Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have ranged over the years from coolly cordial to openly hostile. After all, the two countries see themselves as rivals in the quest for regional influence and for leadership of the Muslim world. They have very different histories and conflicting political ideologies, and they stand on opposing sides of the Shiite-Sunni divide. In recent months, strains in the relationship have greatly intensified. Today, the differences between Tehran and Riyadh have brought the neighbors dangerously close to open confrontation.
How serious is the crisis? Consider the recent headline in the respected pan-Arab newspaper Alsharq al-Awsat: "So: It is no longer a war of ideas!"
The writer, Osama Khawaji, was speaking about the war raging in neighboring Yemen, which has signs of becoming a proxy war between Persians and Arabs, between Shiites and Sunnis -- or, more plainly, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Khawaji wrote, "The story of Iran with the Arabs is no longer just a war of words, but now has a military interpretation on the ground that we have previously witnessed in Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza, and recently in Yemen."