Posts Tagged ‘Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’

Support for Hezbollah maintains Arab security — Iran not ashamed for supporting Hezbollah in confrontation with Israel

December 16, 2017


In an interview with Al-Monitor, Iranian Ambassador to Jordan Mojtaba Ferdosipour discusses regional developments, including accusations against Iran of supporting terrorism in the Arab world.

AMMAN, Jordan — Iranian Ambassador to Jordan Mojtaba Ferdosipour has chosen the map of Palestine as a centerpiece for his office, along with a Dome of the Rock miniature. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Ferdosipour said he believes Palestine represents a compass for regional issues, all of which should point toward “one enemy, Israel.”

“Yet,” Ferdosipour said, “this compass has lost its bearings in recent years, after Arab governments replaced Israel with Iran as their enemy.” He also asserted that many Arab peoples do not agree with their leaders in terms of discarding this compass and normalizing relations with Israel.

Iran “does not want to take control of the Arab capitals,” he said, dismissing the Nov. 19 Arab League foreign ministers meeting, which concluded that Iran’s missiles are threatening Arab capitals. The Arab League conclusion was in response to the Houthis launching ballistic missiles at Riyadh on Nov. 4. Ferdosipour denied allegations that Iran was supporting Houthis in Sanaa and supplying them with missiles, but on the other hand said Iran is proud of its support for Lebanese Hezbollah in confronting Israel.

No automatic alt text available.

Ferdosipour previously served as director of the Foreign Ministry’s Middle East Department and as charge d’affaires in Amman. He also served in the latter capacity in Beirut prior to assuming his current post, in August 2014.

The ambassador said that rumors about his mandate coming to an end were simply that, adding that the Council of Ministers needs to approve any extension of his mandate.

Al-Monitor interviewed Ferdosipour Nov. 22 at his office in Amman and followed up by phone. A transcript of that interview, slightly edited for clarity, follows.

Al-Monitor:  Do you expect the Sochi summit, which brought together Iran, Turkey and Russia on Nov. 22, to produce progress in the negotiations on the conflict in Syria?

Ferdosipour:  The Sochi summit came against the backdrop of a previous agreementbetween Russia, Turkey and Iran to find solutions to the Syrian crisis, which established the course of the Astana negotiations. The Sochi summit follows the same course and aims to harvest the fruits of the efforts put into anti-terrorism operations, particularly in Abu Kamal and other areas plagued by terrorists and the Islamic State (IS). This is the beginning of a new chapter for the political solution and the start of joint negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Al-Monitor:  Why were countries like the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are actively involved in the Syrian crisis, absent from the Sochi summit?

Ferdosipour:  The summit came after a tripartite agreement was reached [in December 2016] between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Moscow [to sponsor an agreement between the Syrian regime and the opposition]. If some parties were not present, this does not mean they are absent from the consensus. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to leaders from Egypt, the US and Saudi Arabia over the phone. Communication channels are always open between all parties when it comes to reaching political solutions after military operations.

Al-Monitor:  Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon on Nov. 21 after announcing his resignation [as prime minister] from Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran of spreading violence in the region. However, reports suggested that Saudi Arabia had forced Hariri to resign after his rapprochement with Iran. What do you think about this?

Ferdosipour:  The media highlighted the fact that Hariri’s resignation was forced upon himby Saudi Arabia. What we heard during the resignation speech were either forced or politicized words. It is important for us to hear the right words without any kind of coercion.

It is our policy in Lebanon to communicate with all parties. When the senior adviser to the supreme leader on international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, last visited Lebanon, on Nov. 3, he held a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri at the presidential palace, during which many common issues were put forward. Hariri himself was even supportive of the Iranian ideas regarding a solution for the Syrian crisis. This seems to have upset some parties, and Hariri was indeed forced into resigning because of a political stance and not because of financial corruption, as some reported.

Over the past decades we have tried to keep our relationship with all parties in Lebanon flexible, and we have always believed that supporting security and stability in Lebanon can only be achieved by supporting all parties in the political arena, without leaving out any religion or sect, or else we would be making a big mistake.

