Cold War in the Islamic World

Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Struggle for Supremacy

September 2018 9781849049948 432pp
September 2020 9781787384088 432pp


For four decades Saudi Arabia and Iran have vied for influence in the Muslim world. At the heart of this ongoing Cold War between Riyadh and Tehran lie the Sunni–Shia divide, and the two countries’ intertwined histories. Saudis see this as a conflict between Sunni and Shia; Iran’s ruling clerics view it as one between their own Islamic Republic and an illegitimate monarchy.

This foundational schism has played out in a geopolitical competition for dominance in the region: Iran has expanded its influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, while Saudi Arabia’s hyperactive crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, has intervened in Yemen, isolated Qatar and destabilised Lebanon. 

Dilip Hiro examines the toxic rivalry between the two countries, tracing its roots and asking whether this Islamic Cold War is likely to end any time soon.


‘The contemporary great game playing out bloodily between oil-fired theocracies in Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran is the subject of Dilip Hiro’s latest book. He tells the story with relish.’ — The Financial Times

‘A suitable introduction to the Iranian-Saudi relations for someone wanting to go beyond the headlines … Trying to capture the vast sweep of this relationship in a single text is a monumental task … To Hiro’s credit, his account is fairly balanced. The research is also impressive in its breadth.’ — Middle East Journal

‘The book has a racy pace and is rich in reportage . . . Hiro marshals an enormous amount of fact and anecdote as he recounts the manner in which regional and global events unfold . . . a rich tapestry.’ — Financial Express

‘Dilip Hiro is one of the most prolific scholars of the Middle East, and there is little that escapes his notice. In this volume, he takes an in-depth look at the new cold war that is brewing in the region . . . a welcome addition to the literature.’ — Survival

‘Iran and Saudi Arabia anchor the sweeping text, which ranges from Pakistan to Egypt and detours as far back as the seventh-century Sunni-Shi’a divide. [Hiro’s] mix of lively writing and serious detail should draw in readers … with any interest in the subject.’ — Choice

‘Eminent historian and prolific author Hiro . . . focuses on a pertinent crucible of roiling tension in the region . . . an important study for understanding the roots of current tensions [between Saudi Arabia and Iran].’ — Kirkus

‘Hiro is a wonderful raconteur . . . few have told the story of tensions between Riyadh and Tehran quite as well as him.’ — LSE Middle East Centre Blog

‘Hiro provides the reader with a perspective rarely found in most texts regarding the Middle East . . . [a] nuanced portrayal of the complex history of these nations, their relationship and its consequences for the region and the world at large.’ — CounterPunch

‘[A] monumental study.’ — Business Standard

‘Hiro treats the subject deeply and thoroughly.’ — Foreign Affairs

‘Captures very nicely the march of political history in the Middle East and the Gulf during the last hundred years.’ — The Muslim World Book Review

‘Ambitious, impressive, original, and important. Hiro explains the roots of the current rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in historical terms, examining how developments in the recent past have shaped their differences and similarities’ — Mehran Kamrava, Professor, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Qatar, and author of Inside the Arab State

‘An excellent book… extremely engaging. Hiro explores the various geopolitical aspects of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry since 1979, weaving startling and revealing anecdotes into the analysis.’ — Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen, Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, and author of First World War in the Middle East



Dilip Hiro is the author of more than thirty books, including After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World; Inside Central Asia; and Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia.

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