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.

Post by:
Topics: Iran • Saudi Arabia

soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Let's all hope that this is not the case here. We need to get the Saudis to cease and desist on their terrorist activities in Lebanon and elsewhere. Besides, aren't we supposed to be at war with the "terrorists"? If so, this case shows just how hypocritical the right-wing thugs in Washington truly are since we're their allies!

    December 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • Jamal

      Thank you for not buying this hype from David Schenker. He is a spin master and a liar. Iran hasn't started a conflict for more than 100 years. Now David Schenker is telling us they're about to attack SA! How ridiculous of a statement that is., SPIN MASTER David Schenker.

      December 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Reply
      • rustupid

        Have you been under a rock for the last 100 yrs.

        December 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
      • Dennis

        If you don't categorize Iran's massive exportation of terrorist activities globally,then yes,you could say they have not been in a conflict for a hundred years.They are not the little angels that you believe they are,though.Iran is a ruthless,brutal country intent on mayhem and destruction..

        December 10, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
      • ZED

        you must have been sleeping at the history class.

        December 11, 2013 at 1:46 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Iran and Saudi Arabia are competing for regional hegemony. The Shia/Sunni divide is just a sectarian tool for political ends. The Sunni Gulf states – Oman, Qatar – have good relations with Iran.

        December 11, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        In the Middle East relations between countries are forged on personal level. Iran under the Shah and the king in Saudi Arabia paid each other visits. The problems we see today between Iran and Saudi Arabia are again on personal level.

        December 11, 2013 at 8:08 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        The supreme leader and his predecessor had been thorns in Saudi Arabia's side. The Saudi Sunnis see the Shiites as heretics and support the Wahhabism, the doctrine of the jihadists.

        December 11, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Jill

      Before you know it Saudi Arabia will become Iran's 30th state followed by others as mollahs want to have 51 states. One more than US has.

      December 10, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Reply
      • ali

        US has 51, u forgot Israel.

        December 10, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • ali

      I am amazed how actual saudi terrorist attacks killing 23 people somehow turns into attacking Iran for the fantastic terrorist attack the author wants the reader to imagine! what a spin Dr.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  2. tms5510

    Saudis are born terrorists. How many of 9/11 terrorists were Iranian and how many were Saudis?

    December 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • MyNamesMike

      And if 9/11 was an inside job? Regardless, lets use stereotypes, that will take you far in life

      December 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Reply
      • Jamal

        You must be a SPIN MASTER like your brother David Schenker. NO it WASN'T an inside job. No American did this to our nation. It was 14 Saudis and 5 Egyptians. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT BEFORE YOU PUBLISH YOUR DRIVEL! And NO we can't just move on, THREE THOUSAND INNOCENT AMERICANS DIED!

        December 10, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
      • WERTWERT32452345

        On the other hand Jamal, 9/11 did have the desired effect as far as the Bush Administration was concerned. First of all, it give George W. Bush the perfect excuse to invade Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001 and he got the Patriot Act passed in Congress almost unopposed. Never put anything past the C.I.A.!

        December 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • rs1201

        On what planet do you live?
        9/11...an inside job? seriously! I suppose you're one of those lunatics who also claims that the Holocaust is a hoax...
        you're a pathetic fool!

        December 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
      • God knows best

        I'm perfectly sure people like you don't reason to news you heard. U only follow words dogmatically. what has the American government not lied about.Ur crusade in Iraq was based on lies. I av watched an american produced video that shows osama was not behind sept 11 attack.You produced a darker fatter osama claiming the attack just as tom cruise did in mission impossible .you must av been in coma for the past 100 years.YOU DON'T EVEN GO TO SCHOOL!

        December 11, 2013 at 2:57 am |
    • Jamal

      Fourteen (14) were Saudi Arabians, ZERO (0) Iranians. You cannot compare the barbaric Saudis t the refined, cultured Iranians.

      December 10, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Reply
      • rs1201

        Try 19 were saudis...all the terrorists were saudis...our friends??????

        December 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Dennis

      Not to worry,plenty of the Al-Quds forces are terrorists of Iran.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Reply
  3. wertwert34523

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    December 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • juanmoretime

      Forgot your meds?

      December 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • fred

      LOL Dude which translator app did you use? get your money back

      December 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • rustupid

      ?¿?¿?¿?¿?.

      December 10, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • muad dib

      dude put the bong down

      December 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      You are an absolute and complete psychopath.Seek help or do us all a favor and end it yourself.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  4. bobcat2u

    Since the Saudis have chosen to align themselves with Israel in concern to the release of 7 billion dollars as a good faith gesture, they may now be feeling the same paranoia as the Israeli leadership.

    December 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  5. Jamal

    David Schenker, I think your employers in Tell Aviv are calling you! 🙂 Why don't you pack up your spin wagon and move on, none of the goyim/Gentiles are buying your 'schlop' anymore.

    December 10, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • Zach

      LOL

      December 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Reply
  6. KEVIN

    Iran is going to attack Israel with nuclear weapons.

