As we watch the diplomatic kabuki intensify between Saudi and Iran, the media is both over- and underplaying the significance. First, the tension between the two nations is not new in any scale you want. It’s century old, millennium old, decades old, but it’s also been heating up in the Sunni/Shi’a conflict in Yemen (even though the majority of Yemeni Shi’a are Yazidis, which are not all that different than Sunnis) and in Syria where the Saudis are aligned with the Sunni factions if not officially with ISIS.
Some interesting angles in all of this include the position of Bahrain, which has a majority Shi’a population but a Sunni ruling class—and a major US naval installation on it.
There’s Iraq which has its own internal sectarian tensions. We can pretty much expect the Gulf emirates to line up with the Saudis. Turkey borders Iran and Syria but is overwhelmingly Sunni, though it may want to see itself as a power balancer. Factions in Palestine have been supported by Iran but could risk their own survival if they align against Sunni powers. Lebanon and Syria have Iranian-aligned factions, but this is far from a lock on the whole territory.
This leaves Israel in the position of possibly finally finding some alliances in the Middle East which could be used against their allies for propaganda reasons to be sure, but which could be a spark towards changing the dynamic altogether. If Israel allies with the Sunni bloc, it would give them added security both with respect to the Palestinians and the Iranians, the former as I see it the real challenge for Israel and the latter the worst external one at the moment, but still only distantly second. But this creates problems on Israel’s norther borders.
Or, perhaps, Israel could align itself with Turkey and perhaps Egypt to form a Mediterranean bloc.
The United States’s interests seem best served by staying aloof in a Sunni/Shi’a conflict. Will we be able to?