Is Iran set to lash out at Saudi Arabia?
December 10th, 2013
01:52 PM ET

Is Iran set to lash out at Saudi Arabia?

By David Schenker, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Schenker is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed are his own.

The November 19 double-suicide bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut may have looked shocking in the headlines – they killed 23 people. But they also should not have come as a surprise.

Since 2011, Tehran has earned its karma in Lebanon. The attack, whose victims included an Iranian diplomat, was likely payback for the Shiite theocracy’s unwavering support for the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal repression of the largely Sunni uprising in Syria. Aided by Iranian troops, weapons and its Lebanese Shiite proxy militia Hezbollah, over the past three years, al-Assad's government has killed nearly 130,000 mostly Sunni Syrians.

The real question is what comes now – and I expect a surge in regional violence. Paradoxically, the international “first step” nuclear agreement with Iran increases rather than diminishes the chances that the Shiite theocracy in Tehran will take steps that exacerbate the regional sectarian conflict.

Notwithstanding the optimism surrounding the “moderate” presidency of Hassan Rouhani, Iran has a long history of pursuing provocative – and oftentimes deadly – policies during ostensible periods of conciliation with the West. Consider that during presidency of the “moderate” Hashemi Rafsanjani, an administration in which Rouhani served on the National Security Council, Iranian proxies were widely viewed as responsible for attacks on both the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, and U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

The term of “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami was equally distinguished. Under Khatami, Iran continued its longstanding policy of targeting dissidents abroad and increased its support for Palestinian terrorist organizations, according to the State Department. In 2000, after then Secretary of State Madeline Albright ended restrictions on the sale of Iranian carpets, pistachio nuts, caviar, and spare airplane parts, and apologized for U.S. misdeeds toward Tehran, Khatami responded by continuing to surreptitiously build its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. Three years later, Khatami’s Iran – along with Syria – stood accused of flooding Iraq with al Qaeda insurgents and roadside bombs in an effort to derail the U.S. invasion and occupation.

More from GPS: U.S., Iran see deal differently

Like Secretary Albright’s initiative, it seems that Tehran views the “first step” nuclear agreement as carte blanche, insulation against any U.S. sanction for problematic behavior on other fronts. For good reason.  The Obama administration has invested so much political and diplomatic capital on the nuclear negotiations, it’s difficult to imagine Washington risking the agreement on lower priority issues.

This dynamic likely means that America’s uneasy ally, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will soon become a target for Iran, because while the al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the Iranian embassy blast in Beirut, it is difficult to believe that Iran and Hezbollah will not retaliate against Saudi Arabia, as the chief backer of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and the Sunni revolt in Syria. Indeed, Hezbollah officials including Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al Akhbar – whose articles frequently reflect the Shiite militia’s views – have attributed the bombing to a group tied to Saudi Arabia, suggesting that the Kingdom’s embassy, diplomatic personnel, or nationals in Lebanon or abroad could be the next targets.

Should Tehran hit Riyadh, it could transform and broaden the ongoing Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into a more overt, deadly, and destabilizing conflict.

This isn’t the first time that Riyadh has found itself in Tehran’s crosshairs. In 2011, Iran was accused by the United States of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. Anticipating retaliation for the Beirut attack, shortly after the bombing the Saudi Ambassador in Beirut advised the Kingdom's citizens to leave Lebanon.

Notwithstanding a marked increase in deadly Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, to date Lebanon has avoided the worst case scenario – a resumption of civil war. In the aftermath of a car bombing earlier this year in Hezbollah’s Beirut stronghold of Dahiya, for example, in a calculated effort to avoid escalation, both Sunnis and Shiites blamed Israel for the explosion. Likewise, Lebanese Armed Forces units are currently deployed along the sectarian fault line between Sunnis and Lebanese Alawites – nominally Shiite supporters of the Assad regime – in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli, trying to calm tensions.

But the embassy bombing and Iran’s anticipated retaliation against Saudi Arabia could threaten Lebanon’s already tenuous stability. Indeed, just two days after the attack, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militia shelled a Saudi border post as “a warning message” to Riyadh to stop “interfering” in Iraq.  Meanwhile, on the day of the Beirut blast, Hezbollah MP Ali Mikdad issued his own warning. “We got the message and we know who sent it and we know how to retaliate,” he reportedly said.

If the past is any precedent, another “message” from Tehran to Riyadh regarding Syria and Lebanon is just around the corner. Regrettably, it will likely be accompanied by a spike in sectarian violence.

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Topics: Iran • Saudi Arabia

soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Ali

    The author should invest writing drama for Hollywood. Full of subjective assumptions and fortune telling.

