Al­lies fol­low Saudi lead in cut­ting ties with Iran

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - SIEGE THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

AP PHOTO

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.

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