Those who think that Hezbollah should be pushed out of the [Lebanese] political arena and marginalized are mistaken. We advise all regional parties to realize that maintaining Lebanon’s security and stability can only happen if all concerned parties reach a single vision and cooperate to strengthen their relations. All foreign parties need to support this idea.

“Iran’s presence and its support for the resistance in the region aim to maintain Arab security, threatened by the common enemy. We are all in the same boat when it comes to confronting the Israeli enemy.”

Al-Monitor:  How do you perceive the Arab League’s position regarding Iran’s missiles, how they pose a threat to Arab capitals and support terrorist groups?

Ferdosipour:  This is neither accurate nor worthwhile. The Arab League meeting hinted at Iran wanting to occupy and control Arab capitals, but we completely reject all allegations regarding missiles. Iran does not support the Houthis and Ansar Allah in Sanaa. There is no way to reach Sanaa, and even if there were, Iran would only bring food to support the people of Yemen, but there is no outlet to deliver food and aid. So how were we supposed to give Ansar Allah large quantities of missiles?

Those missiles are locally manufactured by the Yemeni army, and Iran has nothing to do with them. Tittle-tattle about exporting Iranian ballistic missiles and weapons to Ansar Allah to strike Saudi Arabia is a lie.

The Yemeni crisis must be resolved through a political solution. The military solution is utterly unacceptable here. All Yemeni parties should hold negotiations supervised by the United Nations in order to resolve their internal problems. We have spoken to the UN secretary-general in this regard, and we have repeatedly declared initiatives for a cease-fire, humanitarian aid for Yemen and a joint political dialogue to legitimize the Yemeni government without interference from outside parties.

Al-Monitor:  Let’s go back to Hezbollah. Who would benefit from disbanding this party?

Ferdosipour:  Israel would benefit the most. There is no doubt about it. We have heard Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah say that Hezbollah did not send weapons to any Arab country except to the Palestinians in Gaza to support them in their wars against the Israelis. He also stressed that his movement has never supported the Yemenis, but participated in the fight against terrorism in Syria, which comes in the context of maintaining Lebanon’s security and stability, since IS made its way to the Lebanese border. Everyone agrees on the need to fight terrorism and eliminate IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, since both groups are on the UN’s blacklist.

Al-Monitor:  But there is a difference over the definition of terrorism. Is there anyone who fears the presence of Iranian forces and Shiite militias in Syria? How strong is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Ferdosipour:  Iran has a legitimate presence in both Iraq and Syria. Iranian military advisers only intervene at the request of the legitimate regime and government. When the Iraqi and Syrian legitimate regimes tell us to leave, we will, no questions asked. We have proudly supported the Syrian and Iraqi armies in fighting terrorism, and we never took this issue lightly. Other parties were not quite honest in their actions. Unfortunately, whenever IS was besieged in the Syrian regions, the US would come in and safely move the group to other areas.

Al-Monitor:  There are Jordanian and Arab concerns about a route connecting Tehran to Beirut through Iraq and Damascus. Is Iran really working on this route?

Ferdosipour:  We have put a lot of money toward fighting the common enemy of the Arab Islamic world, Israel. Iran’s presence and its support for the resistance in the region aim to maintain Arab security, threatened by the common enemy. We are all in the same boat when it comes to confronting the Israeli enemy. So why are there concerns about our presence? We have always insisted that our enemy is the Zionist entity, represented by the brutal occupation of Palestine.

We are not afraid to say that we support Hezbollah toward the liberation of Palestine, especially since Hezbollah succeeded in liberating Lebanese territories in the south in 2000 with Iranian support.

We are not ashamed of supporting Hezbollah in fighting Israel. Why does Iran need this route? To support Hezbollah in order to combat the Israeli occupation. We are proud of this because it does not target any Arab country or people, because we have always opposed the interference of foreign parties in Arab affairs.

Al-Monitor:  We are seeing a rapprochement, albeit unpublicized, between Saudi Arabia and Israel. How do you view this?

Ferdosipour:  Instead of [Arab countries] treating Israel as the enemy, Iran is taking the blow. Many peoples do not agree with their leaders in this regard. The decisions to normalize relations with the Israelis are made by governments and palaces and not by the people themselves.

