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Mystery ensues after Saudi Arabia and Iran cut ties

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

01-08-2016 18:49 BJT

By Zheng Dongchao, associate researcher of China Center for Contemporary World Study

While the United States and Russia were striking terrorist organizations of "Islamic States" and a diplomatic crisis had ensued between Russia and Turkey; Saudi Arabia and Iran announced  the severance of diplomatic ties.

Bilateral relation break-off

Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, served as the last straw, reflecting the desperate conflicts between Sunnite and Shiah. Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, relations between Riyadh and Tehran have entered a low ebb. Numerous disagreements have led to a break-off of relations.

Saudi Arabia intends to have the leading role of Sunnite community in the Middle East in order to contain Iran. Riyadh has also maintained good relations with Washington. But, the US and Saudi Arabia hold different views over the Middle East, as Riyadh has realized they do not always agree with Washington's policies.

Riyadh strongly opposed Washington's nuclear agreement with Tehran, which fomented Iran's nuclear ambitions. Failing to contain Iran, Saudi Arabia sought to confront Iran.

Adding confusion to the Middle East

Since Arab Spring Revolutions had erupted in the Middle East, disorder reigns and no new order has been established yet. Tensions between Riyadh and Tehran have made the region more complicated. The Sunnis dominate Saudi Arabia and the Shia control Iran. They have frequently confronted each other behind the scenes, historically-speaking. 

Additionally, countries, such as Bahrain and Sudan, have also cut off diplomatic relations with Iran. The diplomatic crisis would challenge Washington's Middle East policy.

Since the Islamist terrorist attack in Paris last November, US President Barack had to focus more on anti-terrorism measures. Meanwhile, Obama faces tougher challenges with Tehran. Obama wanted Iran to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement. With the worsening tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, Tehran is more likely to conduct weapons upgrades to defend its security. 

Where are bilateral relations headed?

There might be two directions for bilateral relations. The crisis could get worse, transforming from a trade war and mutual sanctions to a real military war. Or, the crisis could gradually settle down. Some observers hold that the second direction might be most possible.

For Washington, the fight between Riyadh and Tehran goes against US benefits. If a war erupts, Washington cannot adopt a neutral policy, and they must support Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, a soft landing on the Iran nuclear issue would vanish.

Washington is expected to fight Islamist terrorists on the battlefield as well. The US may likely ask Saudi Arabia and Iran to remain calm. Besides, Iran might not really want to fight Saudi Arabia.

Many Muslims in the Middle East support Iran, but they do not wish to engage in war against Riyadh. The Iran nuclear agreement has already been concluded. The diplomatic isolation of Tehran, led by Washington, has ended and sanctions against Iran would gradually be cancelled.

Hence, Iran should take its economic development opportunities into consideration for the next few years. Thus, the likely scenario would be that Iran might feel inhibited, quarrelling with Saudi Arabia, even engaging in trade and oil wars, but would not take military actions against their nemesis.

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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