Saudi v. Iran v. Bahrain v. Israel v. Syria v.
Iraq v. Sunnis v. Shiites v. Putin v. Obama
Monday January 4, 2015
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Welcome to the first workday of 2016 and maybe the first day of World War III.
The last two World Wars started when a couple of countries got into it and everyone else began to choose up sides.
Over the weekend, the Saudi Arabian government executed 47 people including one senior Shiite cleric who had been an outspoken opponent of the Saudi rulers.
The Iranians immediately set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The Saudis immediately emptied its embassy of diplomats, cut off diplomatic ties, and ordered the Iranian mission out of Riyadh within 48 hours.
I spent a couple of days in Riyadh in 2004 during the time I was in Baghdad. On the Secret Decoder Ring Page you can read the Travelogue from that trip.
As a reminder, the royal family of Saudi Arabia are Sunni Muslims (as are the other Royal families in the Gulf States). Iran's leadership are Shiite Muslims. The basic argument between the two sects is who is the legitimate successor to the Prophet Muhammad after his death in 632 A.D.
Before you hit the SEND key about what a small difference that is remember the basic difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is this: Is the Pope the head of the Christian religion?
The Iranians (Shiites) are on the opposite side of the Syrian civil war from the Saudis (Sunnis). They are also supporting opposite sides in Yemen.
According to the United States Institute of Peace:
"Iran has poured billions of dollars and tons of increasingly sophisticated weaponry into Hezbollah, the most successful example of the theocracy's campaign to export its revolutionary ideals."
In November of 2015, Vladimir Putin made a visit - almost a pilgrimage - to Iran. The BBC lede:
"Vladimir Putin's visit to Tehran this week has been greeted with much enthusiasm in official circles."
And later in the piece:
"It is clear that for Tehran, getting Moscow on side for the campaign in Syria has been a big foreign policy coup."
For his part, Barack Obama, just now coming back from vacation, is firmly committed to his twin legacy issues: Global Warming and Gun Control.
The United States Department of State, according to USA Today, said it was "aware" of the severing of diplomatic ties. Reuters reported that John Kerry's Department's response to it all has been that the execution of the Shitte leaders "risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced."
I think any time you can use "exacerbate" in a sentence you should jump on the opportunity.
Most distressing in all this is, as I write this on Sunday evening, we have heard nothing from the White House. The published statements about having urged the Saudis not to chop people's heads off don't seem to reach the level of concern this situation appears to call for.
Two bystanders may become involved. Bahrain, the small island nation off east coast of Saudi Arabia, has long been a target of Iranian fifth column activity. The Arab Spring riots there were, if not fully paid for by the Iranians, were almost certainly given moral and tactical support.
Across the Arabian Peninsula, Israel is going to higher alert in case the Palestinians, Hezbollah, or anyone else thinks the Saudi executions would be a good reason to go to attack them.
It is not unlikely that secret discussions between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been stepped up to form a joint defense agreement against Iran and its allies.
The atmosphere in the Middle East is explosive. All it will take is a spark: An attack against Saudi oil fields or pipelines, a run at a senior member of the Saudi government, or an ISIS-inspired attack in Riyadh, or Jeddah or another major Saudi city.
The danger, then, will not be ameliorated by vague statements by the U.S. State Department.
It might well have been better described by William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar:
"Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war."
LAD LINK: To read Reed's political curtain-raiser for 2016, click HERE.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the Saudi Travelogue (including a photo of chop-chop square) as well as the NY Times explanation of the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, and the BBC's report of Putin's visit to Iran.
Also a bittersweet Mullfoto of my mom, who passed away over the holidays.
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