The Middle East is Getting Cold

For decades, Saudi Arabia and Iran have confronted each other through military involvement in proxy wars.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Middle East has been wracked by war, conflict, insurgencies and uprisings. The Middle East of today resembles a chessboard, where many different actors and countries pursue their strategic interests. It is difficult to understand the origins and intricacies of the conflicts, but examining the interests and involvements of the main regional political players gives clarity.

Facing each other geographically across the Gulf, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have militarily, in the form of proxy wars, confronted each other. Following international relations theory, proxy wars are conflicts where two states or non-state actors engage in conflict without any direct aggression. The parties get involved in conflicts on other states’ territories and try to achieve their military or geostrategic goals there.

The clash between Sunni and Shia religious ideology is often assumed to be the reason for the confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It surely is one of the reasons, but it is just one drop in the bucket.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have abundant oil and energy resources and are the main players of the Middle East. They both want to increase their influence in the region, and they both want control of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s main domestic concern is stability and preserving the status quo. Especially since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Riyadh has felt its domestic interests increasingly threatened by Tehran. Therefore, Saudi Arabia wants to keep Iran in check with its power and influence limited.

Both the domestic and geostrategic interests of the two main players of the Gulf explain why Saudi Arabia and Iran have for decades fought each other. They have done so without ever having officially declared war and instead through numerous proxy conflicts. This might remind us of a contemporary version of the Cold War, which was fought for nearly 50 years between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Onur Akkurt /

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