The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran marks a deepening division between regional powers and international hegemons in the Persian Gulf. The Saudis and Iranians have to learn to cooperate or risk further confrontation.
New regional and international coalitions are forming with respect to the Middle East and Persian Gulf. An alliance of Donald Trump-led America, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates faces a new coalition of Iran, Russia, Iraq, Bashar Al-Assad controlled-Syria, Hezbollah and grassroots regional forces such as the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and the Syrian Defense Forces.
The geopolitical competition between these opposing sides can more specifically be described as between the regional states seeking U.S. security guarantees and the creation and consolidation of a U.S.-led regional security order, and those states – such as Iran, Russia, and Syria – who despite their interests not wholly aligning on all fronts, have the overlapping strategic aim of fostering a multipolar regional order where they each have greater autonomy.
The Persian Gulf is consequently among the most significant geopolitical theaters in the world and will decide the fate of the global order. The chief rivalry in the region – between Saudi Arabia and Iran – is in fact a proxy for the competition between states seeking multipolarity (Iran) and those seeking to bandwagon off continued U.S. regional and global hegemony (Saudi Arabia).
The regional powers of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and Israel and two global powers of Russia and the United States are the two consequential regional and international set of actors deciding the region’s fate. More specifically, the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is among the most significant factors affecting the future of the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf.
A Changing Power Alignment Changing political and economic realities have forced the United States to be more active outside of the Middle East and Persian Gulf. This has opened a new space for diplomatic transitions and transformations across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in which the Iran–Saudi divide appears to be the primary conflict.
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Iranian protesters during a demonstration at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran, Jan. 2, 2016. Mehdi Ghasemi/TIMA/Reuters