The allegations of a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington are the latest and perhaps most audacious eruption in the simmering feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional powers that have long waged proxy battles for influence in the Muslim world.
The two countries have been locked in a cold war for decades, especially since the 1979 Iranian revolution established a theocracy in Tehran that has openly challenged the legitimacy of the royal House of Saud.
The rivalry has been fueled by sectarian tensions - Iran has a predominantly Shiite Muslim population, while Saudi Arabia is mostly Sunni - but also centres on their respective ambitions to exercise political and economic power
throughout West Asia.
The conflict has waxed and waned over the years but flared up with renewed intensity during the Arab Spring, which ignited popular uprisings that have toppled or threatened to unseat longtime allies of both countries. Officials from both nations wasted no time in flinging acrimonious insults in the aftermath of the Justice Department’s announcement that it had charged two Iranians with conspiring to murder Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the United States and a confidant of Saudi King Abdullah.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington said the plot is "a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions and is not in accord with the principles of humanity." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied any government involvement, calling the criminal accusations the fruits of a US-Israeli "conspiracy" to isolate Tehran.
"Hell will break loose," said Hilal Khashan, professor American University of Beirut. "I don’t expect war to break out tomorrow, but if there was any hope that Saudi-Iranian relations would improve, this will be the end of it."
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