    December 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Jamal

      You came up with that conclusion ALL BY YOURSELF??? Give that kid a cookie !!! lol

      December 10, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • Chuck

      If they do, they'll only do it one time. Iran will then be a glass parking lot.

      December 10, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Reply
      • Jamal

        Chuck, you're watching too many Hollywood movies son. Lay off the crack pipe!

        December 12, 2013 at 6:44 am |
    • ali

      Israel will attack Iran with dirty bombs ie bombing civilian nuclear sites.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
      • Dennis

        The sooner the better.

        December 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
      • Jamal

        @ Dennis, haters like you Dennis are a dime a dozen out there, like turd on the side of the street, you armchair warrior you! lol

        December 12, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  7. Jamal

    "By David Schenker, Special to CNN" – Oh Mr. Scheneker is "special" alright ! lol

    December 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  8. Al Horvath

    Iran is going to wait until it has gone nuclear and it will lash out against Saudi Arabia and the other pro western Middle East countries not by a direct military attack but by subversion, terrorism and guerilla warfare.

    December 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Reply
    • judith bell

      Bingo! And it is going to laugh out loud funny to see Europe and the US squirm!!

      December 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Reply
      • Jamal

        Al Horvath & Judith Bell I think you two are hypsters and Israeli firsters. Therefore a traitor to the USA

        December 12, 2013 at 6:46 am |
  9. A3000

    No one has ever won a fight by throwing "sheet" to each other. This is a battle of "sheets" and both will continue losing as this "sheets belong to religion of "sheets".

    December 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • tari

      LOL. There is no sheet in Iran. You only see that on the head of Mullahs that running the country. The ordinary people are very westernized and fighting for fewer sheets.

      December 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Zach

      YOU WANT A COOKIE NOW?

      December 10, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  10. dinkydow

    And if Iran does. Who's going to stop them? Certainly not Obama and the Saudi's know it and it's freaking them out that America is not standing strong.

    December 10, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      What does standing strong mean? Attacking Iraq as GWB did instead of the country most involved in the 9/11 attacks? That wasn't standing strong.That was standing stupid.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  11. name required

    So much BS and lies – who knows what's fukcing true these days?

    December 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      While I agree with what you said above, name required, can you refrain from using that Tea Party word that starts with an F? True, this government does lie to us a great deal. For example, it never mentions the fact that at least 70% of those who are on the receiving end of those horrific drone strikes of ours are civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This way, it's truly hard to know what's going on!

      December 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Reply
      • Dennis

        Our drones seek out martyrs to destroy.They do not discriminate when it comes to civilians or enemy combatants.

        December 10, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
  12. Irwin

    Like the U.S. hasn't sponsored and supported violence in the area! Give me a break! Also I wish CNN and other so-called 'impartial' Western media would get it straight, that the nuclear deal was supported by most countries in the region, even Saudi Arabia. CNN gives the impression that the whole region consists of Saudi Arabia and Israel. The only countries who didn't voice support was Kuwait and crazy mad dog Bibi, and Kuwait was silent about the deal. This enmity between Iran and Saudi has been hyped. I mean it is true there are serious problems between the Shia and the Sunni, thanks in large part to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Syrian civil war, the end of which will cool temperatures considerably.

    December 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Reply
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      It's difficult to sound like an "expert" in the shop when you are not. How are you holding up with the task?

      December 10, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  13. Sidirsi

    This guy is from a pro-israeli organization. Just so everyone knows, the think tank this guy is a part of was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He and his organization are about as biased as it gets, and AIPAC was also charged with anti-American spying in 2005. I wouldn't trust this guy. Google it.

    December 10, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  14. factcheck

    ""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 "

    Wow.... absolutely speechless that CNN would give airtime to a person DEFENDING blatant terrorism on a diplomatic mission......

    its worth noting, even in this persons sick head, only 1 Iranian died in the attack... The 22 other Lebanese bystanders who died had it coming....

    absolutely SHOCKED CNN HAS PUBLICIZED THIS... SHOCKED

    December 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Reply
    • Shame

      shame on CNN

      December 10, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Reply
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      ???

      December 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Reply
  15. karek40

    The Saudis are not stupid. They are courting Russia, the U.S. & China. If Iran attacks likely they will have to deal with all 3.

    December 10, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  16. fargha

    Good article. Syria's electronic army and Iran's cyber army are out in force to discredit Schenker.

    December 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  17. USMC1369

    This David Schenker is either a right-wing propagandist or a dimwitted Tea Partier. Then again, the Germans had Josef Goebbels who spewed practically the same thing in German some 70 years ago. We all need to wise up and see this right-wing, hateful propaganda for what it really is and soon!

    December 10, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  18. Cynthia Avishegnath

    Personally, I am heartless in ignorance of their targeting each other as long as they don't target my country. Or Israel.

