Rising conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, two of the most significant powers in the Middle East, has potentially far-reaching consequences for the entire region.

In which countries will the conflict have greatest impact?

The first to be affected are Syria and Yemen, where both Riyadh and Tehran are major players in the respective civil wars. There have also been protests by Shiites against the Saudi monarchy in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain and in Iraq.

Why is Saudi Arabia allowing the conflict to escalate?

Despite its immense oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is acting from a position of weakness in its aim of countering Iran's influence on the Arab world. The kingdom sees itself as under threat from Tehran. The Saudi government believes this perception has been confirmed by the deal on Iran's nuclear programme.

The Islamic State terrorist militia, which has advanced to the frontiers of Saudi Arabia, is also applying pressure to the monarchy. At the same time, Riyadh faces a gaping hole amounting to billions of dollars in its budget as a result of the collapse in the price of oil.

What interests is Iran pursuing in the Arab world?

Tehran regards itself as the most important country of the region strategically and is bidding for a say in all regional developments. It aims to make clear to its Arab neighbours that Islam forms a political ideology to be implemented independently of the West - and particularly of the United States.

This ideology includes the central doctrine of Iranian foreign policy - the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation and the founding of a Palestinian state. Tehran also aims to offer support to Shiite minority movements in Arab countries with Sunni governments.

What are the implications for the Syrian peace talks?

Iran is one of the Syrian regime's most important allies, while Saudi Arabia backs the rebels. Ending the bloody conflict would be impossible without the cooperation of these two arch-rivals. Only if Iran withdraws its support can the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be toppled - and this is a precondition for an end to the conflict for opponents of the Syrian government.

Last year, the respective positions of Saudi Arabia and Iran appeared to be approaching each other during negotiations on a political roadmap to end the civil war. They agreed on talks between the Syrian regime and its opponents. These talks were set to begin on January 25, but this date could now be in doubt.

What effects do the current tensions have on the civil war in Yemen?

The situation there is similar to that in Syria. Saudi Arabia provides military support to the government of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, whereas Iran backs the Shiite Houthi rebels, who have seized control of large swathes of the country. Peace talks in Switzerland in December ended without result, and a renewed ceasefire also broke down. These talks are to be resumed in January, but whether this will happen is now in doubt.

Why are there protests in Bahrain?

Although this Gulf kingdom has a Sunni ruler, the majority of the population is Shiite. During the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Shiite protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the monarchy, which used force to suppress the protests. In this it was supported by Saudi Arabia, which sent troops across the border into Bahrain.

The crisis in the island state on the western shores of the Gulf has not gone away, as Bahrain continues to vigorously suppress the Shiite opposition. Saudi Arabia fears that the unrest could spread to its own Shiite minority, which is concentrated nearby in the east of the country.

Related stories

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.