By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin BEIRUT/DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was quick to condemn the execution of Saudi cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, stating: "Without a doubt, the hated Saudi regime will pay a price for this shameful act." For an organization deeply involved in wars in Syria and Iraq this looks no idle threat, at least in the eyes of Sunni Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia who say Shi'ite rival Tehran is bent on undermining their security. The Guard's furious comment is not a call for direct conflict with Riyadh, something neither country wants. But it is a reminder to Gulf Arabs that the IRGC, with connections in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, has many ways to wage the long cold war between Tehran and its Arab foes. Tehran denies interfering in Arab lands. But the Quds Force, the arm of the Guards that operates abroad, has contributed fighters, weapons and military supplies to back Iran’s interests and policies across the region. That prospect is worrying for a region where conflicts or political crises from Lebanon and Syria to Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain involve proxies of both powers who are at daggers drawn. A day after the IRGC issued its statement, which described Saudi rulers as "terrorist fostering, hated and anti-Islam", Riyadh broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran, escalating a contest for power that underpins the region's turmoil. There is no firm indication that Iran's factionalized leadership has agreed how far it should go to avenge the death of Nimr -- who was one of 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia on Saturday -- and what methods should be used. But whatever steps are authorized, the Guards are likely to be involved, although as orchestrators more than direct participants, experts say. "The Guard will not respond directly," said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. RIVALRY "They have their operatives, their people, their connections everywhere in the region who will answer what the Saudis did and actually escalate. Iran is in a very strong position to respond in the Saudi Arabian eastern province. And they can do a lot in Bahrain." Moderate voices on both sides do not have an interest in seeing the situation escalate into a full conflict, experts say. And yet the rivals often compete indirectly through allies, which lends the contest an element of unpredictability: Some Iranian proxies may be encouraged by the tough rhetoric coming from Tehran to carry out attacks not sanctioned by the Guard. "Both sides are loath to see tensions spiral out of control. They are more likely than not to prevent this cold conflict from deteriorating into a hot one, while stepping up their proxy wars across the region," said Ali Vaez, the senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. "But with tensions reaching new heights, now more than ever, they run the risk of unintended direct confrontation." The Quds Force has gained valuable military experience in recent years and now plays a dominant role within the IRGC, experts say. In some cases, Guard fighters and their Shi’ite proxies have fought against Sunni groups directly supported by Saudi Arabia in Syria and Iraq. The IRGC has also established intelligence networks among the Shi'ite populations in the Gulf states. It has the potential to undermine Saudi Arabia and its allies' interests using sympathetic Shi'ites to stir political unrest or engage in violent attacks, experts say. Saudi Arabia has a sizable Shi’ite community in the east of the country, while the majority of Bahrain’s citizens are Shi’ites who live under a Sunni monarchy. A failed uprising which began in Bahrain in 2011 was largely focused on gaining more democratic rights for the country’s Shi’ites. In the Guards' statement, they warned that the youth and Muslims of Saudi Arabia would take "tough revenge" which would lead to the fall of the Saudi government. The Iranians could also revive the resentment that drove the Bahrain uprising. RED LINE "I think the Iranians think they can actually have a victory in Bahrain which would be a red line for the Saudis,” said a Western diplomat in Beirut who asked not to be identified. "A key part of the Iranian narrative is that Bahrain is a majority Shi’ite nation that is being oppressed and not allowed democracy." The bulk of Iran's tough rhetoric has come from hardline groups like the Guards, some of whom have also criticized the nuclear deal agreed with world powers last year aimed at lifting most sanctions against the country. More diplomatic isolation is not good news for pragmatic Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who, with the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pushed for the deal in order to expand Iran's ties with the international community. Rouhani managed to normalize ties with the West somewhat through the deal and started the new year with an optimistic tweet hoping that in 2016 countries can "look for reasons to make peace, not excuses for hostility". But now facing the biggest diplomatic crisis of his government, Rouhani might not be able to persuade the Guards to dial down their paramilitary activism in favor of diplomacy. That could lead the Guards to push their allies within Saudi Arabia to carry out violent attacks. "Should the IRGC desire to use terrorism on Saudi soil to retaliate against the House of Saud, the IRGC is likely to find it easier to find recruits among the Shia in Saudi Arabia," said Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on the Revolutionary Guards. It is unlikely the Guards would do much to hit Saudi interests in Syria or Iraq. But harsh anti-Saudi rhetoric from Iran may spur some of the militias trained and armed by Tehran to act on their own, experts say. ANGRY MILITIAMEN "Iran has created a Frankenstein with the Shi’ite militias in Iraq," said the Western diplomat in Beirut. "When you keep emphasizing this notion of Saudi Arabia and its proxies oppressing Shia -- and you’ve got these angry militiamen -- at some point they’re going to be out of Iran’s control. There’s always the risk of that kind of escalation." For their part, the Saudis could boost their financial and military support to Sunni militant groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to counter the Iranian threat, experts say. Still, it would be difficult for the Saudis to prevail in a political and diplomatic showdown with Iran, experts say. "The fact that the Saudis have decided to sever their diplomatic relations with Iran means that they are, in their own minds, ready for an all-out confrontation with Iran," Khashan said. "There is nothing the Saudis can do to destabilize Iran whereas the Iranians on the other hand have every means conceivable to destabilize Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, namely Bahrain." (Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in Dubai; Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)
The 2021 Miss Universe National Costume Show took place on Thursday. The most daring costumes had see-through fabric and dramatic headpieces.
