By Vali Nasr
Oct 12, 2011
Editor’s note: Vali Nasr is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and senior fellow at Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books including, “The Shia Revival” and “Democracy in Iran.”
(CNN) — The U.S. government’s newly revealed charges that Iran planned to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States is nothing short of mind-boggling.
It is difficult to see what Iran would have gained by simultaneously escalating tensions with its main regional rival and also ratcheting up tensions with the United States. If true, this plot shows a monumental lapse in judgment on Tehran’s part, an audacious and reckless adventurism that will go down as the clerical regime’s colossal mistake that will weaken its hand internationally and even unravel its grip on power — or there is something the Iranian regime knows and has put its bets on that no one else is aware of.
We will not know the answer any time soon. What is certain at this juncture is that U.S.-Iran relations have entered a new and more dangerous phase, and how Iran will play its part in the confrontations that are bound to follow not only will be decisive for Middle East security but also for the future of the Islamic republic.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have not enjoyed good relations for three decades. Riyadh sees the Islamic republic as a threat to its stability and that of the Persian Gulf, and as a rival for leadership of the Islamic world. A majority of Iranians are Shiites, the smaller of Islam’s two main sects. Saudi Arabia sees itself as a Sunni power, and as such, the leader of Muslim world. The two have repeatedly clashed over who speaks for Islam and how to define the Muslim world’s attitude toward politics and relations with the West.