After Islamic revolutionary movement’s success in overthrowing Iran’s secular Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, Saudi royals felt that full cooperation between their theocratic kingdom and the Islamic Republic would follow. This was not to be. The basic differences between a republic and a monarchy were compounded by the two nations’ contradictory relations with America. The US, the ultimate protector of Saudi Arabia, was decried as the Great Satan by Khomeini. A détente between the two states, forged in 1994, fell apart in 2002. In the renewed rivalry, Riyadh tried to gain an upper hand by stressing Iran as a country of Shias, a minority sect in Islam. Tehran made gains by default in the aftermath of Washington’s disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and as a result of the Riyadh-led diplomatic and commercial blockade of Qatar in 2017. Its strategic alliance with Syria, ruled by an Alawi president, remained intact. In the Yemeni civil war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels, occupying the capital, and the government of Riyadh-based President al Hadi, the conflict remained unresolved. Bin Salman failed to secure the expulsion of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah ministers from Lebanon’s national unity government. Overall, Tehran enjoyed superiority over Riyadh in the Middle East.
Keywords: Pahlavi dynasty, Saudi-American ties, Great Satan America, Riyadh-Tehran détente, Iran influences Iraq, Qatari-Iranian relations, Yemeni civil war, Hizbollah ministers, Tehran-Riyadh rivalry
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