The Middle East’s cold war, explained

The Middle East is one of the most complex
regions in the world: Currently there are 4 failing states and 3
wars, with major powers increasingly taking opposite sides. Countless armed militias and terrorist groups
are spreading violence across borders. The region has seen conflict after conflict
going back well into the 20th century. But among all the uprisings, civil wars, and
insurgencies, two countries always seem to be involved: Saudi Arabia and Iran. They’re bitter rivals, and their feud is
the key to understanding conflicts in the Middle East. The Saudis and Iranians have never actually
declared war on each other. Instead, they fight indirectly by supporting
opposing sides in other countries and inciting conflicts. This is known as proxy warfare. And it’s had a devastating effect on the
region. Countries, especially poor ones, can’t function if there are larger countries pulling strings within their borders. Both the Saudis and the Iranians, see these civil wars as both tremendous threats, and also potentially enormous opportunities. The Saudi-Iranian rivalry has become a fight over influence, and the whole region is a battlefield. It’s why the rivalry is being called: a
Cold War. The most famous cold war was fought for 40 years between the United States and Soviet
Union. Looking forward to the day when their flag would fly over the entire world. They never declared war on each other, but clashed in proxy wars around the world. Each side supported dictators, rebel groups, and intervened in civil wars to contain the other. Like the US and Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia
and Iran are two powerful rivals – but instead of fighting for world dominance, they’re
fighting over control of the Middle East. In order to understand the Saudi-Iranian rivalry,
let’s go back to the origins of each country. In the early 1900s, the Arabian peninsula
was a patchwork of tribes under the control of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, the empire collapsed, leaving these tribes to fight each other for power. One tribe from the interior, the al-Saud,
eventually conquered most of the peninsula. In 1932, they were recognized as the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia. 6 years later, massive oil reserves were discovered in Saudi Arabia, and, in an instant, the Saudi monarchy was rich. That oil money built roads and cities
all around the desert country – and it helped forge an alliance with the US. On the eastern side of the Persian Gulf, another country was emerging, but having a much harder time. Iran also had massive oil reserves and an
even bigger Muslim population. But constant foreign intervention was creating chaos. Since the 18th century, Iran had been invaded
by the Russians and British twice. In 1953, the US secretly staged a coup, removing the popular prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh. In his place, they propped up a monarch, Reza Shah, who was aggressively reforming Iran into a secular, westernized country. But he harbored corruption and terrorized
the population with his secret police, the Savak. By the 1970s, both Saudi Arabia and Iran had oil-based economies and had governments heavily backed by the US, but the feelings among each population were very different: Ultimately at the end of the day, the
Shah of Iran, powerful as he was, simply did not have the same control over his people
or ultimately the same legitimacy and affection that the Saudi people felt towards their monarchy
at that point in time. That’s because Iran’s Muslims felt stifled
by the Shah’s reformations and by the end of the decade, they finally fought back. Iran’s Islamic revolution overthrew a powerful regime, that boasted military might. It’s really in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolution overthrow the Shah, that the real tension
between Saudi Arabia and Iran begins. Ayatollah Khomeini was a Muslim clergyman,
who preached against Western-backed secular monarchies. He advocated for a government that popular, Islamic, and led by the clergy. And In 1979, he led a revolution to establish just that. It was a massive international event that
prompted reactions around the world especially in Saudi Arabia. The Iranian Revolution terrified the government
of Saudi Arabia. They were fearful that Ayatollah Khomeini would inspire their populations to rise up against them, exactly the way he had caused the Iranian population to rise up against the Shah. There was a religious threat too. Up until now, the Saudis had claimed to be
the leaders of the Muslim world. Largely because Islam’s two holiest sites,
Mecca and Medina are in Saudi Arabia. But Khomeini claimed his popular revolution
made Iran the legitimate Muslim state. There was another divide; Saudi Arabia’s
population is mostly Sunni, the majority sect of Islam, while Khomeini and Iran are mostly
Shia. Westerners always make a
mistake by drawing an analogy between the Sunni-Shia split and the Protestant-Catholic
split within Christianity. The Sunni-Shia split was never as violent. And in much of the Islamic world, when Sunnis and Shia were living in close proximity, they got along famously well. So, while the Sunni-Shia split was not a reason
