An unexpected war of words erupted between two sworn Middle-Eastern rivals over the weekend, when Saudi Arabia and Iran threatened each other with military action, if not outright destruction.
It started on Tuesday, when in “unusually blunt comments” delivered during a nationally-televised interview Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the man who is now effectively in charge of Saudi oil policy – ruled out any dialogue with Iran and pledged to protect his conservative kingdom from what he called “Tehran’s efforts to dominate the Muslim world.”
“We know that we are a main goal for the Iranian regime,” he said. “We will not wait until the battle comes to Saudi Arabia but we will work to have the battle in Iran rather than in Saudi Arabia.”
Iran, never one to leave a lingering belligerent comment by its Saudi nemesis unanswered, responded when its defense minister said on Sunday that Iran would hit back at most of Saudi Arabia with the exception of Islam’s holiest places if the kingdom does anything “ignorant” according to Reuters.
“If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina,” Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying. Taking a jab at the Saudi war in Yemen, the iranian said that “they think they can do something because they have an air force,” referring to Saudi attacks on Iran-aligned Houthi forces in control of the capital Sanaa.
Dehghan, speaking to Arabic-language Al-Manar TV, was commenting on remarks by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said on Tuesday any contest for influence between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and the revolutionary Shi’ite theocracy ought to take place “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia”.
Was this just more “run off the mill” jawboning and theatrics, or a prelude to a more serious escalation between the two nations which periodically trade verbal barbs even if neither has been willing to test overt military action against its counerpart? The answer will be revealed in the upcoming OPEC negotiation on production cut extensions, and specifically whether the Saudis will grant Iran – which has been steadily gaining market share at Saudis’ expense during 2017 – another waiver from participation in the mandatory output cuts. Because when it comes to Saudi Arabia, while nationalistic verbal pyrotechnics are for popular consumption, when it comes to oil, and associated revenues – especially ahead of the critical Aramco IPO – nothing could be more serious.