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Iran’s Interregional Dynamics in the Near East

Edited By Banafsheh Keynoush

Few regions in the world are as torn by conflicts as the Near East, in which Iran plays a central role. Opportunities to engage with Iran are abundant, but they are squandered when regional states address immediate conflicts in which Iran is only one part, despite its prominent role. Iran’s Interregional Dynamics in the Near East provides a comprehensive guide to broaden our understanding about Iran and its regional neighbors. By analyzing how Iran’s neighbors view their ties with the country, this volume reveals why Iran is less successful in expanding its regional influence than what is commonly assumed. This is the first book of its kind to be written exclusively by authors from and working in the Near East region who came together at a roundtable funded by and convened at Princeton University. As the moderator of the roundtable, the editor of this volume invited the authors to contribute chapters to this timely book. The book explores a wide range of topics to describe the complex relations between Iran and other states in the Near East including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. The volume is designed to inform politicians, world leaders, scholars, senior policy makers, and graduate students, and it provides an accessible guide to undergraduate students, junior scholars, and the general public.

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1. Saudi Arabia and Iran: Can Balanced Relations Be Restored? (Banafsheh Keynoush)

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Banafsheh Keynoush

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia severed its diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran when Iranian mobs attacked Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in January 2016. Months before the attacks, a hajj stampede claimed the lives of several hundred Iranian pilgrims in Makkah. The stampede was followed by the execution of the dissident Shiʿi cleric Nimr Baqir al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia, which took place shortly before the mob attacks in Iran. Since this period, Riyadh and Tehran have had fewer opportunities to mend ties, and have agreed instead to engage in limited exchanges to help lower the tensions between them. After Iran boycotted the hajj in 2016, the two capitals set up interest sections to enable Iranians to go on pilgrimage a year later. Tehran was allowed to retain consular staff in the kingdom to assist the tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims who would annually travel to Makkah and Madinah. In exchange, Riyadh regained limited access to its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad to recover some of its assets and lead a fact-finding mission on the mob attacks.

To show solidarity with Saudi Arabia following the attacks, Bahrain ended its diplomatic relations with Iran. Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) downgraded but retained diplomatic representation in Tehran. This brief diplomatic row with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, i.e., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, ushered in a new chapter...

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