Saudi Arabia and Iran have rival interests and alliances across the Middle East, from Syria to Lebanon, Yemen to Qatar. Regional conflicts in these countries often see Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran supporting different factions that are often split down religious lines.
With Yemen’s civil war, for example, Saudi Arabia backs the Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, a Sunni. Meanwhile, Iran backs the Shia Houthi rebels loyal to the country’s former President Ali Abdulla Saleh.
Tensions ratcheted up a notch several weeks ago when Saudi Arabia accused Iran of being behind a ballistic missile attack carried out by Houthi militias. The missiles were intercepted as they headed to the Saudi capital Riyadh, Saudi Arabia said, adding that it perceived the attack as a “declaration of war” by Iran. Iran described the allegations as “unfounded.”
Meanwhile, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar — already high due to Saudi-led economic blockade on the country — have also risen because Qatar restored diplomatic ties with Iran.
Attentions have also turned to Lebanon after the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri due to what he said was Iran’s meddling in his country and his fears of an assignation plot. There has been speculation that Hariri’s resignation — made when he was in the Saudi capital of Riyadh — was orchestrated by the country’s leadership and that he was held against his will, claims which he has denied.
Amid continuing confusion over the resignation, Hariri has since travelled to Paris at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron and then reportedly returned to Beirut on Tuesday in time for the country’s Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday.