In Beijing on March 10, 2023, representatives of Iran and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in which they pledged to restore diplomatic relations within two months. These had been disrupted in 2016 after Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran was attacked following the execution of Shiite cleric, Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, in Saudi Arabia.
The full import of this event becomes clear when one considers what happened just under five years ago, on September 22, 2018, and soon after. A military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz had been attacked that day, leaving 25 people killed and many more injured. Iran’s leader, Ali Khamenei, had reacted by linking the attack to “plots by U.S. vassal states in the region” and General Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary National Guard, had promised devastating revenge.
No less harsh has been the rhetoric of the Saudis against Iran, accusing them of supporting terrorism and sectarian religious groups.
The two countries seemed so irreconcilably opposed that direct military confrontation was feared. That is why the agreement signed in Beijing was a big surprise for everyone, but also promised to become a big trauma for some.