    December 11, 2013 at 3:53 am | Reply
  2. Holy Warrior

    What a one sided piece, yo cant say all 130,000 people were suni muslims and they were all killed by assad? the saudi terrorists you support have done most of the killings. shame on you for driving israels agenda

    December 11, 2013 at 4:50 am | Reply
    • Johnson Oakley

      Don't forget about Iran's deep and heavy involvement as well. The IRGC have TONS of blood on their hands.

      December 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
    • u s

      Driving Israel agenda? What has Israel has to do with it?

      December 12, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Reply
      • nathan

        Israel has their hands all over syria are you kidding me? You have israel giving orders to the US about what has to be done to increase israeli power in the region by bringing instability to the other regional leaders. Then you have the US working with the Saudis on acting out what Israel wants. Then the Sauds have their little proxy militia fighting the war for them in the countries that Israel needs destabilized.
        So yeah Israel has everything to do with this.
        What I don't understand though is why we stick by their side. If America were to fall from power tomorrow and Russia took over as major power, Israel would be right there to dump us as an ally and turn on us in an instant.

        January 6, 2014 at 5:30 am |
    • peace

      So when I was a child, I always heard that Islam will end by the hands of muslims. I am a proud Indian America, Hindu by religion, so for obvious reasons, have always been tired of being victimized by islamists. But anyways, I do see it happening in my life time.

      March 21, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  3. radmanr

    Would the author also call the 9/11 attacks or any other terrorist attack against US interests as the US "earning its karma" for its interference in other countries?? What a ridiculous commentary. Terrorism is terrorism period. All terrorist acts should be condemned, yet some still enjoy while innocent women and children are killed just because they belong to a race or nationality we don't like. This is completely unacceptable.

    December 11, 2013 at 5:12 am | Reply
    • Johnson Oakley

      Tell that to Iran, the largest contributor to terrorism worldwide!

      December 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Reply
      • glennrobert

        Iran is what? I don't think they are really that busy. Iran will continue to be a threat to Israel as long as Israel goes on taking the West Bank one house at a time. The Iranian threat is not military against a country that has several hundred atomic weapons. So who is counting? However they are a political and economic threat. There is no reason for Israel to negotiate as long as they are winning one house at a time!

        December 12, 2013 at 5:57 am |
  4. josh

    Lol you commenters complain about how he wrote his "opionated" article. Lol you guys want to take everything as fact when it clearly states this article is his opinion. He hit the nail on the head with iran/syria.

    December 11, 2013 at 5:24 am | Reply
  5. Dog the Turtle

    Iran earned its karma in Lebanon? Like the US earned its karma in Libya?

    December 11, 2013 at 6:05 am | Reply
    • Johnson Oakley

      If only they'd get the full karma they have coming for them by building and aiding Hezbollah in Lebanon.

      December 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  6. Audel

    The aragance of the west when terrorism happens on American soil we all morn works wide, in Iran light candles have a minute silence at a national football match 9/11 yet when it happens to an Iranian its "karma". Saudi Arabia established the Taliban al Qaeda comes from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia give billions to terrorists in Syria illegitimate regime in Egypt where's their so called "karma". Karma for attacking mainly civilians is quite frankly distasteful

    December 11, 2013 at 6:30 am | Reply
  7. SD

    Iran was not responsible for the Khobar attacks. Everyone is moving away from that viewpoint.

    December 11, 2013 at 6:34 am | Reply
  8. ff11

    To sum up, the Saudi's blew up the Iranian embassy. The author thinks Iran might retaliate. This makes Iran the bad guy.

    December 11, 2013 at 7:42 am | Reply
    • Johnson Oakley

      Iran is always the bad guy. They are the biggest contributor to terrorism in the globe, after all.

      December 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Reply
      • Katie

        Perhaps the most negative force in that region of the world, on a par with theocracies and medieval states (Saudis, Syrians, ..) is your aparthe*d state of Israe*l. It is one of the toot causes of the problem there. Without constant turmoil Israel is unable to exist.

        December 12, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  9. brutus9448

    I'm willing to bet a $100 the guy that wrote this article is a zionist. Of course Israel would like nothing better than a conflict between IRan and Saudi arabia.

    December 11, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • Bruce

      Was there ever any doubt about the ethnicity of the author? The zionists own and run the Western media, all of it. Through cony
      Trolling the media they. Effectively control the minds of the American people. This nation is the most indoctrinated nation on the face of the earth . They are told what to watch, what to wear, what to eat, who to hate, who to love via this trashy media conglomerate , the Hollywood, and Madison Avenue Firms.

