There is no reason to be surprised at the Saudis' dramatic dissing of the United States in recent days and weeks. And it's not just because the United States has backed away from direct involvement in the Syrian war, or the upbeat remarks from the White House about talks with Tehran's new government officials. It has at least as much to do with the Saudis' ongoing conflict with Iran -- involving very real attacks on Saudi sites and officials -- as with our recent about-faces and signs of weakness with regard to Syria and the Iranian nuclear program.
During the 2011 "Arab Spring," for example, Iran and Saudi Arabia came very close to direct armed conflict in Bahrain. The Iranian regime had allegedly fomented uprisings among the Shi'ites in Bahrain, a small island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, to which it is connected by a two-mile causeway. There seemed to be a real possibility that the pro-Saudi, pro-American royal family might be overthrown, and the Saudis threatened to send troops across the causeway to put down the disturbance. Iran reacted violently, but when Saudi troops marched into Bahrain, the Guards were nowhere to be found.
Following the Saudi intervention, the Revolutionary Guards were reportedly ordered to organize attacks on Saudi targets all over the world. They reportedly recruited hundreds of Iranian suicide bombers (although this is usually disinformation, since the regime typically uses Arabs, not Iranians, for such operations).
Ever since, Iran has been on the attack. Following the military confrontation, the Iranians organized a series of assassination and bombing operations against Saudi establishments and friends of the Royal Family. :
--In May, Hassan al-Qahtani, a Saudi diplomat in the consulate in Karachi, was killed in the streets by men on notorcycles. The operation was traced to the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force. The assassination was reportedly carried out by a group -- Sipah-e-Muhammad -- which works closely with Quds. According to Pakistani media reports, there were messages between Iranian officials in the country's capital, Islamabad, and the assassination group;
The attacks in Pakistan came on the heels of a grenade attack against the Karachi consulate itself;
--In September, a Saudi Internet publication, "Elaph," reported that Ahmad Abdel-Aziz Kattan, the country's ambassador to Egypt, had been poisoned, allegedly by Iranian agents. --In the same period, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime ambassador to Washington and current chief of Saudi intelligence, was targeted by a nasty disinformation campaign. According to Iranian media, Bandar was the target of an arrest warrant in Damascus, accusing him of responsibility for the murder of Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.
--In October, an Iranian plot was uncovered, aimed at killing the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. The Iranian-American from Texas accused of trying to hire Mexican drug cartel operatives -- at Iran's behest -- to carry out the attack pled guilty last October;
--In August of the following year, Aramco was hit with the most devastating cyber attack ever launched against a private company. Known as "Shamoon," it disabled and wiped clean some thirty thousand Saudi computers, and forced the giant oil company to shut down. In following weeks, there were cyber attack against the Qatari natural gas company RasGas, and against a number of American banks. All were blamed on Iran by American officials. --This year, the Saudis announced the arrest of agents working for Iran. There were at least two major counterintelligence strikes against the Iranian network, in March and May. According to official Saudi announcements, the Kingdom had obtained confessions confirming the links to Iran. The agents were allegedly paid to obtain intelligence and documents about "important sites."
Bottom line: there's a very real war out there, and the Saudis are in the Iranian crosshairs. The Royal Family are not just worried about the destiny of Syria, they're very much concerned about their own fate. This is what gives so much intensity to their recent actions and statements.