Al-Monitor:  Is this Israeli-Saudi rapprochement an attempt to confront Iran?

Ferdosipour:  No, this is not true. Israel is afraid of going to war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. So how will it fight Iran? Most recently, the Israeli chief of staff, Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, said, on Nov. 16, that “Saudi Arabia will not nag us into a war with Iran and will not wage proxy wars.” If Israel can’t even attack Hezbollah and fears its capacities, how could it wage war on Iran? War will not stop at the border. It will extend beyond the settlements.

In the end, if Israel does not want to engage in a war with Iran, how can Saudi Arabia want otherwise? This is mere media buzz.

Al-Monitor:  Jordanian-Iranian relations are not at their best currently. Has Iran tried to reopen communication channels with Jordan?

Ferdosipour:  We do not beg to rebuild relations. When the doors to promote and consolidate economic relations open, for example, between Iran and Jordan, the Jordanian side will benefit the most. The Iranian market consists of 80 million people while the Jordanian market comprises about 9 million people. In addition, the quality provided by the industrial sector in Jordan does not compare with that available in Iran.

When I took office in 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked me to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries. It is necessary to move in this right direction, since Jordan’s security is important for Iran’s security and vice versa.

There should be joint political committees between the two parties. We honestly hope to strengthen our economic relations as well. After the fight against terrorism, we must focus on the stability of the region by establishing a joint economic committee, especially since [the region] is suffering under terrorism as well as intellectual and economic extremism. The financial and intellectual resources of terrorism must be drained, as much as we must fight poverty and unemployment by strengthening economic relations.

For instance, we should find a common railway. There are over 350 million Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus, along with Turkey and Iraq, which means there is half a billion people, 1 billion of whom will need transportation to perform the umrah and hajj. Iran has extended a railway to southern Iraq, and it can be connected to the holy city through the Tarbil or Aqaba crossings. This will help toward the problem of unemployment, as the railway will require a significant labor force.

There is also a second project that consists of an electrical line connecting Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and the Arab world, after which we can consider an oil and gas project, in order to eventually overcome all obstacles.

However, some countries are preventing the Jordanian government from having ties with Iran. I have information that the Jordanian government began economic cooperation by forming economic committees between Iraq and Jordan. In 2015, Iran and Jordan agreed to form joint economic committees, but after Saudi-Iranian ties went up in flames, the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was shut down, and the Jordanian ambassador to Tehran was summoned in 2016, the committees suspended their work.

Al-Monitor:  Jordan fears the presence of Iranian forces and Hezbollah near the Jordanian border. How do you view this concern?

Ferdosipour:  We have always stayed in touch with the Kingdom of Jordan, and we have supported it in Astana in order for it to become an observer member. The Jordanians attended the seven rounds of negotiations, and the issue of borders was on the table. Even when the tripartite agreement between Russia, the US and Jordan, began to reduce the escalation in southern Syria, we supported this idea. So I do not understand where such concerns might come from. We need to sit down and have a closed-door dialogue instead of allowing media rumors to influence us.

Al-Monitor:  What is Iran’s take on the US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there?

Ferdosipour:  Iran strongly condemned Trump’s Jerusalem move and announced that this decision violates all international conventions issued by the United Nations on Palestine and Jerusalem. As soon as the US decision was announced, thousands of people across Iran gathered in support of the Palestinian cause and of Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine, while denouncing the US policies.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit held in Turkey Dec. 13 that the US recognition proves to those who believe in the US’ positive role to solve the Palestinian crisis that the US only thinks about the interests of the Zionist entity and does not respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Rouhani further stressed during the summit the importance of the Palestinian cause’s return to the scene as a central issue in the region, especially after IS was defeated in Iraq and Syria. He also emphasized the need for the UN Security Council and General Assembly to reject Trump’s decision.

Mohammad Ersan is editor in chief of and Radio al-Balad. He also reports for Arabi21 from Jordan, trains future broadcast journalists at regional symposia and has contributed to establishing independent broadcast stations in Istanbul and Syria. Ersan focuses on covering Islamist groups and political parties. He completed his bachelor’s degree in journalism and media with a minor in political science at Yarmouk University

Read more:


Iran: Trump’s Jerusalem Move Will Hasten the Destruction of Israel

December 14, 2017
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The West needs to be careful not to let Iran gain from

IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The West needs to be careful not to let Iran gain from the crisis with Qatar. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BEIRUT – Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will hasten the country’s destruction, Iran’s defense minister said on Monday, while a top Revolutionary Guards commander phoned two Palestinian armed groups and pledged support for them.

