The perpetually volatile Middle East became much more so volatile with Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute 47 people. While most of those executed had ties to al Qaeda, the execution that has drawn the most ire was that of a Shi’ite cleric named Nimr al-Nimr, an imam who publicly eschewed violence, but was nevertheless critical of the Saudi regime. The execution drew the anger of Iran and its Shia majority with the regime summoning the Saudi ambassador to protest. The Saudi embassy in Tehran was then attacked which prompted the House of Saud to break up diplomatic relations.
While one can certainly make the case the Saudis needlessly antagonized matters by executing a political opponent, Iran executes its dissenters with equal enthusiasm. Be that as it may, this dispute could very easily extend beyond Saudi Arabia and Iran be it in Bahrain (where al-Nimr was also a popular figure) or in Yemen not to mention Iraq and Syria. If an assassination sparked WWI then surely it could spark open warfare between Iran, Iraq and Syria against Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt and the other Sunni dominated Gulf Arab states. Such open warfare is only complicated by the presence of ISIS.
What makes matters worse is an Obama Administration that is unable to command respect and assert authority. In this day and age, the Obama Administration has spent its energies acting as an apologist for Iran in the desire to attain a nuclear deal. The Saudis and Gulf Arab states hold Obama with disdain for having made such a deal while Iran holds the Obama Administration with equal contempt by testing missiles in violation of the deal knowing damn well the White House isn’t going to do a damn thing to stop it.
If tensions are to be de-escalated between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is far more likely to be facilitated by Russia. While the Saudis aren’t pleased with Russia’s involvment in Syria, whose word are they more likely to respect in 2016? Barack Obama’s or Vladimir Putin’s? Sad to say, it isn’t even a close call.