By Claude Salhani-Trend:
Iran and its neighbor Saudi Arabia are currently engaged in a war of words and throwing around promises of retaliation which includes “divine intervention,” as each side lays claim to having God on their side.
But as the voices get louder and the accusations grow there is always the danger that the situation may spin out of control and this very cold war could turn into a hot conflict.
As things stand neither side really wants to take things to the next level. Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia, despite the great animosity and distrust that exists between them, neither are prepared to go to a full scale military offensive.
The Saudi-Iranian squabble is reflected on more than one level. The difference between the two countries is political, religious, social, tribal, cultural, economic and territorial.
Politically, the two countries differ greatly. Iran is a theocratic republic. Although the country is ruled by a supreme leader who hails from the clergy, Iran is still a republic, where the people get to vote for a president.
Saudi Arabia is governed by a ruling royal family.
Religion: Here too, the two countries differ. Despite both countries being Muslim, Iranians for the most part are Shia, and Saudis are mostly Sunni, although there is an important Shia minority living in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
Tribal: Iranians for the most part are Persian, whereas Saudis are Arabs.
There are great differences between the two on a cultural level as well, each having a rich cultural background filled with poetry and literature and the arts, the Iranians in Farsi and the Saudis in Arabic.
Iranians are Persian and the Saudis are Arabs. And in both instances the history is tainted with stories of vengeance and blood.
If the antagonists ever did come to lose their minds and their reason and resort to open warfare it would be a disaster regardless of who wins or who loses.
With that in mind how would the two countries fare from a military perspective?
Overall Iran has more people than Saudi Arabia; 80 million versus 27 million, giving the Islamic Republic an edge over its rival simply based on figures alone. The Iranian military is also more battle tested and ready then its rival Saudi Arabia. Iranians have experienced recent combat in Syria; then again the Saudi Arabians have been fighting in Yemen.
Iran has currently more than half a million men in the military, compared to Saudi Arabia’s 233,500. Furthermore, Iran can call on 1,800,000 reserves, where as Saudi Arabia can only call up to 25,000.
Saudi Arabia however has the edge when it comes to air superiority, with 675 airplanes compared to Iran’s 471. Saudi Arabia has been able to equip itself with the latest in air warfare with the US, France and Britain providing it with combat ready airplanes and training for its pilots. Iran on the other hand was under international sanctions for years and has had to cannibalize it’s aging air fleet just to keep its planes in a flying capacity. Saudi Arabia possesses 236 attack fixed wing crafts while Iran has only 119.
Is it ever came to ground warfare Saudi Arabia can throw into the battlefield some 1,210 tanks against Iran’s 1,635.
When it comes to artillery Saudi Arabia is outgunned by Iran’s 2,078, with the Desert Kingdom possessing only 432.
An Additional danger if it ever came to armed conflict between the two countries, is the distinct possibility of having to constantly expand which countries such as Turkey and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council jumping into the battle to help out Saudi Arabia.
What is largely unknown for the moment as if push came to shove how ready is Iran’s nuclear program and would Iran deploy tactical warheads taking region and quite possibly beyond into a very dangerous area.
The temptation for both sides might well be to resort to limited escalation of the conflict involving a limited military response in order to hike up the price of oil currently at its lowest selling around $30 a barrel. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran would stand to profit from any increase in the price of oil. That however would be pouring oil over the fire quite literally.
Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend Agency. You can follow Claude on Twitter @Claudesalhani
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