Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been tense ever since the establishment of the Islamic Republic back in 1979. Initially, Iran’s doctrine of exporting its revolution and its leaders’ negative view of countries such as Saudi Arabia, together with Riyadh’s creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council and support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime during its 1980-1988 war with Iran, led to mutual political pessimism. Ties were further strained in 1987 after the massacre of over 400 Iranian pilgrims by Saudi security forces in the holy city of Mecca. With the passing of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in 1989, followed by the pragmatic presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, tensions began to ease — but were never fully eliminated.
In 2011, as the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East, the wall of mistrust between Tehran and Riyadh grew thicker. The civil wars in Syria and Yemen pushed the two sides into indirect military confrontations. Riyadh’s Jan. 2 execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, amid Tehran’s protestations, brought the worsening tension to a head. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut ties with Iran after its diplomatic facilities were stormed by Iranian protesters, with countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Bahrain and Djibouti soon following suit, brought about a novel state in the Iranian-Saudi relationship. In this atmosphere, media pundits are asking whether it is possible that Tehran and Riyadh may enter direct military confrontation. The answer is clear: There will not be a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, for five main reasons.