Leaders of Iran, where opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinian cause has been central to foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution, have denounced last week’s announcement by the US president, including a plan to move the US embassy to the city.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

“(Trump’s) step will hasten the destruction of the Zionist regime and will double the unity of Muslims,” Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, said on Monday, according to state media.

The army’s chief of staff, General Mohammad Baqeri, said Trump’s “foolish move” could be seen as the beginning of a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

Iran has long supported a number of anti-Israeli militant groups, including the military wing of Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, said was “stronger than the Zionist regime.”

Similarly, Qassem Soleimani, the head of the branch of the Guards that oversees operations outside of Iran’s borders pledged the Islamic Republic’s “complete support for Palestinian Islamic resistance movements” after phone calls with commanders from Islamic Jihad and the Izz al-Deen Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, on Monday according to Sepah News, the news site of the Guards.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday stepped up efforts to rally Middle Eastern countries against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which EU foreign ministers meanwhile declined to support.


Iran hits back over Saudi’s prince’s ‘Hitler’ comment

November 25, 2017

BBC News

Composite image of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanImage copyright REUTERS
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, warned against trying to appease Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran has accused the Saudi crown prince of being “immature” after he described the Iranian Supreme Leader as the Hitler of the Middle East.

In a war of words between the two regional rivals, Iran’s foreign ministry said Prince Mohammed bin Salman should “ponder the fate” of regional dictators.

The prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, has taken a hard line on Iran.

He told the New York Times it could not be allowed to spread its influence.

“We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” he said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

His remarks drew a strong response from Tehran.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi accused the “adventurist” crown prince of “immature, inconsiderate, and baseless remarks and behaviour”, the semi-official Isna news agency reported.

“I strongly advise him to think and ponder upon the fate of the famous dictators of the region in the past few years now that he is thinking of considering their policies and behaviour as a role model,” he said.

Will Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran?

Relations between the two powers have become increasingly strained.

Earlier this month, the prince blamed Iran for a missile attack aimed at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, by rebels in neighbouring Yemen. He said the attack might be considered an act of war.

Iran denied it was involved.

Sunni-Muslim majority Saudi Arabia and Shia Muslim-led Iran are at loggerheads across the Middle East.

The Saudis accuse Iran of helping Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting a war since 2015.

Iran and the rebels deny the charge.

Saudi Arabia has been widely blamed for exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis by imposing a blockade on the country.

Saudi Arabia has also warned against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, where its proxy militias have played a key role in defeating so-called Islamic State, and in Syria, where it has militarily helped President Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand in the civil war.

 Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Both countries have also accused one another of trying to destabilise Lebanon, where the pro-Saudi prime minister leads a coalition including the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement.

The prime minister, Saad Hariri, recently announced – then suspended – his resignation, accusing Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife, while Iran accused Saudi Arabia of engineering the crisis.

Includes video:


Saudi Crown Prince Calls Iran’s Supreme Leader ‘New Hitler of the Middle East’

November 24, 2017

The statement sharply escalated the war of words between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and Shi’ite Iran, rivals in wars and political crises throughout the region

Reuters Nov 24, 2017 9:45 AM

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, beard, indoor and closeup

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 7, 2017. HANDOUT/REUTERS

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince called the Supreme Leader of Iran “the new Hitler of the Middle East” in an interview with The New York Times published on Thursday, sharply escalating the war of words between the arch-rivals.

The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite Iran back rival sides in wars and political crises throughout the region.

Mohammed bin Salman, who is also Saudi defense minister in the U.S.-allied oil giant kingdom, suggested the Islamic Republic’s alleged expansion under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needed to be confronted.

Image may contain: 1 person, beard and hat

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on May 2, 2016. Reuters file photo

“But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” the paper quoted him as saying.


Tensions soared this month when Lebanon’s Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in a television broadcast from Riyadh, citing the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and risks to his life.