      December 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  10. Alfonso

    Why are all Zionists so hysterical about Iran?

    A statement like "Since 2011, Tehran has earned its karma in Lebanon."

    Is so over the top and supportive of terrorism, one doesn't know where to begin. This guy should be turned in, rather than given a platform to spew nonsense on CNN.

    December 11, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
  11. Ashook Patel

    repeating and rehashing the old garbage. The author a student of pro-Israel neo-con is beating the drum of the war, should remember any war with Iran will not be a cakewalk. It will be a real Vietnam with new dimensions.

    December 11, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
  12. function_in_absence

    Iran already is cutting Saudi's necks............with cotton..........they just don't realize it.

    December 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  13. Al Barone

    As for the Iran/Saudi Bitter relations & name calling... Below are 3 most useful links towards a comprehensive insight to how things have unfolded & what the near future holds for this heated & potentially dangerous conflict.

    Fragrant regards

    Barone

    http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/oman-rejects-gcc-union-insults-saudi-arabia.html

    http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/11/26/who_is_the_shadowy_sultan_that_shepherded_the_nuclear_deal_with_iran

    http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/10/is-iran-set-to-lash-out-at-saudi-arabia/

    December 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  14. mullahproblems

    Reblogged this on The Mullah Problem and commented:
    Wonderful Day for some posting eh? Iran claiming peace and goodwill due to ONE agreement! It would be comical, if you ignore the fact that Iranian backed and funded terrorists will be causing more violence, and the whole concept of violence begets violence and so on and so forth. We'll have to see what the outcome is, but we would rather have a conventional regional conflict NOW, than a NUCLEAR one LATER.

    December 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  15. mo

    No disrespect to you Mr.Schenker, but this is a poorly written and researched article.

    December 11, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  16. Atlasturns

    The Syrian government should sue CNN and the author for libel.

    "al-Assad's government has killed nearly 130,000 mostly Sunni Syrians" is patently false. Most of the killed are believed to be combatants. Most of the combatant fatalities are believed to be of pro-regime forces. So how does this clown of an "expert" make such an absurd assertion?

    December 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Reply
    • George

      Israel agents like Schenker control the U.S. media.

      December 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Reply
      • DC

        Oh please!

        December 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
      • George

        DC: So, you deny the influence of the Israeli-supported think tanks that provides these so-called experts and the neo-con media like Fox News and WSJ that propagate false information about Iran and other issues? Also Congress also is almost 100% controlled by Zionists through groups like AIPAC. How else would sanction bills on Iran pass by a vote of 100-0 in the Senate?

        December 12, 2013 at 12:39 am |
  17. George

    So, why did my comment disappear? I guess Israel agents even control the comment page of CNN. This article is pure propaganda. There is not a shred of truth in it.

    December 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  18. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads vs. Towel Heads. It's a win-win situation.

    December 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  19. Roland

    This is all more fantasy then reality but it is true that U.S. client states in the Gulf are busy arming terrorists to attack Syria Saudi is also behind Al Qaida in Iraq.The Saudi's are playing kill the Shi'ite because Saudi and the Gulf states have large very oppressed minorities of Shi'ites who live where most of the regions oil reserves are located.They fear a Shia alliance.The U.S. and U.K. support the Al Qaida Wahhabi's in Saudi and the Gulf. Indeed the British created these states after WW1 and the U.S. took over from them after the Suez Crises.

    December 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  20. Law Student

    The bombing was carried out by an al queda affiliate group.

    So by the writers own logic America deserved the Karma it received on 9/11 because it provides security to dictators in a desert in exchange for oil.

    I couldn't take the writer seriously after this comment. Also it's hypocrisy, even sophistry, to call what al queda does to a Lebanese or Iranian building a bombing, but to an American building an act of teror.

    Just reminds me of why I stopped watching FoX news, guess I gotta find a better website to get my news too.

    December 11, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  21. Peter

    Wow! My 9 years old know more about middleeast then this journalist. Cant believe this article got published.

    December 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  22. Law Student

    Jason Miks should learn how to do math. Total death toll is estimated at 125,000. Miks claims Assad has killed about 130,000 people and the Assad's government admits that 60,000 of his solders have been killed (although independent groups claim number is higher) then he could not of killed more than 60,000.

    Miks probably thinks Assad is killing the people keeping him alive. If CNN revises this article it would show they have an incompetent writer and if not then they too have become a propaganda media outlet.

