When it comes to Iran and Saudi Arabia, the nature of their crisis does not meet this criteria. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s tone against Iran has even softened in recent weeks. Indeed, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud recently told The Economist, “Whoever is pushing toward [war with Iran] is somebody who is not in their right mind.”
Fourth, on the international level, Saudi Arabia believes that in the event of a military confrontation with Iran, the United States and the rest of the West may side with the Islamic Republic. Riyadh’s decision to cut ties with Tehran has received virtually no international support aside from some African countries that play no significant role in international power equations.
Even US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged calm following the breakdown in the Saudi-Iranian relationship. There may have been a time when, because of Saudi Arabia’s oil or its position, Washington would have gone out of its way to serve the interests of Riyadh. However, now, even some US elites view Saudi Arabia as a slightly more civilized version of the Islamic State.
Last but not least, victory is uncertain in a potential Iranian-Saudi war. Saudi Arabia and Iran may take destructive blows from each other, but both know that neither has the ability to destroy the other side or impose regime change. Saudi Arabia has more warplanes and modern military equipment, while Iran has better missile capabilities and military personnel.
Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war is another factor that reduces the motivation for war with Tehran. Moreover, the population in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province is mainly Shiite and has the potential to revolt — an advantage for Tehran that Riyadh cannot easily create for itself in Iran. Lastly, Iran’s control of the Strait of Hormuz, through which Saudi Arabia conducts much of its trade, is a further preventative factor, since war would necessitate redirecting all that trade to the Red Sea, which in the short run is just not possible.