Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir warned on November 6th, “Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns, and expect us not to take steps,” he said.
“We see this as an act of war.”
Additionally, Lebanon’s prime minister resigned, as a way of exerting pressure on Iran’s major ally in Lebanon, Hizbollah. In his resignation speech on November 4th, Saad al-Hariri said, “Wherever Iran settles, it sows discord, devastation and destruction.” He added that Iran’s hands in the region “will be cut off”.
Saudi foreign policy is said to have become more aggressive under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is eager to challenge Iran more directly.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have been fighting a cold war across the Middle East for over a decade. In his article for The Straits Times, former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday and journalism professor, Mohamad Bazzi writes, “The proxy battles – in which the two rivals are backing competing factions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain – have shaped the Middle East since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. While the conflict is partly rooted in the historical Sunni-Shi’ite split within Islam, it is mainly a struggle for political dominance over the Middle East between Shi’ite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia.”
He adds, “Both powers increasingly see their rivalry as a winner-takes-all conflict: If the Shi’ite Hizbollah gains an upper hand in Lebanon, then the Sunnis of Lebanon – and by extension, their Saudi patrons – lose a round to Iran. If a Shi’ite-led government solidifies its control of Iraq, then Iran will have won another round.”
In these proxy wars lie the cause of much of the death and destruction in the region over the past six years. They have cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria. At least 400,000 have been killed there since March of 2011, when uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began.
Saudi Arabia launched a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen — who Iran is accused of supporting — in March of 2015. Saudi officials claim that the missile which was fired at Riyadh had been smuggled into Yemen in parts. According to Saudi officials, members of Hizbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard assembled the missile, and helped Houthi rebels fire it from Yemeni territory.
Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan, has said, ”We will treat the government of Lebanon as a government declaring a war because of Hizbollah.
Lebanon is kidnapped by the militias of Hizbollah, and Iran is behind it.”
The power centers in the Arab world, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, are said to be nervous about the growing influence of Iran — its nuclear ambitions, its influence over the Iraqi government, its support for militant groups like Hizbollah and Hamas, and its alliance with Syria.
After the 2011 Arab uprisings, the conflict with Iran intensified, especially when the Arab revolutions spread to Bahrain, a Shi’ite-majority country ruled by a Sunni monarchy only 26km from the Eastern Province. Bahrain is an oil-rich area where a large segment of the population is Shi’ite. After accusing Iran of supporting the Bahrain uprising, in March of 2001 the Saudis sent more than 1,000 troops to help crush the pro-democracy movement there.
King Abdullah died in January of 2015, and was succeeded by his brother Salman, who, along with his advisers, pursued a more aggressive policy. According to Bazzi, King Salman launched a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and appointed his then 29-year-old son as defense minister to oversee the campaign.
Despite intensive air strikes and a naval blockade, the Saudis and their allies have still not been able to remove the Houthis from Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.