Tensions behind Iran’s plot to kill Saudi’s US envoy
News Analysis: Cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia blew up again with Saudis’ intervention in Bahrain
WHAT'S HAPPENED?The US says it has uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, possibly using explosives. Two Iranian men have been charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit international terrorism.
One of the alleged perpetrators, Manssor Arbabsiar (above), is a naturalised US citizen who holds Iranian and American passports. He was arrested and is said to have confessed, although his lawyer says he will plead not guilty at trial. The other man, Gholam Shakuri, is in Iran and is believed to belong to the Quds Force - part of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman dismissed the allegations as "baseless" and called them "a comedy show fabricated by America".
Saudi Arabia called the alleged plot "a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions" and "not in accord with the principles of humanity".
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?The alleged plot is only the latest skirmish in a cold war that has existed between Saudi Arabia and Iran for decades. Saudi is an ally of the 'Great Satan' America and, as Craig Whitlock and Liz Sly observe in The Washington Post, the 1979 Iranian revolution brought to power a regime in Tehran that "has openly challenged the legitimacy of the royal House of Saud".
The antagonism is fuelled by sectarianism; Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim whereas Saudi is Sunni. Both countries see each other as standing in the way of their ambitions in the Middle East.
The Arab Spring has recently intensified the rivalry further, with each country seeking to prop up friendly regimes threatened by people power.
As the BBC's Mohammad Manzarpour points out, tensions may have been stoked when, in March, the Saudis sent troops into Bahrain to put down popular protests there by the Shia majority against the Sunni royal family.
"It was little criticised in the West but was seen in Iran as a blatant assault on the Shia majority in Bahrain."
WHAT'S NEXT?The US has ruled out military action but says it will work with its allies to send a "very strong message" to Iran. This will probably include tightening sanctions on Tehran, which is already subject to a variety of trade restrictions. Downing Street said it would "support measures" against Iran. ·
Comments are now closed on this article