for the rivalry, it was an important division. After the revolution, the Saudi’s fears
came to life when Iran began “exporting its revolution”. This CIA report from 1980 details how the
Iranian started helping groups, mostly Shia, trying to overthrow governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. And they prompted the Saudis to redouble their efforts, to fight against Iran. They bolstered their alliance with the US
and formed the GCC, an alliance with other gulf monarchies. The stage was set for conflict. War in the gulf. Iraq invaded Iran in seven areas. With a 5:1 superiority, Iraqi forces moved quickly The rise of Iran as a regional power threatened other neighboring countries as well. In September 1980, Iraq, under the rule of
dictator Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran. He was hoping to stop the Iranian revolution,
gain power, and annex some of Iran’s oil reserves. But they didn’t get far. The war bogged down into stalemate complete
with trench warfare, chemical weapons and heavy civilian casualties. When Iran started winning, the Saudis panicked,
and came to Iraq’s rescue. They provided money, weapons, and logistical
help. So it becomes critical to the Saudis that
they build up Iraq, and build it up into a wall that can hold back the Iranian torrent that
they have unleashed. The Saudi help allowed Iraq to fight until
1988. By then, nearly a million people had died. Iranians largely blamed the Saudis for the
war and the feud escalated. Fast forward 15 years and Iraq again became
the scene of a proxy war. In 2003 the US invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein. Neither Saudi Arabia or Iran wanted this to
happen, since Iraq had been acting as a buffer between them. But problems arose when the US struggled to
replace Saddam. The United States has no idea what it is doing in Iraq after 2003. And it makes one mistake after another, that creates a security vacuum, and a failed state, and drives Iraq into all-out civil war. Without a government, armed militias took
control of Iraq, splintering the population. Sunni and Shia militias suddenly sprang up
all over the country. Many were radical Islamist groups who saw
an opportunity to gain power amidst the chaos. These militias were readymade proxies for
Saudi Arabia and Iran, and they both seized the opportunity to try and gain power. The Saudis started sending money and weapons
to the Sunni militias, and Iran; the Shia. Iraq was suddenly a proxy war with Saudi Arabia
and Iran supporting opposing sides. That trend continued into the Arab Spring,
a series of anti-monarchy, pro-democracy protests that swept through the Middle East in 2011. This had very different consequences for Saudi
Arabia and Iran: That is terrifying to the Saudis who are the ultimate status quo power. They want the region stable, and they don’t want anbody rising up and overthrowing a sclerotic, autocratic government, for fear that it might inspire their own people to do the same. The Iranians are the ultimate anti-status quo power, they have been trying for decades to overturn the regional order. Each country threw their weight behind different
groups, all over the Middle East. Just like in Iraq, the Saudis began supporting
Sunni groups and governments while Iran helps Shia groups rise up against them. In Tunisia, the Saudi’s backed a dictator
while the Iranians stoked protests. In Bahrain, Iran supported Shia leaders seeking
to overthrow the government. Saudi Arabia, in turn, sent troops to help
quash the unrest. Both got involved in Libya, Lebanon and Morocco As Saudi Arabia and Iran put more and more
pressure on these countries… they began to collapse. Now the feud has gone a step further, with
both countries deploying their own militaries. In Yemen, the Saudi military is on the ground
helping the central government. They are fighting the rebels, called the Houthis,
who are an Iranian proxy group. The reverse is happening in Syria. The Iranian
military is fighting side by side with militias, some of them extremists groups like Hezbollah,
in support of dictator Bashar al-Assad. They are fighting rebel Sunni groups, who
are Saudi proxies. The more civil wars that broke out in the
Middle East, the more Saudi Arabia and Iran became involved. Neither the government of Saudi Arabia nor the government of Iran are looking for a fight. But the problem is these civil wars create
circumstances that no one could have predicted. Both the Iranians and the Saudis feel that their vital national interests, are threatened, are in jeopardy, because of different things happening in these civil
wars, things they blame each other for. Now the cold war is drawing in other countries. The Saudi government is threatening Qatar, a tiny Gulf state that was developing ties with Iran. Meanwhile in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist
group, ISIS is nearing defeat and both the Saudis and Iranians are angling to take control
of that territory. It’s a Cold war that’s becoming incredibly
unpredictable. As the Middle East continues to destabilize,
its hard to say how far these countries will go.

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100 Responses

  1. P T says:

    Which country is the safest now?

  2. Davide Loi says:

    By watching this video. I discovered that the "trend", by the US, to "export democracy" started a long time ago. "Interesting"….

  3. Davide Loi says:

    A lot of people complaining that a lot of things are not mentioned here. That's true, but if they tried to say everything that is affecting the middle East we would have a video lasting HOURS. Things (for example countries) not mentioned: Turkey, Israel, Russia, just to say some

  4. Davide Loi says:

    I also wonder what kind of country Iran could be now if at that time the USA had not tried to impose a regime change with the sha. Maybe the revolution wouldn't have happened and we wouldn't be in this situation now….

  5. Nasir Uddin says:

    Radical jushis terrorist organisation Israel and US government need to stop teroresom inside the Middle East 🏴‍☠️🌍🏴‍☠️🇮🇱🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🇮🇱🇮🇱🏴‍☠️🌍🏴‍☠️🇮🇱

  6. Daniyal SDY says:

    Hezbollah is not a Terrorist group
    it's a rebel group, we are proud of them

    Long live Hezbollah

  7. Tanmermaids says:

    Seems like that side of the wold is cursed

  8. Tom Bonn says:

    The most notorious destabilizer of them all, Israel, left out.

  9. Counter Kidnapping says:

    Forgot Israel

  10. Rosa Dee says:

    good explanation. But the role of devilish israel and us has been omitted

  11. حسین حجتی says:

    خیلی وقته که ایران برنده شده

  12. adawgarcia lifestyle says:

    call it Persia before Iran

  13. Παντελει Souraja says:

    Jonathan Irons had a point

  14. Dommy521 says:

    can we have an update?

  15. Mehdi Sellami says:

    Didn't know that Morocco had a revolution, even though i live in it?!

  16. Soufiane Fadil says:

    All about oil and ports, it’s a war, the winner will take control of all the Dead Sea and the red sea…
    Basically Isreal want that, and if isreal is involved then USA is involved too …
    A lots of deaths, who to blame? Their a candidate! Let’s blame Islam for that and let’s collect the money!

  17. harshit tandon says:

    hamas is a terrorist organisation specify it

  18. aaa says:

    Too much mistakes and misunderstandings
    Very far from the fact

  19. Sultan al-otebi says:

    this is not true, this documentary has money lying

  20. Liane Cornils says:

    Sounds like my situation UW infighting war by supporting my opposition using family to reach their own unsightly goals.

  21. Liane Cornils says:

    What's each sides goal, not peace not truth not love not family not criminal intent not drug free living.

  22. Houssam Eddine KOURCHI says:

    The midlle east will be peaceful only if united terrorists states go out. Beleive me

  23. Nghi Cao says:

    Abdul of Saudi Arabia is no good, but Marmoud of Iranian is terrible.

  24. mercurion1000 says:

    Good video !

  25. kismyass fu says:

    Countries being played just for selling weapons.

  26. Laith Abugreen says:

    Im from libya

  27. Brandon Boys says:

    I don't know if I would call Iran the "ultimate anti status quo power" yikes

  28. Brandon Boys says:

    also didn't the saudi's fund ISIS?

  29. callofduty6661 says:

    No mention of Israel hmmmm ?

  30. sanka su ps4 says:

    Ok this is the hot war (it's the middle east

  31. Dread Pirate Roberts says:

    USA is the best.

  32. hi there says:

    guys lets not make fun off religion please

  33. donsink says:

    Vox will disinform its followers and not give them critical information and insert spin. It's wiser to not listen to them altogether.

  34. Christopher Weaver says:

    God bless the United States of America and our ally Saudi Arabia. ✝️💯

  35. Travis Sanchez says:

    Booo this video doesn’t condense this very difficult and Expansive issues into “Israel and USA bad !!!” Booo blame the US ! Blame Israel !

  36. Mars Warrior says:

    Jewmerica is the instigator! Why leave that detail out?

  37. Red Bull says:

    Do ur part in protecting tomorrow’s Syrians and Yemenis

  38. ملك حمود says:

    السعودية إلى كانت فيها جدي وعمامي وملوكي طيبين

  39. Joe Black says:


  40. K W says:

    The US allowed Saudi Arabia to attack this nation during 9/11 and it's only gotten worse since.

  41. ZoZo says:

    Who is here cod modern warfare?

  42. *Amir * says:

    Down with Islamic republic. Com back king of Iran. Iran secular. From Iran

  43. Kevin Ffs says:

    Hezbollah terrorist group?

  44. AlicanY says:

    Make video about Atatürk

  45. JokerReaperComedy says:

    Just a daily reminder that this was Europe’s fault. The USSR was also Europe’s fault. The USA was also Europe’s fault. Blame the Europeans, the US is simply trying to clean their mess.

  46. Adam Right says:

    DO NOT FORGET MURDERER MBS of Saudis and CORRUPTED monarchy.

  47. Dina campos lopes says:

    Why? Divide and Rule. Narratives of different opposed rivalry. They hide behind masks, but why here? Oil? Of course, what lies behind the oil? Beyond the war? Lawrence. 🕋

  48. Dina campos lopes says:

    Why? Divide and Rule. Narratives of different opposed rivalry. They hide behind masks, but why here? Oil? Of course, what lies behind the oil? Beyond the war?🕋

  49. ThisIsTheTruth says:

    Izrael and Turkey are the devil of Middle East.

  50. Michał Kozlik says:

    📲*00212645752301* *whatapps*📲
    ســمــعــت🧏‍♂️ كـثـيـر مــن الــشــبــاب يـبـحـثـون عــن طــريــقــة فـعـالـة✅ لــتــكــبــيــر الـقـضـيـب
    وأنــا أبــشــركــم😉 أنـي حــصــلــت عـلـى الــطــريــقــة الأصـح👍 والــمــنــاســبــة👍 وهــتــشــكــرنــي بــعــديــهــا
    تــواصــل مـعـي وأنـا بـشـرح لـك ســر الــوصــفــة الـواتـسـاب *00212.645.75.23.01*📲

  51. John Gates says:

    All this countries need democracy to solve the current problems.

  52. Rafael Melo says:

    7:90 Yeah, that's why Saudia Arabia has supported either ISIS, Al-Nusra or the the so called "moderate rebels" against Al-Assad.

  53. mya beautiful says:

    I never got why is there a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar !

  54. Amirreza Darvish says:


  55. Mohammed AL-Daly says:

    Saudi Arabia is simply following orders of the US, which's the 3rd part always seem to be involved in Iraq that u didn't mention.

  56. Thanos I'm the man says:

    By the end of the video I am totally confused… it's too complicated man

  57. SelahAhmed IbnMalachi says:

    Hezbollah is not an extremist group they don't have men planted everywhere blowing up things like Isis and Al Qaeda Hezbollah is maintain with in Lebanon borders they only went to Syria to help fight Isis or Isis influence will not enter in Lebanon they even protected the Christians throughout Syria they're not in an extremist group that comes from the United States mostly because they prevent is Cyril from entering in Lebanon and they know how to counter the US influence by way of the CIA. this man is wrong in this video for saying Hezbollah is an extremist group

  58. Holy Goly says:

    World of Islam..surely to become DOOM with war if the world become all Muslim !!!!

  59. Roy George says:

    muslim cold war . islamic proxy war

  60. Charles Young says:

    Ben Ali, Bachar Al Assad, dictators!!! Really! Not the leaders of Saudi Arabia or extremists at the Knesset in Israel!!!? The politically correct mantra is that anyone who dares disagree with US/anglo-saxon, jewish, wahhabite imposed agenda is labelled a 'terrorist' or 'dictator!' Or you lose your job. Immediately.Who wrote your script? And no mention of the elephant in the room, Israel's 1982 Oded Yinon Greater Israel Project or the 2002/2003 US neo-conservatives Greater Middle-East Project to destroy 7 countries in 5 years, much to the astonishment of US general Wesley Clark. Following, surprise surprise the US neo-conservatives 2nd Pearl Harbour wished for 'Catalysing Event!'Replace the Middle-East oil and gas with potato fields…would Uncle Sam or any other world power be interested in this region?It's back to the drawing board guys 'n' gals.

  61. jahan442 says:

    2019 iran has the upper hand. The loss of Saudis will be the best thing to happen for Muslims, especially Sunni Muslim.

  62. Amlan Kiron Banerjee says:

    During the Iran-Iraq war, the latter was supported by the US.

  63. Tekinsu lyrics says:

    We are Turks and have more than 2000 years history. World will awake. We love ERDOĞAN. HE IS FAIR. HE IS DEMOCRATIC AND WE ARE SO Happy to have a leader like him. Let me do it a real video.

  64. periferia of mind says:


  65. David Miller says:

    Vox, you don't know your History.

  66. Mohammad Saghira says:

    Iran just support all Demand the right

  67. Mohammad Saghira says:

    One day
    World understand Iran have good nation
    Iran want peace for world

  68. sergi boi says:

    I blame the cows

  69. muhamed chau says:

    Libya is in North Africa not the middle East

  70. Abbis ilraQe says:

    I’m from lraq اني من العراق 🇮🇶🇮🇶🙏🏻🙏🏻

  71. Turko 89 says:

    Soft power China !!

  72. Juulk says:

    2019 people in Iraq are sick of USA/Israel government in Iraq.

