Meltdown Between Saudi Arabia And Iran Roils Unstable Middle East

A heightened rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is drawing regional allies into a wider conflict

Jan 07, 2016 at 6:20 PM ET

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to escalate, ever since the Kingdom executed a prominent Shiite sheik over the weekend, threatening to further destabilize the Middle East. On Thursday, Iranian officials accused Saudi Arabia of conducting airstrikes against the Iranian Embassy in Yemen and later announced a ban on all Saudi imports. Meanwhile, Somalia joined a growing number of nations loyal to the Sunni monarchy in cutting off relations with Iran, a predominantly Shiite power.

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The rift between the two regional powerhouses erupted last week after Saudi Arabia beheaded Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Since then, there has been no shortage of sectarian-tinged strife across the region—violent protests, severed diplomatic ties and curtailed trade and travel between countries. But, the implications of the Saudi-Iranian clash go beyond this immediate feud, since both nations have competing interests in almost every other war and conflict in the Middle East.

“This is a major rupture in the Gulf, and perhaps biggest flashpoint in decades,” said David Weinberg, a Middle East scholar and senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Here’s how Saudi Arabia and Iran’s rivalry has spread in just the last week.