    December 12, 2013 at 3:36 am | Reply
  23. SJ

    Yes, you are all right. I am Jewish and a Zionist and I think the 14 million Jews in the world are definitely controlling the world. Even though Iran has stated many times it's aim is to wipe Israel off the map, I just can't think why Israel has a problem with Iran.

    December 12, 2013 at 5:57 am | Reply
  24. TPat

    Saudia Arabia wants the head cut off the snake. Be our guests.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:11 am | Reply
  25. ahura

    Ok Mr director of Arab programs, we will wait until Saudis and sunnis kill us till the last person, how is it that if a tower is hit in America two countries must go down but if Iranian embassy is blasted in beirout, you should preach your readers about how iran is untrustworthy and unthankful? Make no mistake about it, we should defend our citizens and country and fellow shiites, although we might hate our government, and there will be consequences for these sunni Arab acts

    December 12, 2013 at 9:01 am | Reply
  26. Ethan Couch

    I'm on the side of the Saudis on this one. We need to do all we can do to help them against Iran, we do, we do!

    December 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  27. Amir

    Full of fallacious remarks and ill grounded assumptions , I understand that the author is angry at congress , and sides against Obama .

    December 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  28. Uvais

    The Other God

    Allah literally means The God. There is no female equivalent for the popular male name Abdallah meaning Slave of God. The female equivalent which should be Abda-allah is non-existent. I have been around but never came across this female name. The reason, I believe is, Almighty in His mass wisdom does not wish to consider women as His slaves even in name. Whatever God does not Will, will not happen. The God has not willed women to be called Slaves of God. The absence of slave names for women means God has placed women on a divine spiritual pedestal. That’s so high a lordly position Islam has given to women. But man in his stupidity treats women as slaves. Most Muslims are ignorant of their obligations and duties to women. If all Muslims treated women with love and respect (like the Holy Prophet treated his wives) Islam would be the world’s ONLY religion. Muslims would once again be world rulers. But the problem is, if not as the better half, most Muslims are not even prepared to treat women as their equal. With such mentality, Muslims would always be the slaves of their selves. We would never be able to rise above the West and our enemies would continue to dominate us.

    The Islamic Empire was an empire of faith. To recreate the Caliphate our spirituality has to be nurtured. Women represent spiritualism and men represent materialism. If man doesn’t respect women, he is a slave of his self. He is a slave of materialism. Be a slave of spiritualism and you can be the lord of the Materialists. Be a slave of women and you can be the lord of the West. Global Caliphate is ours for the taking if we treat ALL women (spiritualism – also symbolizing the other) with love and respect. So long the Muslims do not respect the other; they wouldn’t even be able to rule their selves, let alone the world. We can rule the world once again if we loved the other. The other is divine. Spiritualism, women and the guy in front of you – all represent the other and are thus divine. Principle of all religion is not to dominate the other. The first step to seek Enlightenment is not to dominate the other. This is the wisdom behind the absence of slave names for women in Islam. To summarize Islam – You is divine; I is temporal. Let’s love the other because the other is divine.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:57 am | Reply
  29. Quinton

    By reading this article, I'm truly convinced that this author David Schenker is suffering from a severe case of "affluenza". Between the blocked or deleted messages here and articles like this one, this "affluenza" appears to be afflicting the people at CNN! This is another reason that the Tea Party Movement is flourishing so well these days!

    December 13, 2013 at 8:24 am | Reply
  30. MacroMicro

    Does anyone take these think-tank shills seriously anymore? At least among respectable journalists?
    This joker writes:
    "Like Secretary Albright’s initiative, it seems that Tehran views the “first step” nuclear agreement as carte blanche, insulation against any U.S. sanction for problematic behavior on other fronts."
    I highly doubt that will be the case. And they will not ratchet up focus on Saudi Arabia unless the Saudis do so first against Iran.
    The US/Saud/Israel anti-Iran agenda is so obvious it's a wonder anyone is taking this stuff seriously.
    Iran wants sanctions lifted, yes, but not because they want to turn around and raise some hell.
    It makes zero sense, they have proven again and again to be very rational players in the region.
    They want this 8 ton gorilla off their backs, like any nation would, so they can get back to building and bettering their country.
    And as long as they comply with the agreed upon conditions, they should be allowed to do so.
    US/Israel/Saud care about Iran acquiring nukes – obviously.
    But just as threatening is an Iran that is growing, improving, advancing, prospering.
    Even if the threat of nukes was entirely removed from the table, they will pursue their anti-Iran campaign.
    And I hope Russia and other allies stand behind Iran, if for nothing else than to maintain some semblance of balance and checks on power against US and ally agendas.

    December 26, 2013 at 10:23 am | Reply
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