Editor, The World Today
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are higher now than at any time since the 1980s. But why has Saudi Arabia set off a crisis with Iran by executing the Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, at a time when arguably the greatest threat the Saudi royal family faces is from the jihadists of Islamic State?

As Jane Kinninmont reports, there are heated debates in Riyadh on which of these two threats to prioritize. The interior minister, Mohammed bin Nayef, who is also the Crown Prince and was nearly assassinated by al Al-Qaeda suicide bomber in 2009, is said to focus on the jihadists, while the King’s son, the defence minister, Mohammed bin Salman, appears to be more concerned by Iran. The net effect is that the western goal of rallying regional forces against Islamic State in Syria will have to wait for détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a fast-receding prospect.

As for Iran itself, the expected lifting of oil and banking sanctions will give a new push to its ambitions of greater regional influence. Sanam Vakil argues that the rival factions in Tehran are united in their desire to see the end of sanctions leading to a resurgent Iran. But they disagree on whether to pursue this goal by diplomatic means, as evidenced in last year’s agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, or by the asymmetric means favoured by the Revolutionary Guard, with its proxy forces stretching from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon. Probably Iran will continue to deploy both, as the battle for the future of Iran is fought at home and abroad.

As for Israel, clearly the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has lost his fight to shut down Iran’s nuclear programme and now has Iranian forces and their proxies across the Syrian border propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This looks like a double defeat. But in fact the arrival of Russian forces in Syria is providing some comfort for Israel, writes Meir Javedanfar. Vladimir Putin is now the senior foreign player in Syria, and he is not looking to mess with Israel nor is he likely to look kindly on Iran trying to do so.

Alan Philps