Foreign Policy Blogs

The New Cold War: Saudi Arabia Vs. Iran

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published this fascinating piece on the rising, so far just cold, conflict between Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shia-led Iran. Now these two regional powers have been in competition since the fall of the Shah in Iran in 1979, but as the article by Bill Spindle and Margaret Coker describes, the Arab Spring, particularly with the fall of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni partner, Mubarak in Egypt, things have gotten more heated. The intriguing situation in Bahrain, where the Shia majority is in revolt against the minority Sunni leadership, is a flashpoint in this so-called new cold war. As some of you may have heard, Saudi Arabia sent in troops to put down the insurrection and just announced yesterday that those troops aren’t going anywhere. This will definitely be a story to follow.

Here is the lead in to Spindle and Coker’s worthwhile analysis:

For three months, the Arab world has been awash in protests and demonstrations. It’s being called an Arab Spring, harking back to the Prague Spring of 1968.

But comparison to the short-lived flowering of protests 40 years ago in Czechoslovakia is turning out to be apt in another way. For all the attention the Mideast protests have received, their most notable impact on the region thus far hasn’t been an upswell of democracy. It has been a dramatic spike in tensions between two geopolitical titans, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

This new Middle East cold war comes complete with its own spy-versus-spy intrigues, disinformation campaigns, shadowy proxy forces, supercharged state rhetoric—and very high stakes.

“The cold war is a reality,” says one senior Saudi official. “Iran is looking to expand its influence. This instability over the last few months means that we don’t have the luxury of sitting back and watching events unfold.”

On March 14, the Saudis rolled tanks and troops across a causeway into the island kingdom of Bahrain. The ruling family there, long a close Saudi ally, appealed for assistance in dealing with increasingly large protests.



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO