Saudi Arabia's Desperate Measures

The Domestic and Regional Fears Fueling Riyadh

Saudi Arabia's national flag is seen at the Khoba frontline border with Yemen, January 27, 2010. Fahad Shadeed / Reuters

There might appear to be no connection between the shipment of 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium out of Iran on December 28, 2015, which was part of the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six global powers, and the decision by Saudi Arabia a week later to sever diplomatic ties with Iran. But there is. 

Days after the shipment, Saudi Arabia beheaded Ayatollah Nimr Baqir al-Nimr. Charged with sedition, he was a prominent dissident and leader of the country's Shiites, who constitute 15 to 20 percent of the population. When a hysterical mob, likely supported by some elements within Iran's ruling elites, torched an annex to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Riyadh immediately severed ties with Tehran. Iran sent to the United Nations an official letter of regret about the embassy attack, but it did not defuse the crisis.

Riyadh quickly severed all ties with Iran and pressured its regional allies to follow suit. This

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