored “subversion’’ and “terrorism’’ and funneled arms to militants.
Iraqi Shiite protesters chant slogans against the Saudi government as they hold posters showing Sheikh Nimr alNimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia last week, during a demonstration in Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday.