Iran-Saudi crisis is the bitter fruit of Obama’s inept diplomacy
By Benny Avni
Our romance with Iran was supposed to bring peace. Now, we might be in for an all-out Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East.
In President Obama’s seven years in office, hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia grew by leaps and bounds. Over the weekend, things got much worse when the Saudis executed a firebrand Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, accusing him of inciting an Iranian-backed Shiite uprising in their country.
Iran, as it’s often done since the 1979 revolution, organized a “spontaneous” attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, setting it on fire. Riyadh retaliated by expelling Tehran’s diplomats and severing ties, as did Bahrain and Sudan. The United Arab Emirates downgraded diplomatic relations, too. Others are expected to follow suit.
And us? Initially, the State Department denounced al-Nimr’s execution (46 others, mostly terrorists with ties to extremist jihadi groups, were also executed by the Saudis Saturday). Later, we denounced the embassy sacking.
Mostly, we called for calm, and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to top Saudi and Iranian officials.
In background briefings American officials made it clear they see the Saudi execution as the provocation that lit the match. French Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud even went so far as to explain away the mullahs’ diplomacy-by-torch. “Iran was obliged to react” to the Saudi provocation, he tweeted, adding, “Burning an embassy is spectacular but not war.” (Perhaps remembering that he, in fact, heads an embassy, Araud later deleted the unfortunate tweet.)
So are the Saudis really the bad guys here?
True, Riyadh’s justice system is no paragon of Jeffersonian ideals. Cruel and unusual punishment (stoning, limb-severing, throat slashing) is part of the system. We should certainly condemn it, rather than back the Saudi candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, as we did last year.
But, hey, the supposedly aggrieved party here, Iran, is second only to China in using the death penalty, doubling the annual Saudi execution rate — including political opponents. Except rather than slashing throats, like the kingdom’s executioners, the mullahs hang people from cranes at city centers.
There are no angels here.
Meanwhile, the Saudis, our allies for a century, are at a crossroads. The aging King Salman is likely the last dynast of his generation. Mohammed, his ambitious and trigger-happy 30-year-old son, who’s currently deputy crown prince and defense minister, represents the increasingly assertive policies of a new generation.
The Saudi-Iran proxy war can be seen in the “civil wars” of Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.
As the Arabs see it, America constantly sides with Iran and its Shiite allies against the Sunnis — who make up more than 80 percent of the world’s Muslims.
Take Ramadi, where under our air umbrella the Iraqi army started reversing ISIS’s string of victories. The problem: Ramadi was mostly captured by Shiite units of an army under the command of Baghdad’s Iranian-backed government — much to the frustration of Iraq’s Sunnis.
The Saudis look on with dismay. They cherish the alliance with America, but last week they learned from our media the White House announced
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