MbS’s aggressiveness toward Iran and his deliberately provocative religio-political rhetoric vis-à-vis Tehran are only likely to hasten this process. And, if it comes to a military showdown, the Saudi forces, despite the top-of-the-line military equipment Riyadh has acquired from the United States and its allies, will likely be unable to match the battle-hardened Iranian military and the IRGC, which are well-known for their capacity to improvise in times of conflict. This is why Riyadh is itching to sell its conflict with Hezbollah and with Iran to the United States as a part of the continuing confrontation between the Trump administration and Tehran, thus enticing Washington into a shooting war with Tehran. In other words, as one analyst suggests, Riyadh wants to fight Tehran to the last American.
Saudi Arabia’s latest move to build a common front with Israel to confront common enemy Iran is also likely to backfire because it will further erode the legitimacy of its claim to be the leader of the Arab and Muslim world. Unless MbS begins to show greater political sagacity very soon, his reckless actions and rash rhetoric will turn out to be self-defeating and could drag the entire region into a major conflagration. The second battle of Karbala between the forces of Yazid and Hussein, which MbS seems to be intent on unleashing, may still occur, but it is likely to end differently than the first battle.
Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Michigan State University and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. This article first appeared in 2017 and is being republished due to reader interest.