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HomeGeopolitical CompassArabian PeninsulaIran and Saudi Arabia Battle for Supremacy in the Middle East

Iran and Saudi Arabia Battle for Supremacy in the Middle East

Authors: The editors (Editor-in-Chief: Judah Grunstein)

Affiliations: World Politics Review (reader-funded)

Organization/Publisher: World Politics Review 

Date/Place: May 9, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis 

Word Count: 1900



Keywords: Middle East Supremacy, Saudi-Iran Rivalry, Diplomacy, Palestine, Israel




Saudi Arabia and Iran’s battle for Middle East supremacy has infiltrated nearly every regional issue over the past decade, sustaining wars across the region and fracturing international alliances while raising fears of war between the two powers involving the United States. Both parties now seek a diplomatic way out as part of a broader regional effort to reduce tensions. After Mohammed bin Salman was anointed crown prince in 2017, Saudi Arabia has increased its regional adventurism. Syria’s civil war to Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen has meant proxy wars with Iran-backed regimes and non-state armed organizations, which have come dangerously close to direct warfare between the two adversaries on multiple occasions. Iran was widely suspected of a precision missile and drone strike on Saudi oil facilities in 2019. In January 2020, the Trump administration’s hostile stance toward Tehran led the United States and Iran to the verge of war, with obvious consequences for Riyadh. President Joe Biden has resumed diplomatic relations with Iran in an attempt to resurrect the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, from which the Trump administration withdrew. This aligns with broader efforts across the Middle East to heal connections strained by the region’s rivalry. Biden has also stated that human rights will be a central pillar of his foreign policy. Although Biden has not drastically modified America’s policies in the region, the ramifications for US Middle Eastern allies, mainly Saudi Arabia, are considerable. Despite a shaky cease-fire, Yemen’s civil war exacerbates one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. Syria’s 11-year civil war has now reached a lengthy finale, which, while less deadly, is just as dangerous. Libya’s civil war has slowed after a cease-fire was declared in October 2020. However, the lack of conflict in these countries does not imply that sustainable peace has been achieved. Meanwhile, in May 2021, Israel and Hamas engaged in the most recent round of hostilities that warned regional powers and the US that they could not just wish away the conflict created by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. This conflict—as everything else in the region—has become intertwined in the greater Saudi-Iran power struggle, with Saudi-allied politicians ready to remain silent on the slaughter of Palestinians in exchange for Israeli cooperation in containing Iran. The diplomatic normalization arrangements Israel negotiated with the UAE and Bahrain in the last months of Trump’s presidency essentially formalized a strategic realignment that had been an open secret in the region. However, normalization with Israel without a definitive resolution to the Israel-Palestine problem is no longer a viable option.


By: Jemal Muhamed, CIGA Research Associate



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