It's the Mideast Conflict That Holds Chaotic Global Implications
JERUSALEM, Israel -- Tensions are continuing to rise between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran. It's the conflict that could mean chaos not only in the Middle East but also the entire world.
The blood feud between Sunnis and Shiites dates back more than 1,300 years. After their prophet Mohammed died, a great debate arose within the Islamic community over who would succeed him.
Sunnis believed the successor should come from the Islamic community, while Shiites believed he should come from the descendants of Mohammed. Both claimed to be the rightful heirs of Islam.
When the Sunnis killed Mohammed's son-in-law, Ali, the feud began. It simmers to this day. Now with the furor over the execution of Iran cleric Nimr al-Nimr, it's boiling.
"Boiling in the sense that Iran is becoming more and more a threat on the majority of Islam, the Sunni Islam," explained Eliezer Tsafrir, who served as the Mossad station chief in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian revolution.
He says the context of the current crisis involves the recent nuclear deal with Iran. When the United States signed the deal, Saudi Arabia felt betrayed.
"Not only Saudi Arabia, all the Arab Sunni states," he said. "They feel that they were betrayed by America. Everybody knows for sure the Iranians are pushing decisively to reach nuclear power. There is no doubt about it."
Tsafrir says the Saudis are terrified of a nuclear Iran.
"In my opinion, they are praying at nights to God that America and or Israel will do the job for them to hit the nuclear projects in Iran," he told CBN News.
Tsafrir says the execution of the Shiite cleric sent a warning to Iran. "A kind of deterrence. Be careful. You are going too far," he said.
Middle East expert Michael Barak agreed.
"Executing this guy is meaning like a declaration of war against Iran," he said.
Barak said he doesn't expect a direct war between the two Middle East giants but does expect their proxy wars around the region to intensify.
"Actually, we are already witness to the clash between the Shia and Sunni in Yemen and Iraq and Syria. It will get worse, of course," he predicted.
Tsafrir believes the real danger in the region is Iran.
"In my opinion, the head of the serpent lies in Tehran," he said. "This is the major threat on peace, on the world, on the Middle East, on the Iranian people."
While these experts don't see a direct confrontation now between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the feud has the potential of sparking a greater Middle East war.