  73. Oğuzhan Karakaş says:

    Where is the oil, US is there and after they arrived there is only war and chaos.
    ''Hey stop Amerian weapon sellers needs money, lets make more violance in the world, oh sorry where is the oil ? MIDDLE EAST !''

  74. mahdi porkazeme says:

    all of that wrong without any truth

  75. frank x says:

    Enlightening. You certainly don't get a clear picture from the western media, who often blame fundamentalists for the consequences of these proxy wars.

  76. Incurable Romanticist says:

    I never understood that the Saudis feared a popular uprising like the Ayatollah’s. It makes perfect sense.

    And I never even knew that the Saudis helped Iraq against Iran, or that the Iranians were the preferred force for popular uprising.

    If the Iranians didn’t want to spread Islam by war, they would be our allies, I guess.

  77. Abhimanyu Vijayan says:

    Why does that boomer dude sounds exactly like donald trump?

  78. A. E. says:

    say what you want but Iraninans actually don't see SA as a threat (or the real threat) as they aim for opposing US or so my iranian friend says

  79. brogoku says:

    So your telling me that thousands of people died over a commodity and the belief that a god might exist? I can see why Elon Musk wants to go to mars.

  80. Holy Goly says:

    Islam like fighthing among them and blaming others for thier own problem where Sunni and Syiah teaching in Islam are 360 degree different.

  81. chocomalk says:

    Don't worry, a guy from the CIA will break down the last 100+ years of strife in the middle east and not leave anything out.

    Nothing at all was glossed over in this 10 min video….lol

  82. Nayea AlNeyadi says:

    Saddam is not a dictator, if you ask how look at Iraq wile under the rule of saddam and after.

  83. Nayea AlNeyadi says:

    We Sunni Arab Muslims look to Iran as a country that tries to dominate the surrounding region, as the video shows ,Saudi Arabia's goal is to ensure the stability of the neighboring region Unlike Iran.

  84. beau sheffield says:

    I think a few things need to be pointed out to the people who are criticizing this video. First if you have been watching Vox consistently for a while now you would know that they have never shied away from controversial topics involving the US so why would you suddenly assume they’re doing so now. Second they’re focusing simply on the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia that have “contributed” to the conflicts in the Middle East. This video isn’t trying to absolve all responsibility that the US has for much of what’s going on in the Middle East today. It’s just talking about to other countries that are also responsible for what’s going on in the Middle East today.

    The only reason you would even try to argue with the point in this video is simply because you don’t want to believe that the Middle East isn’t at least partially responsible for its own condition. And instead remain ignorant. Believing that there is nothing that you or your politicians can do to fix it. Because control over your own fate was taken from you by a bunch of big bad foreigners.

  85. BENA AZALIA says:

    Just about oil. Who give oil to US Will safe

  86. Richard Chng says:

    Arab are a mess

  87. Amira Sabyrhanova says:

    Oh, guys, please, can you like this comment, so that authors will see my desire to help translating video into Russian transcript. Thank you <3. (not joke)

  88. Black Bird says:

    Thank you for presenting a distorted and incomplete picture!
    What about US and Russia's proxy war who are supporting both and do not want peace in the middle east ?

  89. j kay says:

    USA destroying the Middle East, to help Israel establish itself there after its formation in 1948.

  90. Rog Gurty says:

    Well into the 20th century? how about since before Alexander the Great….

  91. Boogeyman says:

    divide and rule

  92. Pepperoni Unicorn says:

    No mention of Israel and this story is a lot more complicated and long then this extremely brief summary/synopsis, more like a blurb, Especially the Wahabist Clerics of Saudi Arabia who were put in the control of the country bar it's economic Policy, they would like nothing better than to exterminate the Shia.

  93. valfarhad says:

    What utter nonsense! How’s the weather in Ryad? Or is it Tel Aviv?!

  94. fatmi benayed says:

    What is said about Tunisia at 8:25 is not true: there are no shias in north Africa so Iran has no influence here. As for the Saoudis, they are profoundly disliked by the tunisian people, because of their arrogance. And they gave shelter to the tunisian dictator Ben Ali.

  95. GMSThisVileKingdom 3 says:

    Swap out Saudi Arabia with the sate of Israel for this video

  96. xYLFH_ Yt says:

    There is only one kind of Muslim is Sunni. Shia are kufar

  97. random bastard says:

    Big up to Iran from Indian/anglo

  98. football442 says:

    The USA is behind all these wars!

  99. Noosy says:

    This is so good.

  100. ExtrovertedCenobite says:

    US, Saudi Arabia and Israel causing most problems in the middle east.

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