Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in National Journal. We reprint in part here.
Two weeks. Two suicide bombings. Both targeting Shiites in a Sunni land. And both claimed by ISIS.
If this were Iraq or Syria, these attacks—sadly—wouldn’t be surprising. But it’s not. It’s Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s most precious sites and the region’s most powerful Sunni rulers—a relatively vast territory, kept remarkably stable by the ruthless application of authoritarian rule while its neighbors teeter under the destabilizing weight of popular revolution and terrorist intervention.
And that’s just the way the U.S. government likes its friend, Saudi Arabia. Because Washington needs stability there more than it needs to feel good about how the House of Saud achieves it.
But today, in Dammam, a city on the Saudi eastern coast, a man dressed as a woman blew himself up outside a Shiite mosque and killed three others. (The attack would have been far more devastating had guards not stopped the bomber from entering the mosque, forcing him back into a parking lot.) ISIS now is bragging that their man reached his target despite heightened security after the group’s first attack in the kingdom just eight days ago. That one, on another Shia mosque in a village called al Qadeeh, killed 21.
“They certainly are significant,” said Mike Singh, former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. “These attacks seem designed to exacerbate sectarian divisions, precisely as ISIS has sought to do elsewhere.”
Singh’s right; ISIS wants to encourage Sunni-Shia hostility throughout the Muslim world (perhaps as much as it wants to encourage violence between Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide) because it fits its caliphatic goals.
But for the United States, there’s more significance to read into this emerging ISIS assault on Saudi Arabia. And it’s the type of significance that should be at least discouraging—if not downright worrisome—to Washington’s Middle East policymakers.