Iranian-Saudi Cold War? Diplomat Killed in Bangladesh

Iranian involvement in the death of a Saudi diplomat isn’t certain but in the Middle East, suspicions abound.

A junior Saudi diplomat was shot dead in the capital of Bangladesh on Tuesday.

Although local police said there were no eyewitnesses and had no suspects yet, suspicion is likely to fall on Iran which was accused by American authorities last October of plotting to murder the Saudi ambassador to their country.

In May of last year, a Saudi diplomat was killed in Karachi. The Pakistanis believed the attack was carried out by Shia groups that were angered by Riyadh’s military intervention in Bahrain.

The Shiite majority in the Persian Gulf country rose up against the Sunni monarchy there in February. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council member states sent troops into the island nation to quell the unrest.

Israeli diplomats have also been targeted in recent assassination attempts that were traced to Iran. Last month, the wife of an Israeli diplomat narrowly avoided death in a car bomb explosion in New Delhi. Bangkok, Thailand and Tbilisi, Georgia also witnessed botched terrorist plots in February. In both instances, Iranian operatives or organizations that are close to Iran were blamed.

Tehran has denied involvement in any of the incidents. It has accused Israel in turn of murdering scientists who worked on its uranium enrichment program which many Western nations believe is designed to attain a nuclear weapons capacity.

The targeting of Saudi diplomats may reflect the cold war that Iran has waged with the oil kingdom. Both nations seek hegemony in the region and fear that the other is conniving to destabilize it.

The Saudis have alleged Iranian involvement in the stirring of Shia dissent in Bahrain and their own country. Their client government in Lebanon was undermined when Hezbollah, a militant Islamist organization that is allied to Iran, pulled out of a coalition agreement last year. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia is worried that Iran may build an atomic weapon and has warned that it would kick off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

The Iranians see Saudi Arabia actively supporting the opposition in Syria, possibly with weapons, which is their only Arab ally.

The two also vie for influence in Iraq where there have been no American troops since the end of last year to maintain the peace between the Shia and Sunni populations.

Iran, a majority Shiite country and governed by a Shiite theocracy, fosters close relations with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim who lived in Iran for nearly two decades while Saddam Hussein ruled his country. The Saudis, on the other hand, have been supportive of Iraq’s Sunni who are the majority and mostly live in the south and western parts of the country, close to the border with Syria.