Saudi Arabia announced today that it was severing diplomatic relations with Shiite powerhouse Iran amid escalating tensions over the Sunni kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. The move comes hours after protestors stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran which followed harsh criticism by Iran’s top leader of the Saudi’ execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Saudi Foreign Minister said that Iranian diplomatic personnel had 48 hours to leave the country and all Saudi diplomatic personnel in Iran had been called home. It is important to state that the mass execution carried out by Saudi Arabia, the largest carried out by the country in three and half decades have laid bare the sectarian divisions gripping the region. Protests were reported on the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan.
Many experts believe that the executions also illustrate the kingdom’s new aggressiveness under King Salman. It is important to state that Saudi Arabia has led a coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen and has over the years staunchly opposed regional Shiite power Iran. Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Saudi Arabia of divine vengeance over the cleric’s execution. The government in Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of supporting terrorism. Analysts believe that the United States and the European Union would have to step in to calm the region.
It is important to state that Saudi Arabia put al-Nimir and three other Shiite dissidents to death along with a number of al-Qaida militants. Al-Nimir was a central figure in the Arab-Spring inspired protests by Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. Iran has over the past few years accused Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorism as the country continues to back Syrian rebel groups fighting to oust President Bashar Assad. The government in Saudi Arabia points towards Iran’s backing of the Lebanese Hezbollah as a sign of its support to terrorism.