What happens between Iran and Saudi Arabia and why there are those who fear war

What happens between Iran and Saudi Arabia and why there are those who fear war

Waves the red flag over the Jamkaran mosque in the Iranian holy city of Qom. It is the “flag of revenge”, almost everyone writes, and announces an imminent military expedition by the armed forces of Iran. But the problem of these hours is: who, today, should the Iranians take revenge? For what?

The red flag flies over the Jamkaran mosque, in the Iranian holy city of Qom where Ayatollah Khomeini is inter alia buried. It is the “flag of revenge”, almost everyone writes, and announces an imminent military expedition by the armed forces of Iran. In fact, it was exhibited after the death of General Qasem Suleimani.

An American drone killed him on January 3, 2020, the day after the Iranians launched 35 missiles at US bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

But the problem of these hours is this: on whom, today, should the Iranians take revenge? For what? How has Iran been so impressed that it has to announce to the world its intention to reply?

The thing is undoubtedly curious. The undersigned has just returned from Baghdad where the red flag was flying on many roofs and balconies. And that is the capital of Iraq. So? The explanation is simple.

For Shiite Muslims, the red flag does not symbolize the desire for revenge but the “blood unjustly shed”. Beginning, however, with that of Hussein, grandson of Mohammed, son of Ali (who had married the daughter Fatima of the Prophet), killed with all his followers and family members in the battle of Kerbala (a city that is now in Iraq) in year 680, an event that sanctioned the definitive fracture of the Islamic world between Sunnis and Shiites, that is, the followers of Ali, who in Iran are over 90% of the population.

The red flag, moreover, in the Shiite world is regularly displayed during Muharram, the month that marks the Islamic New Year on the first day and on the tenth the religious festival of Ashura, characterized by two days of fasting and, in fact, by the commemoration of Hussein.

Finally, to stay with the facts of these hours, the Jamkaran mosque, in Qom, was also the one where General Suleimani used to go to pray.

No revenge coming, then? Just a false alarm? Not really. Suleimani was killed on January 3 (2020), the Islamic month of Muharram this year corresponded to our August.

There is therefore no temporal correspondence between the references of the Shiite tradition and the flag hoisted in the past few hours in Qom.

If Iran believes it has to take revenge for something, then we must refer to the words of Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, who in the midst of the protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, the girl killed by the Moral Police who had stopped her because “He wore badly” the veil, said the following: “The protests are the result of the plots of the US, Great Britain, the Zionist regime and the rotten regime of Saudi Arabia.”

Nothing new, it often happens that the most closed and authoritarian countries attribute their problems to the maneuvers of other countries. And Iran is not new to demonstrations that every two years bring discontent on the streets of part of the population.

Protests after Mahsa Amini’s death

However, two factors must be kept in mind. The first is that the latest protests, crushed with nearly 300 deaths and 13,000 arrests, were truly transversal: at first animated mainly by women, then also by men, students, workers, intellectuals. Publicly supported by footballers and athletes. With direct attacks on the police and even on the religious who passed by on the street.

Something like never seen before and which, beyond the tragic case of Mahsa Amini, also has its roots in the economic situation of the country, hit by international sanctions but also by the inability to reform a system that sacrifices efficiency and productivity to the consensus needs of religious leaders.

At the beginning of the summer, inflation reached 55%, water scarcity is chronic and the inability to find an agreement with the US on nuclear power condemns Iran to be banned by the international community, with the obvious and heavy consequences on the standard of living of citizens.

The second factor is that in spite of the closures and controls, Iran is truly an infiltrated country. The list of scientists, engineers and soldiers who died in a more than suspicious way in recent months is now long: poisonings, strange accidents, or even real executions at gunpoint.

All, in one way or another, engaged in the nuclear sector. It is therefore not surprising that the Iranian authorities see a hostile hand (primarily that of Israel) in certain events.

In the words of the aforementioned Hossein Salami, however, what matters most is the reference to what he calls “the rotten regime of Saudi Arabia”.

Obviously, religious division has an impact on such contempt: Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim country which, moreover, constitutes the holiest places for all Muslims, the cities of Mecca and Medina. But politics matters much more.

Iran is the leading country of the Shiite world, Saudi Arabia of the Sunni one. In their respective roles, they are fighting for supremacy in the Middle East and beyond. Tehran and Ryad are the protagonists of a total war that goes well beyond the borders of the two countries.

It is being fought in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Syria, where atrocious civil wars have been fought in recent decades. And it leaves important scars in parts of Central and South Asia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, North Africa.

Both countries spend huge sums to promote their influence, funding mosques and universities but also arming terrorist groups or military formations: Iran does it for the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis, for example, Saudi Arabia has paid many moneys to the Sunni guerrillas who have massacred in Syria.

A deep, inextinguishable rivalry, which also has control of the Strait of Hormuz, a stretch of sea of ​​55 kilometers from which 21 million barrels of oil pass every day, over 20% of the entire world consumption. Which obviously entails further complications.

Saudi Arabia has the United States as its traditional ally, and Israel as its most recent ally (and precisely in an anti-Iranian function). Iran, in turn, can count on the support of Russia (which through Iran can overcome part of the blockades imposed by Western sanctions) and China, which needs Tehran to import gas and oil and to structure one of the fundamental stages of the so-called New Silk Road, which should always guarantee Beijing new outlets on Western markets.

They are “heavy” alliances, which have consequences. In recent weeks, for example, Iran has carried out massive military exercises on the border with Azerbaijan, a country that orbits Recep Tayyep Erdogan’s Turkey, is armed by Israel and has excellent relations with the United States.

Muslim Azerbaijan was recently at war with Christian Armenia and linked to Moscow. And Iran, of course, sided with Armenia. And so on, up to the hottest front today: Ukraine.

It was Iran, in fact, that supplied the drones that Russia lacked and with which it was able to curb the enemy advance and bomb Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. It seems that Tehran has also sent a large group of specialists to Russia to train the Russian military in the use of drones and that it is also about to sell large batches of ground-to-ground missiles to Moscow.

What the Ukrainians did not like, angered their American allies, who have long since poisoned their teeth with Iran, and unsettled both Saudi Arabia (if those drones end up in the Yemeni resistance, Saudi refineries would become easy targets) and Israel, easily accessible by bombs.

As we can see, there is a long series of countries that would have an interest in creating tensions within Iran. And at the same time, Iran could have an interest in raising international tension to persuade Washington to have a softer attitude in nuclear negotiations, on which the economic, and therefore also political and social, fortunes of the country depend.

It is the globalization of grudges. And it works just like the other one.