Hezbollah called the move an act of war engineered by Saudi authorities, an accusation they denied.

Hariri has since suspended his resignation.

Saudi Arabia has launched thousands of air strikes in a 2-1/2-year-old war in neighboring Yemen to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that seized broad swaths of the country.

Salman told The Times that the war was going in its favor and that its allies controlled 85 percent of Yemen’s territory.

The Houthis, however, still retain the main population centers despite the war effort by a Saudi-led military coalition which receives intelligence and refueling for its warplanes by the United States. Some 10,000 people have died in the conflict.

The group launched a ballistic missile toward Riyadh’s main airport on November 4, which Saudi Arabia decried as an act of war by Tehran.

Bin Salman said in May that the kingdom would make sure any future struggle between the two countries “is waged in Iran.”

For his part, Khamenei has referred to the House of Saud as an “accursed tree,” and Iranian officials have accused the kingdom of spreading terrorism.

read more:

See also:

Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, at Last
The New York Times

King Salman praying at Quba mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, this month. Credit Reuters


Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals

November 18, 2017
  • 18 November 2017
Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. REUTERS/EPA

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads. They have long been rivals, but it’s all recently got a lot more tense. Here’s why.

How come Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t get along?

Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbours – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.

The decades-old feud between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main sects in Islam – Iran is largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.

Map showing Sunni distribution in Middle East

This religious schism is reflected in the wider map of the Middle East, where other countries have Sunni or Shia majorities, some of whom look towards Iran or Saudi Arabia for support or guidance.

Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region – a kind of theocracy – that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

Map showing Shia distribution in Middle East

In the past 15 years in particular, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been sharpened by a series of events.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iranian influence in Iraq, which has been rising since then.


Fast-forward to 2011 and uprisings across the Arab world caused political instability throughout the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.

Iran’s critics say it is intent on establishing itself or its proxies across the region, and achieve control of a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean.

How have things suddenly got worse?

The strategic rivalry is heating up because Iran is in many ways winning the regional struggle.

In Syria, Iranian (and Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is trying desperately to contain rising Iranian influence and the militaristic adventurism of the kingdom’s young and impulsive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – is exacerbating regional tensions.

Five things about Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

He is waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian influence there, but after nearly three years this is proving a costly gamble.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, many observers believe the Saudis put pressure on the prime minister to resign in order to destabilise a country where Iran’s ally, Shia militia group Hezbollah, leads a politically powerful bloc and controls a huge, heavily armed fighting force.

There are also external forces at play. Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support from the Trump administration while Israel, which sees Iran as a mortal threat, is in a sense “backing” the Saudi effort to contain Iran.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (left), Salman bin Adbulaziz (centre) and Donald Trump put their hands on an illuminated globe, Riyadh (21/05/17)

The Jewish state is fearful of the encroachment of pro-Iranian fighters in Syria ever closer to its border. EPA photo

Israel and Saudi Arabia were the two countries most resolutely opposed to the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, insisting that it did not go far enough to roll back any chance of Iran obtaining the bomb.

Who are their regional allies?

Broadly speaking the strategic map of the Middle East reflects the Shia-Sunni divide.

Map showing who supports whom

In the pro-Saudi camp are the other major Sunni actors in the Gulf – the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

In the Iranian camp is Syria’s government, which has been strongly backed by Iran, and where pro-Iranian Shia militia groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have played a prominent role in fighting predominantly Sunni rebel groups.

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom it has depended for help in the struggle against so-called Islamic State.

How is the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being played out?

This is in many ways a regional equivalent of the Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union in a tense military standoff for many years.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars around the region.

Syria is an obvious example while in Yemen Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi territory by the Shia Houthi rebel movement – an incident which heightened the war of words between the two countries.

Houthi rebels in Sanaa (file photo)
Yemen is one of a number of battlegrounds fuelling Iranian-Saudi tensions. Reuters photo

But having become bogged down in Yemen and essentially defeated in Syria, Saudi Arabia seems to have its eye on Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield.

Lebanon risks being tipped into Syria-like chaos but few analysts see Saudi interests prevailing there.

