Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against the execution of Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Najaf, Iraq January 4, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Alaa al-Marjani The last time Saudi Arabia broke off ties with Iran, after its embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters in 1988, it took a swing in the regional power balance in the form of Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait to heal the rift. It is hard to see how any lesser development could resolve the region’s most bitter rivalry, which has underpinned wars and political tussles across the Middle East as Riyadh and Tehran backed opposing sides. Riyadh’s expulsion of Iran’s envoy after another storming of its Tehran embassy, this time in response to the Saudi execution of Shi’ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, raised the heat again, making the region’s underlying conflict even harder to resolve. At the heart of the new crisis is Saudi Arabia’s growing willingness to confront Iran and its allies militarily since King Salman took power a year ago, say diplomats, choosing with his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to abandon years of backroom politics. Last year, Riyadh began a war in…
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