The Iranians are by far the stronger of the two rivals. They have compromised their ‘brand’ in the Arab world through their support for the Assad regime in Syria. This, however, could be rapidly reversed in the wake of new confrontations with the US or Israel. Their nuclear program is proceeding apace. The Tehran regime looks safe in its seat at home. It still possesses powerful assets across the region.
The Saudis, by contrast, can offer a credible barrier to Iranian ambitions only as part of a larger, de facto alliance including the US and Israel.
The Saudi-Iranian cold war was one of the factors defining the Middle East prior to the upheavals of 2011. It has been a significant element in determining the course of those upheavals so far. In Bahrain and in Syria, the Saudis are winning. Iranian anger and frustration at Riyadh and a desire to strike at it should therefore come as no surprise. As the deluge subsides, the dreary minarets of Riyadh and Tehran are emerging once again.