The escalating rivalries and animosities between Iran and Saudi Arabia have nothing to do with the Sunni-Shia divide.
Saudi Arabia’s regional allies have stepped up diplomatic pressure on Iran, breaking or downgrading relations with the country following an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, which followed executions in the kingdom.
Bahrain announced on Monday that it was closing its embassy in Iran, and called upon Iranian diplomats to leave the country within 48 hours.
Bahrain frequently accuses Iran of being behind protests among its majority Shia population.
Within hours of the announcement, Sudan also said it was cutting off diplomatic relations with Iran “in solidarity with Saudi Arabia”.
For its part, the UAE said it was downgrading its ties with Iran and replacing its ambassador with an embassy officer-in-charge.
Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it was severing diplomatic relations with Iran and urged its allies to follow its move.
The decision came after Iranian protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran, following the kingdom’s decision to execute Shia religious figure Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 other mostly Sunni convicts on terrorism charges.
Shia minorities across the Middle East have been demonstrating after Nimr’s execution.
Saudi Arabia is adamant Nimr got a fair trial. Many of the men executed had been linked to attacks in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2006, blamed on al-Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia further announced on Monday that it was cutting commercial ties with Iran and cancelling all flights to and from Iran, according to Reuters.
In an interview with the news agency, Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister, said the kindom was banning all its citizens from travelling to Iran.
However, Iranian pilgrims are still welcome to visit Saudi Arabia and Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, he said.
Earlier, Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, condemned the attack in Tehran and held Iranian authorities fully responsible for failing to protect the Saudi diplomatic mission.
It is not the first time diplomatic relations have been cut between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, there are fears it could lead to more violence.
Iran’s foreign ministry said Saudi Arabia was using the attack on its embassy in Tehran as a pretext to fuel tensions.
The statement came after Iran was given a 48-hour deadline to remove its diplomatic mission from Riyadh.
“Iran … is committed to providing diplomatic security based on international conventions. But Saudi Arabia, which thrives on tensions, has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions,” Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said in televised remarks on Monday.
On the other hand, Jubeir has accused Iranian authorities of being complicit in the attack, saying that documents and computers were taken from the embassy building.
He said the Saudi diplomatic representative had sought help from the Iranian foreign ministry when the building was stormed, but the requests were ignored three times.
Hamid Soorghali, a UK-based Iran observer, said the attack on the embassy “only works to damage and affect the image of Iran”.
He said while the leadership in Iran is unified in condemning the execution of Nimr, it is divided in terms of the reaction.
“We get different responses from different institutions and leaders in Iran. We get a harsher message from Iran’s supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], which very much reverberates in the mood and scenes of protesters in front of the embassy,” he told Al Jazeera.
‘No love lost’
Ghanbar Naderi, a journalist with Kayhan, a publication closely linked to Khamenei, said the breaking of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran was inevitable.
“It was going to happen today or tomorrow. This is a natural outcome of what has been going on for the past four or five years in Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Make no mistake about it: there is no love lost between the Iranians and the Saudis.”
Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from New York, said diplomats at the UN had expressed worries over the escalating war of words.
“What we are seeing is the fallout across the Gulf countries,” he said.
“In terms of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, most people think this is probably as bad as you can get.”
On Sunday, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, said he was “concerned” about both sides of the diplomatic dispute, while criticising the executions as well as the attack on the Saudi embassy.
He was to send Staffan de Mistura, the UN special representative for Syria, to Riyadh and Tehran on Monday, a UN official told Al Jazeera.
In phone calls on Monday, Ban conveyed his concerns to the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, a UN statement said.
The statement said he urged the two countries “to avoid any actions that could further exacerbate the situation between two countries and in the region as a whole”.