    December 10, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Reply
  19. lolno

    Getting rather desperate with these articles aren't we? What a coward you must be in real life to paint such a distorted picture of the truth. Zionist subhuman pig. Saudi Arabia (plus its crony gulf allies) along with the help of the CIA and Mossad are funding, training, and shipping terrorists into Syria to fight a legitimate government who does not bow down to the Zionist foreign policy boo hoo. And what's all this about Shias and Sunnis? Did it ever occur to you that the majority of people fighting for Bashar ARE IN FACT SUNNIS? Why haven't you mentioned the attrocities committed against the Christians by these "rebels"? Is it because it doesn't fit your rediculous narrative? I hope you don't believe you are an intelligent man, my 10 year old daughter can come up with a better lies then the ones in this article.

    December 10, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Reply
    • greg

      I would say if anyone were a pig, it is you. And I totally disagree with this guy. Tell your daughter to stick to crayons and the hijab, dog.

      December 11, 2013 at 12:34 am | Reply
  20. teevee

    Wow the Lobby is really all out, you earned your Shekel on this one sir.

    December 10, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Reply
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      No doubt the author is a "conservative" who often writes unhappily about Liberals and progressivism, but this time he hits the nail. The truth of this article of his should not be discredited due to the author's political alignment. There is nothing here that he criticizes "progressives" or "liberals", and for any liberal/progressive to criticize this article as untrue is to say that "liberals/progressives" are extremely happy and supportive with the way Iran or Saudi have conducted themselves.

      December 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Reply
      • lolno

        I'm sorry Cynthia, do you follow the news at all or are you joking? What truth is there in this article? Do you know what is happening in Syria at all or are you just talking out of your ass?

        December 10, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  21. Shame

    there are always going to be morons like this... the real question is why does CNN give him airtime??

    December 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      Don't feel bad.Fox News is based entirely on the content of and for morons.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  22. Chauncy

    The author of this piece needs to be further investigated. This type of journalism is irresponsible and sounds alarmingly sympathetic towards the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia that hate everything we stand for. I will be issuing a complaint about this man.

    December 10, 2013 at 10:28 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I'm with you 100% on that Chauncy. This David Schenker is dangerous because too many people are ignorant enough to believe what he has to say. Do you remember what happened in Germany in the 1920's and '30's? Unfortunately, many people here are just to ignorant to know about it and that's what makes David Schenker so dangerous!

      December 10, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Reply
    • Billy S.

      Investigated because you do not agree? People are allowed different views. This is a free country. Take your censorship efforts somewhere else.

      December 10, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Reply
      • facts

        justifying terrorism is not protected under free speech

        "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 "

        December 11, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • Dennis

      Those are 1st Amendment rights my friend.Why not write your own spin articles and call them journalism?

      December 11, 2013 at 12:00 am | Reply
  23. Dara

    Unfortunately I had to stop reading this article quarter of the way through. A lot of the claims are baseless and can't be supported by solid evidence

    December 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  24. Crosswinds

    ISRAEL 1
    Could Iran be the future seat of power of the anti-christ, and the false prophet of Revelations, who will hate Israel, and persecute Christians?
    .....Revelation 16:13...........And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.......
    ...Revelation 17:2.......
    with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”.......

    Revelation 17:12-14.......... 12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast..........

    December 10, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  25. FHTEX

    The propaganda element in all of this is obvious with the statement that"Assad has killed nearly 130,000." First of all, Assad hasn't killed anyone nor has his army killed 130,000 Syrians. For one, no one knows how many Syrians have actually been killed, but a large percentage of those killed have been Syrian Arab Army soldiers and civilians loyal to the government. Even the western media has shown rebels throwing postal workers off buildings, beheading monks, blowing up civilians in suicide bombings. By presenting this piece, Zakaria is destroying his own credibility–what's left of it.

    December 10, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Reply
    • greg

      Take your meds, schizo.

      December 11, 2013 at 12:30 am | Reply
  26. Procivic

    The Saudi/Taliban ideology is responsible for the religious fundamentalism that has affected a huge arc of terror from Afghanistan and Chechnya to Libya and Mali. The daily slaughter of civilians carried out by Saudi-funded jihadis in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria hardly make the news columns anymore.

    December 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      Whether Shia or Sunni,they are all martyred in the name of Allah....Allahu Akbar!

      December 11, 2013 at 12:05 am | Reply
  27. oh flying spaghetti monster why

    I love how this article talks about the middle east destabilizing. The last time the middle east had any stability I think the emperor of the regions name may have been either xerxes or darius.

    December 11, 2013 at 12:21 am | Reply
  28. greg

    Typical neocon bs. No, we won't fight ww3 for netanyahu.

    December 11, 2013 at 12:28 am | Reply
  29. ZED

    Basically Iranians have been looking for any reason to target Saudis since the latter is giving them a hard time in Syria. Mullahs of Tehran are very successful when it comes to retaliation. let's not forget how successful the Iranians were in recruiting Al Qaeda against Americans in Iraq! Yes Iranians might not do the work themselves but definitely they will not the right person to do the job exactly as they did when supporting al Qaeda against Americans in Iraq.

    December 11, 2013 at 1:43 am | Reply
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