The Yemen Factor in Saudi Arabia’s Iran Calculus
Saudi Arabia and Iran’s rivalry for primacy in the Persian Gulf and wider Middle East manifests in various ways. Indeed, the Saudi Arabia-Iran interface is among the region’s most contentious friction points. The elevation of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in 2013 and his announced determination to improve Iran’s standing with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states raised hopes of a possible thaw in the typically acrimonious relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Their shared acknowledgement of concerns over the military gains by Daesh (al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa-al-Sham, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which now refers to itself as the “Islamic State,” has elicited further expectations of a potential detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh and Tehran’s mutual backing of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to replace Nouri al-Maliki was viewed as another promising turning point in bilateral relations. Al-Maliki’s suppression of Sunni-led political opposition parties coupled with Baghdad’s marginalization of the Sunni community in favor of his Shi’ite constituency helped incite a popular Sunni-led backlash. These circumstances further undermined Iraq’s fragile stability and contributed to Daesh’s rise. At first glance, the seeming accommodation between Riyadh and Tehran over al-Maliki’s future represented an important barometer of the improving relations between the rivals, given that Saudi Arabia had always considered al-Maliki as an instrument of the Islamic Republic.