Saudi Arabia will cut all diplomatic ties with Iran, the Saudi foreign ministry said on Sunday.
Saudi officials said that Iranian diplomats have 48 hours to leave the country, according to CNN.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference that “Riyadh would not allow the Islamic Republic to undermine the Sunni kingdom’s security,” according to Reuters.
He added: “The Iranian regime has a long record of violating foreign diplomatic missions.”
The move comes after Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, ransacking and setting fire to the building in retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric and 46 others on Saturday.
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of its Shiite Muslim minority, was executed on charges of inciting domestic terrorism and plotting to overthrow the Saudi government.
One day after the mass execution, the Saudi government released infographics explaining the charges that were made against each individual who had been sentenced to death, including al-Nimr:
— إنفوجرافيك السعودية (@Infographic_ksa) January 2, 2016
Iran protested the grouping of al-Nimr — a cleric in his mid-50s known for his fiery rhetoric — with hardline jihadists who had been executed for their alleged ties to al Qaeda.
“To lump this guy with terrorists is a stretch,” Frederic Wehrey, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The New York Times on Saturday. “To my knowledge, he never called for armed insurrection.”
Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, and Iran, which is majority Shiite, are historic regional rivals.
The war of words had been heating up before Saudi Arabia’s announcement on Sunday, with Iran’s supreme leader saying on Saturday that Saudi Arabia would face “divine vengeance” for its execution of al-Nimr, and Saudi officials retorting that Iran had “revealed its true face represented in support for terrorism,” The Times reported.
Bobby Ghosh, a former Baghdad correspondent for Time and managing editor of Quartz, told CNN that Saudi Arabia is now “sending a message to the Shia population in the east that they are a minority and they will remain that way.”
“Saudi Arabia formally breaks diplomatic ties with Iran,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, founder of Eurasia Group, noted on Twitter. “And all the Middle East proxy wars just got sharper.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a proxy war in Syria, where Iran-backed Shiite militias are fighting Saudi-backed Sunni rebels battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iran and Saudi Arabia also support opposing sides in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been launching airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels since March.
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