The New Year’s execution by Saudi Arabia of the Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr was a deliberate provocation.
Its first purpose: Signal the new ruthlessness and resolve of the Saudi monarchy where the power behind the throne is the octogenarian King Salman’s son, the 30-year-old Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman.
Second, crystallize, widen and deepen a national-religious divide between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Persian, Riyadh and Tehran.
Third, rupture the rapprochement between Iran and the United States and abort the Iranian nuclear deal.
The provocation succeeded in its near-term goal. An Iranian mob gutted and burned the Saudi embassy, causing diplomats to flee, and Riyadh to sever diplomatic ties.
From Baghdad to Bahrain, Shiites protested the execution of a cleric who, while a severe critic of Saudi despotism and a champion of Shiite rights, was not convicted of inciting revolution or terror.
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