Don't expect de-escalation
The hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to cease with a change in leadership in Tehran and Riyadh.
- The Supreme Leader in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, is an ideological hardliner and every indication points to a person with similar tendencies taking his place. And it makes little sense for Tehran to abandon its aggressive tack in the region with so many recent gains in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
- The Saudi leadership is wary of Iran's influence and seek to reverse this in every possible way. The Saudi Crown Prince sees revolution and destabilization of the region as part of Iran's ideological DNA, and without this the regime would lose its raison d'être.
The bottom line: Both sides see their actions as rooted in a defensive posture, and the net result is a zero-sum competition. There are few opportunities for outside powers to try to help de-escalate the situation.
Other voices in the conversation:
- Ali Shihabi, Saudi Arabia policy analyst, Arabia Foundation: Succession in Iran will escalate tensions
- Dalia Dassa Kaye, political scientist, RAND: Youth will drive change
- Suzanne Maloney, Iran policy advisor, Brookings: Sectarian tensions are baked into the relationship
- Karim Sadjadpour, Middle East policy analyst, CEIP: The rivalry will grow