- The Telegraph
Welcome to your early-morning news briefing from The Telegraph - a round-up of the top stories we are covering on Saturday. To receive twice-daily briefings by email, sign up to our Front Page newsletter for free. 1. Boris Johnson: Indian variant poses real risk of disruption to our plans Boris Johnson on Friday warned that the Indian variant could “seriously disrupt” plans to lift the final Covid restrictions on June 21. The Prime Minister said he must “level with” the public about the threat posed by the new strain and said “hard choices” about the route out of lockdown could lie ahead. Read the full story. 2. Prince Harry’s broadside leaves senior royals bemused over his ‘woeful lack of compassion' The Duke of Sussex’s broadside about the Prince of Wales has left senior royals bemused over his “woeful lack of compassion” for his own family, The Telegraph understands. All three royal households were seemingly left reeling on Friday by the Duke’s suggestion that he had been failed not only by his own father but through association, by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh too. Read the full story. 3. Oxford University decolonising inch by inch, with imperial measurements the next target Oxford University has suggested imperial measurements should be "decolonised" over links to the British Empire. The mile, inch, yard, pound and ounce are “tied deeply to the idea of the Empire” and their presence in the curriculum could change, decolonising plans by Oxford’s maths, physics and life sciences faculty suggest. Read the full story. 4. Offer of face-to-face appointments ‘cannot happen overnight’, GPs warn patients GPs have rejected NHS instructions to immediately offer every patient a face-to-face appointment, warning the move “cannot happen overnight”. The British Medical Association (BMA) on Friday called on health chiefs to show “honesty” with the public about longer waiting times due to the effects of social distancing on patient flow in surgeries. Read the full story. 5. Edwin Poots vows to 'undermine' Northern Ireland protocol after being elected DUP leader The Democratic Unionist Party’s has elected a new leader who vowed to “systematically undermine and strip away all aspects” of the Northern Ireland protocol. Edwin Poots, the Stormont Agriculture Minister, beat the DUP’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by just 19 votes to 17 at Friday’s election. Read the full story. Stay up-to-date with breaking news and the latest politics from The Telegraph throughout the day.
Dave Bautista says his 'Blade Runner 2049' performance finally made Hollywood 'see past my physicality'
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- Business Insider
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- The Telegraph
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- Business Insider
Israel accused of tricking major news outlets into reporting a fake Gaza invasion to lure Hamas fighters into tunnels that were targeted for massive airstrikes
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- Miami Herald
The question, posed to the NHL’s most recognizable television analyst, was simple: Can you remember a Florida Panthers team as good as this one?
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"Another Round" won the Oscar for best international film this year. An American remake with Leonardo DiCaprio has since been announced.
- The Independent
Alleged serial killer arrested as he attempted to hack his way back into motorhome of man he stabbed in neck and wrist
Singapore was one of the safest places to live in the world just two weeks ago. Now it's moving back under heavy COVID restrictions.
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- Business Insider
A self-driving taxi went rogue, blocking traffic and evading officials, as a YouTuber captured it on video from the backseat
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- Business Insider
Coronavirus vaccines are more extraordinary in the real world than in trials - even in the face of variants
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- The Week
It's the meme that just won't go away (but will go "to the moon," apparently). A Rhode Island man sold a vacant lot in Providence for 150,000 Dogecoin (or about $50,000 at the time), in what is believed to be the first real estate deal brokered using the meme-inspired cryptocurrency, local TV station WJAR reported Thursday. "He said, 'I think it would be really cool if we could only sell my lot using Dogecoin,'" realtor Kyle Seyboth said of the unnamed seller. Now, the sale has Seyboth's "phone ringing from people who want to do the same thing," even if fluctuating prices make it impossible to know whether the buyer or the seller will come out on top. Dogecoin first began as a joke, in the wake of 2013's popular Doge meme. But after recent endorsements from Elon Musk and a subreddit of online investors, the digital currency has seen quite the meteoric rise in value. Prices dropped after Musk's May 8 appearance on Saturday Night Live, and again when the SpaceX CEO announced Tesla would stop accepting "Bitcoin as payment," but still it remains the "fourth-largest crypto by market value on CoinMarketCap," per CNBC. As of Friday morning, Dogecoin was up 39.4 percent after crypto exchange platform Coinbase announced it would officially list the coin, reports CNBC. More stories from theweek.comThere's growing speculation that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will name their daughter 'Philippa'Republicans' dishonest war against 'critical race theory'Nicki Minaj speaks publicly for the 1st time about her father's February hit-and-run death
A travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore set to open on May 26 has a "high chance" of being postponed, a Hong Kong official said on Friday, which would be the second time the plan to allow visits between the cities has been called off. The bubble between two of Asia's main financial hubs, which have both imposed strict border controls for the past year to keep out the coronavirus, had been slated to begin in November but was suspended after a spike in cases in Hong Kong. This time it is Singapore that is seeing an increase in cases.
- Business Insider
Marjorie Taylor Greene vandalized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's guest book and taunted her in a deleted 2019 video
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- Business Insider
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