Now, more than at any point in modern history, Iran and Saudi Arabia are squared off against each other as a race to consolidate influence nears a climax from Sana’a to Beirut and the tens of thousands of miles in between.
The standoff is seeing new ground conquered, previously unimaginable alliances being mooted and the risk of a devastating clash between two foes whose calculations had long been that shadow wars through proxies were safer than facing up directly.
The shift in approach has been led from Riyadh, where a new regime determined to put Saudi Arabia on an entirely different footing domestically, is also trying to overhaul how the kingdom projects itself regionally – and globally.
The ambitious, unusually powerful, crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been given a mandate by his father, King Salman, to take on what the kingdom and its allies in the United Arab Emirates see as an Iranian takeover of essential corners of the Sunni Arab world.
Six months into his job, Prince Mohammed, and the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, believe that the time has come to muscle up to Iran. Both insist that Iran’s arc of influence has conquered Baghdad, Damascus, Gaza and Lebanon, and is making inroads into Yemen and Manama, with the city states of Abu Dhabi and Dubai also within reach.
Iran now all but controls a land corridor that runs from Tehran to Tartous in Syria, on the Mediterranean coast, giving it access to a seaport a long way to its west,and far from the heavily patrolled waters of the Arabian Gulf. The route passes through the centre of Iraq, and Syria, skirting the Lebanese border and what were some of the most active areas of the Syrian civil war, which have been returned to regime control. “They are two months from finishing this,” said a senior regional intelligence official. “This changes things. It gives them an open supply line to move whatever they want. And it gives them strategic depth. It is a big deal.”
Among all its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon has been the most valuable – and potent.
Hezbollah is the arrowhead of Iran’s projection against Israel, and it has drawn heavily on its battle-hardened members and leaders in other regional conflicts – Syria especially, where the group has suffered at least 1,500 casualties – as well as Iraq and Yemen.
However, notes that this particular success will open up new doors for further confrontation in the country as the different entities vie for control of disputed territories. According to ,
The drums of war are currently beating against Iran and Hezbollah, two entities that have significantly bolstered the Syrian army. A Syrian allied commander told that Hezbollah fighters played “the key role” in defeating ISIS in Albu Kamal, yet Washington and its allies continue to view Hezbollah as an arch-rival even as it wages Donald Trump’s supposed anti-terror campaign for him.
In July of this year, a senior Kurdish official also warned that ISIS’ defeat as a territorial entity would, in fact, entail its transformation into something akin to “al-Qaeda on steroids.”