Failure to contain Iran through international action could lead to a war in 10 to 15 years, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has warned.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal while on his US trip this week, Prince Mohammed called for imposing sanctions "to create more pressure" on the Iranian regime.
“We have to succeed so as to avoid military conflict,” said Prince Mohammed. “If we don’t succeed in what we are trying to do, we will likely have war with Iran in 10-15 years.”
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies accuse Iran of meddling in the affairs of Arab countries, including in Yemen where a Saudi-led military coalition is battling rebels backed by Tehran.
Explaining his country's decision to intervene on behalf of Yemen's internationally recognised government, Prince Mohammed told the Journal: "If we didn't act in 2015 we would have had Yemen divided in half between the Houthis and Al Qaeda."
Iran is also a long-term backer of the powerful Shiite Hezbollah group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian civil war on behalf of President Bashar Al Assad, and has sway over Shiite militias in Iraq that it trained and armed after they were mobilised to fight ISIL.
The Saudi-led coalition says Iran is arming the Houthi rebels in Yemen in violation of UN resolutions, including with missiles that the rebels have launched at Riyadh and other Saudi cities. Tehran denies the accusation despite investigations by the UN, the United States and independent bodies finding evidence that the missiles and other weapons used by the rebels originated in Iran.
A raft of UN and western sanctions on Iran were lifted or eased under a 2015 deal with world powers to curtail its nuclear programme, allowing Tehran to increase oil exports and carry out international transactions. The accord was intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and did not directly address the country's missile programme, which has been accelerated since sanctions were lifted.
US President Donald Trump has called the nuclear deal "flawed" and is threatening to pull out unless European allies who are also parties to the accord agree to impose tighter restrictions on Iran.
Prince Mohammed also spoke out against the deal in a meeting with editors and reporters of the New York Times during his stay in the city this week, saying it would not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the long run.
“Delaying it and watching them getting that bomb, that means you are waiting for the bullet to reach your head,” he said. “So you have to move from today.”
The crown prince's three-week US visit is aimed at increasing military co-operation as well as encouraging investment in Saudi Arabia as part of his wide-ranging reform package to reduce the kingdom's dependence on oil revenues.
The reforms include an easing of social restrictions that he said was intended to make Saudi Arabia more attractive to foreigners.
"We can't drag people to live in Saudi Arabia in an environment that is not competitive," Prince Mohammed told the Journal. "The environment in Saudi Arabia is pushing even Saudis outside Saudi Arabia. That is one reason we want social reforms."