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Saudi Arabia and Iran Break Ties after Tumultuous Weekend

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday, alerting Iranian diplomats that they had 48 hours to leave the kingdom, and this morning, Bahrain followed suit, also severing its relations with Iran. The move is the culmination of a tumultuous series of events that have pushed the already cold relations between to the two ...


Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday, alerting Iranian diplomats that they had 48 hours to leave the kingdom, and this morning, Bahrain followed suit, also severing its relations with Iran. The move is the culmination of a tumultuous series of events that have pushed the already cold relations between to the two countries past the breaking point.

The current sequence of events began when Saudi Arabia executed 47 people sentenced to death on terrorism charges on Saturday, including Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was found guilty for inciting and possibly facilitating anti-government attacks, according to Saudi authorities. Iranian officials railed against the execution and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that “Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians.” An angry mob ransacked and torched portions of the Saudi embassy in Tehran on Saturday evening. Iranian authorities arrested 40 people believed to have been involved in the attack on the embassy. Then, on Sunday afternoon, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir summoned a press conference announcing the severance of diplomatic ties. “The history of Iran is full of negative and hostile interference in Arab countries, always accompanied by ruin, destruction and the killing of innocent souls,” he said. Bahrain announced it would also cut ties on Monday. The abrupt escalation in conflict could worsen sectarian tensions in the Middle East and undermine diplomatic initiatives to resolve conflicts in Yemen and Syria, in which Saudi Arabia and Iran have supported opposing sides. The Russian foreign ministry told reporters that it would be willing to help mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resolve the current crisis.

Two Killed in Attack at a Pub in Tel Aviv

Two people were killed and seven others were wounded when a gunman opened fire at a pub in Tel Aviv on January 1. The suspect, who remains at large, has been identified as a 29-year-old Israeli Arab man who stole the firearm used in the assault from his father. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the scene of the attack on Saturday, a day after it occurred, and called for increased police recruitment and a larger police force. Israel risks becoming “a state of law for most citizens, and a state within a state with Islamist incitement and illegal arms that are often used in weddings, celebrations, and criminal incidents,” he said.


  • Egyptian authorities conducted police raids and made a series of arrests targeting liberal intellectuals, members of the April 6 movement, and Facebook page administrators, ahead of the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian revolution later this month.


  • Syrian rebel group Failaq al-Sham announced that it is withdrawing from the Army of Conquest coalition, which made large gains in northwestern Syria in mid 2015 and includes hardline Islamist groups; Failaq al-Sham said they were withdrawing from the umbrella group to refocus on Aleppo.


  • The Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen announced the end of a ceasefire agreed to with the intent of supporting peace talks, citing violations of the terms of the agreement by Houthi forces; a series of skirmishes in Aden left eight government troops and four militants dead and has resulted in the imposition of a curfew for the city.


  • At least four people were killed in Turkish military operations against Kurdish Workers’ Party militants in the country’s southeast; two civilians were killed when they were caught in small arms and mortar fire, a police officer was shot and killed, and a soldier was killed in a bomb attack.


  • Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad on January 1; it is the first time that Saudi Arabia has opened its embassy there since shuttering it in 1990 after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Arguments and Analysis

On the execution of Saudi Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr” (Joseph Braude, Foreign Policy Research Institute)

“The Saudi government contends that throughout his years as an activist, in addition to inciting violence, he played a role in organizing it, though it has not made evidence available to the public. From the standpoint of the interior ministry, Nimr is simply the Shi’ite equivalent of Sunni members of ISIS and Al-Qaeda whom they believe to have blood on their hands, a number of whom were also executed yesterday. Whatever the case might be, the interior ministry did apply the same policy toward Nimr’s family which it accords the relatives of Sunni jihadists — by tending to their most urgent needs during the period of his imprisonment: His wife, stricken with cancer, was flown to a New York hospital for care, where she stayed for nine months at the government’s expense. Within the context of Saudi political culture, this measure can be understood as part of an effort to stem a cycle of vengeance, reassure the prisoner that no ill will is harbored toward his loved ones, and ultimately ‘reacquire’ the family as loyal subjects. Nimr’s sons declined to visit their father in prison during his incarceration.”


An Unholy Alliance” (Grant Rumley, Foreign Affairs)

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to name a successor, hold elections, or reform the PA’s corrupt institutions is pushing his rivals to unite against him. The staunchest of enemies — from members of Hamas to former members of the PA, including the Western-educated reformer Salam Fayyad and the exiled Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan — have found common ground in their quest to dethrone the aging Palestinian leader. Abbas’ politics of exclusion has driven his rivals together. He has refused to name a deputy and continues to forestall any attempts at political reform in the West Bank. His Fatah party is meant to hold a conference once every five years to elect new leadership, yet it has been six years since the last conference, and Abbas continues to postpone the next one. Meanwhile, he persists in attacking dissidents in the West Bank, arresting journalists and citizens for critical articles and Facebook posts.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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