Tehran | Saudi Arabia has severed diplomatic ties with regional rival Iran following attacks on the kingdom’s embassy and consulate in the Islamic Republic over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced the cut in relations late on Sunday and gave Iranian diplomatic personnel 48 hours to leave the Gulf country. All Saudi diplomatic personnel in Iran have been called home after an attack on the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran and a consulate.
The decision came after the mass execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others, the largest carried out by Saudi Arabia in three and a half decades, laid bare the sectarian divisions gripping the region. Shiite protesters took to the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan while Arab allies of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia quickly lined up behind the kingdom.
The standoff illustrates the kingdom’s new aggressiveness under King Salman. During his reign, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen and staunchly opposed regional Shiite power Iran, even as Tehran struck a nuclear deal with world powers. It also represents just the latest turmoil in the two countries’ long-rocky relationship, which saw diplomatic ties between them severed from 1988 to 1991. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Saudi Arabia on Sunday of divine revenge over al-Nimr’s death, while Riyadh accused Tehran of supporting terrorism in a war of words that threatened to escalate even as the US and the European Union sought to calm the region.
Al-Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh that the Iranian regime has a long record of violations of foreign diplomatic missions, dating back to the occupation of the US Embassy in 1979, and such incidents constitute a flagrant violation of all international agreements, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. He said Iran’s hostile policy was aimed at destabilizing the region’s security, accusing Tehran of smuggling weapons and explosives and planting terrorist cells in the kingdom and other countries in the region. He vowed that Saudi Arabia will not allow Iran to undermine its security. Al-Nimr was a central figure in Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence. Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorism in part because it backs Syrian rebel groups fighting to oust its embattled ally, President Bashar Assad. Riyadh points to Iran’s backing of the Lebanese Hezbollah and other Shiite militant groups in the region as a sign of its support for terrorism. Iran also has backed Shiite rebels in Yemen known as Houthis.
In Tehran, a protest outside the Saudi Embassy early Sunday quickly grew violent as protesters threw stones and gasoline bombs at the embassy, setting part of the building ablaze, according to Gen Hossein Sajedinia, the country’s top police official, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Forty people were arrested and investigators were pursuing other suspects, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of al-Nimr, but also branded those who attacked the Saudi Embassy as extremists. It is unjustifiable, he said in a statement.