While most analysts here and abroad fret about the possibility of a war between Iran and Israel, it could be that Iran has its eyes on another prize – Saudi Arabia. A series of violent incidents in eastern Saudi Arabia over the past week that have left at least four dead has raised concern in Riyadh that Iran is seeking to start an “Arab Spring” type revolution in the heavily Shi'ite areas of the eastern part of the country. And in a rare statement, a senior Saudi official directly pointed to Iran as a threat to his own country, and the entire region.
Emir Sa'ud al-Feisal, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, was quoted in the London-based A-sharq Al-Awsat newspaper Thursday as saying that “Iran's involvement in the internal affairs of the nations of the region, as well as its nuclear crisis and attempts to develop its nuclear program – that will allow it to have nuclear weapons – are a clear threat to the entire region,” especially after Iran conquered several strategic Persian Gulf islands – Little Tumb, Big Tumb, and Abu Musa – from the United Arab Emirates.
Two people were killed Wednesday night, and six were wounded, when a gunfight broke out between Saudi soldiers and an armed gang in the Qatif province, where the majority of residents are Shi'ite Muslims, as opposed to the majority of Saudis, who are Sunni and Wahabi Muslims. Sunnis and Sh'ites have for centuries sought to dominate Islamic life, and wars have occasionally broken out between the sects. The area is considered especially sensitive, because it holds a large oil reserve.
The deaths and injuries came during a funeral procession for a man that had been killed in an earlier incident. All the casualties were Saudi, a source in the area said.
In a statement, the Saudi Interior Ministry said “these casualties have occurred due to the exchange of gunfire with unknown criminal elements who have infiltrated among citizens and are firing from residential areas. The goal of those who provoke unrest is to achieve dubious aims dictated to them by their foreign masters,” the statement said, without specifying those “masters.”
Al-Feisal was more direct. The report quoted him as saying that it was necessary to examine problems of the Iranian nuclear program and Iranian intervention in countries like Bahrain in order to determine what could be done about them. “Unfortunately, these developments have come about at the same time that other crises, which have unfortunately become part of the reality of this region, are still ongoing.” Chief among those, he said, are “the Palestinian problem,” which had gotten worse because of “Israel's stiff-necked refusal to submit to the authority of international groups.”
Last month, U.S. officials said that they had thwarted a plot by Iran to murder Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington. A naturalized U.S. citizen holding Iranian and U.S. passports and a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was charge in the case. “In addition to holding these individual conspirators accountable for their alleged role in this plot, the United States is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.