Although Iran and Saudi Arabia have been locking horns for decades, analysts from both countries say their governments are not interested in a full-scale conflict.
In a rare move, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly sent a letter to Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on Monday, urging him to put an end to the conflicts raging in the Middle East and offering himself as a potential mediator in any peace process.
Iranian experts and officials have rushed to downplay Ahmadinejad’s move, saying his gesture did not represent the official position of the country, which has been locking horns with Saudi Arabia for decades.
Battle of Civilizations?
The death of Prophet Mohammad in 632 started a feud, with Muslims unable to agree on who his successor should be, eventually leading Islam to split into two denominations: Sunna practiced by the Saudis and the majority of the Muslim world and Shia which predominates in Iran and a number of other states.
But for Ahmed Al Ibrahim, a Saudi political analyst, it is far beyond religion, it is a clash of civilizations.
“Iranians think they are a dynasty, whereas the Saudis are not more than a bunch of Bedouins. But the truth is that we have been the custodians of the two holy sites for centuries. We have been around for years. That’s not the case with Iran, whose former Supreme leader [Ayatollah Khomeini born in Iraq – ed.] landed in Tehran on an Air France flight, putting an end to Iran’s progress and taking them years back,” he said referring to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that led to deteriorating relations between Tehran and Riyadh.
Throughout the years, the two nations have been vocal opponents of each other’s policies and their war of words has also spilled over to various Middle Eastern conflicts, with Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting rival sides.
“The current rulers of Iran don’t have a legitimacy so to justify their presence they find an outside enemy, be it Saudi Arabia or Israel”, Al Ibrahim says.
Iranians feel equally strong about Riyadh and Mohammed Marandi, a political analyst from Tehran University, blames the Saudis for using the same tactics and says that in order “to stay afloat” they “distract their people’s attention from their own internal problems and fuel conflicts elsewhere”.
Over the years, these mutual accusations have ripened into several standoffs. In 2016, Riyadh cut off its ties with Tehran after its embassy in the Iranian capital was stormed by angry mobs, who were protesting against the Saudi decision to execute a Shiite cleric.