Comparative Analysis of Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s Ideological Roles in Yemen Transformations

Document Type : Original Independent Original Article


1 Visiting Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities, Payame Noor University, Abadan, Iran.

2 Political Studies of the Islamic Revolution, Faculty of Humanities, Shahed University, Tehran, Iran.

3 MA. of Department of International Relations, Faculty of Humanities, Islamic Azad University, Bonab, Iran.


The involvement of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two most significant regional actors, in the Yemen crisis might be seen as a reflection of their ideological rivalry. Ideology plays a considerable part in this situation and paves the way for higher regional competition between these two countries. This study employs a comparative-analytical approach, and data are collected via desk research, books, academic journals, and databases. The subject was discussed using the comparative framework of Barry Buzan's "Regional Security Complex Theory" (RSCT). This study addresses the following question: "How can the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Yemen crisis be explored? “According to the theoretical framework of this study, the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia may be analyzed in four criteria: roles, objectives, level, and strategies. In fact, these nations vary in these four criteria, which will be discussed in the paper. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been rivals for several years. Focusing on this issue and gaining knowledge of the Islamic Republic of Iran by analyzing Saudi Arabia's foreign policy in the region, the present research lays the groundwork for a logical and acceptable strategy to protect Iran's regional status and maintain the power balance.



The main purpose of this article was assessing Saudi Arabia–Iran rivalry in the Yemen crisis. It seems that according to the regional security complex theory (RSCT) by Barry Buzan et al., the role, objective, level, and the strategic model of the policies of Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen could be explained with focus on ideological issues. There are also differences between the two states in these aspects. Given that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been traditionally rivals in the Persian Gulf region, a compendious study of Saudi foreign policy in the region could pave the way for the Islamic Republic’s logical confrontation and proper reaction to save Iran’s position in the region and help balance of power. Accordingly, the role of these two states in the Yemen crisis was ideologically assessed in this comparative-analytical study. The data were collected through library and Internet research.



This study had a descriptive-analytical design and was conducted through library research and review of related articles published in Persian and English. The ideological role of Saudi Arabia and Iran in developments in Yemen was analyzed using the RSCT. As one of the three central notions put forward by the Copenhagen School, RSCT forms a comprehensive complex to understand and analyze international security along with securitization theory and sectors approach. According to Buzan, every security complex has a fundamental structure of four basic variables: “anarchy”, “border”, “pole”, and “interaction patterns”. Anarchy is when a regional security complex is composed of two or several autonomous units. The second variable, border, refers to when a group of states or other non-state actors are mutually dependent in terms of security to a degree that they can be considered as a connected complex. At international level, the number of superpowers and great powers determine the poles. At regional level, the regional powers represent the poles in any security complex and their regional capabilities are crucially important. Which unit is concerned about what unit or matter or is leaning towards whom? The interaction patterns, as the fourth variable, signify which one of the three roles of enemy, rival, and friend is dominant in the system.


Results and discussion

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran became Saudi Arabia’s most serious rival. Following the US intervention in Iraq and the Shia rise to power, particularly after the 2011 Arab Spring, Iran has sought to extend its influence in the Middle East. For Saudi Arabia, this influence policy is a threat to vital interests and instability in Iraq. Moreover, Saudi Arabia–Iran relations shape the status of other countries in the region as these states are substantially important in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia’s approach to post-revolution Iran has been hostile rivalry even though they have had tactical diplomatic relations in some cases. Yemen has been a rivalry zone for these states. Saudi Arabia considers Yemen as its backyard and thus, cannot accept the victory of Ansar Allah (the Houthi movement). Saudis resort to different methods to keep and consolidate their area of influence in Yemen. In this regard, many analysts believe that the developments and civil war in Yemen have turned to a proxy war between Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, indicating the clash of two political doctrines and two different interpretations of Islam. Both states seek to extend their influence and repulse the other. Iran has intervened in Yemen’s developments since Yemen is crucial to Iran for several reasons: “supporting liberating movements according to Iran’s constitution and ideological commitment, exporting the Islamic Revolution abroad, supporting the Shia community globally, the conflict with Israel and its policies in the region, the danger of the spread of terrorism and Al-Qaeda in the region, and finally reinforcing Iran’s economic interests in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden.”



Barry Buzan’s RSCT is a great theory for comparative study of the internal and external factors influencing regional security. It is evident that Saudi Arabia and Iran, as two chief poles of the Islamic world, have been undeniably involved in the securitization of Yemen. Viewed in light of the RSCT, the ideological rivalry of these states in Yemen has led to fundamental difference in their role, level, objective, and strategy. Iran has never considered Yemen a part of its history, culture, civilization, and Islamic ideology and has merely placed it under its macrosystem based on the ideology of supporting Muslims. Although Yemen shares no border with Iran, it is connected to the region via the resistance axis. However, Saudi Arabia considers Yemen a part of its history, culture, and civilization and seeks more influence in its backyard according to Wahhabism. With this ideology, Saudi Arabia seeks to bring its southern neighbor under control based on its policies in order to block the spread of revolutionary Islamic thinking and potential revolts in its provinces. On the other hand, Iran seeks to export the discourse of Islamic Revolution to Yemen to gain an essential base for its influence in the region and formation of a new resistance front. Overall, the best option for the two states is choosing friendly interaction pattern from the three patterns stated for the fourth variable of the RSCT. With parallel gain of interest and regardless of ideological issues, they should interact in the region within the framework of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It is clear that active action is impossible and unachievable in rivalry and polarization and can even lead to long-term negative outcomes and consequences for other countries in the region.


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