January 5, 2016 | Voice of America

Saudi, Iran Tensions Risk Sinking Syria Peace Efforts

Boiling tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia risk dooming fragile, painstaking efforts to negotiate a Syrian peace deal as the fallout from the Saudis’ execution of a Shi’ite cleric spreads across the region.

The escalating confrontation over the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and three other Shi'ites, along with 43 Sunni Muslim jihadists, on terrorism charges, is already worsening Islamic sectarianism in the region, with allies and proxies taking sides and threatening retaliation.

Western diplomats are now scrambling behind the scenes to persuade the Saudis to refrain from executing al-Nimir’s nephew, who also faces a death sentence for participating in anti-government protests like his uncle.

More could come, warns David Weinberg, an analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington DC-based think tank.

He fears both Tehran and Riyadh could miscalculate their responses. “The danger of all of this is that it could lead to miscalculation militarily in the region by the Saudis and the Iranians, …with violence spinning out of control due to the reactions of terror properties of Iran retaliating, as they had threatened to do, if al-Nimir was executed,” he says.

“This is going to be very hard to contain,” he adds.

Some analysts argue that the executions illustrate the Saudi kingdom's new aggressive posture under King Salman, who was crowned monarch last year following the death of his half brother Abdullah. Weinberg suspects the Saudi leaders may not have considered the possible geopolitical fallout from executing the Shi'ite cleric. “

“Saudi Arabia has been tone deaf for years about how its conduct towards the Shia minority in the kingdom engenders a backlash,” he says.


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