Conflict in Lebanon could so easily draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah and this could lead to a third Israel-Lebanon war far more devastating than any of the previous encounters.

Some cynics wonder if the Saudi crown prince’s game plan is to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah and deliver a heavy blow to the group this way!

Are we heading towards a direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

So far Tehran and Riyadh have fought via proxies. Neither is really geared up for a direct war with the other but one successful rocket attack on the Saudi capital from Yemen could upset the apple cart.

Will Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran?

One obvious area where they could come into direct conflict is in the waters of the Gulf, where they face each other across a maritime border.

But here too fighting could risk a much broader conflict. For the US and other Western powers, freedom of navigation in the Gulf is essential and any conflict that sought to block the waterway – vital for international shipping and oil transportation – could easily draw in US naval and air forces.

Graphic showing military balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran

For a long time the US and its allies have seen Iran as a destabilising force in the Middle East. The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat and the crown prince seems willing to take whatever action he sees necessary, wherever he deems it necessary, to confront Tehran’s rising influence.

The danger is that Saudi Arabia’s new activism is fast making it a further source of volatility in the region.

Iran alarmed at rising tensions with Saudi Arabia — A Pandora’s box where a conflict may start but might end up in Israel, the U.S. or elsewhere

November 11, 2017

Tehran muzzles hardline newspaper but doubles down on regional ambitions

Image may contain: 1 person

File photo: Hossein Shariatmadari of the Iranian newspaper Kayhan

By  in Tehran
Financial Times (FT)

The depth of Iran’s alarm at rising tensions with Saudi Arabia, its main regional rival, became clear this week with the temporary closure of a newspaper closely allied with hardliners.

On Monday, a headline in Kayhan hailed a ballistic missile attack by Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Riyadh, an assault that Saudi Arabia said was an “act of war” by the Islamic Republic. The daily even suggested that Dubai would be the next target of the Yemeni rebels, which are engaged in a bitter proxy war with their Saudi-backed rivals.

The report prompted alarm in Tehran, where the official line is that it is not involved in the civil war in Yemen.

The Supreme National Security Council on Wednesday accused the state-run paper of acting against national security, and the hardline judiciary ordered a two-day closure — a rare punishment for Kayhan whose editor is appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky and outdoor

Missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit:NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)

The decision to close the paper highlights a tactical shift by the Islamic Republic, keen not to anger Saudi Arabia or the US even as it doubles down on its regional ambitions.

“This was a clear message to the world that the headline did not reflect Iran’s policy,” said a senior adviser to the Iranian foreign ministry.

“While Iran has not taken the possibility of direct military confrontation with Saudi Arabia seriously and has no intention of retreating from its regional policies, it wants to avoid any escalation because the opposite front — US, Israel and Saudi Arabia — is bigger and stronger.”

Iran and Saudi Arabia, self-proclaimed custodians of Shia and Sunnis in the Islamic world respectively, are locked in a power struggle that has intensified since the conflict in Syria. The election of Donald Trump, who is determined to rein in Iran and has deepened the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, has shifted the balance in their proxy wars.

In the past week alone, Iranian officials and political observers have been shocked by the missile attack on Riyadh and the sudden resignation of Saad al-Hariri as Lebanese prime minister. Riyadh had pushed for him to go in apparent protest at Tehran’s backing of the Hizbollah militia.

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, eyeglasses and hat

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Iran’s carefully calculated approach towards the US and Saudi Arabia, which Hassan Rouhani, the centrist president, and the hardline Revolutionary Guards  both support, is designed to limit the chances of military confrontation and safeguard the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 with major powers. Mr Trump has refused to certify the nuclear accord, leaving the decision to Congress, which has until the end of this year to decide whether to re-impose crippling sanctions.

At the same time, Iranian analysts say Riyadh is determined to undermine Tehran’s support for Lebanon’s Hizbollah, its main proxy force, reduce its influence in neighbouring Iraq and cut aid to the Houthis. This, they say, would help Saudis ease tense political infighting.

“Saudis are pushing to create an international consensus against Iran,” said Saeed Laylaz, a reform-minded analyst. “Saudi’s young leaders need to have controllable levels of crises with Iran to help smooth the succession of the crown prince [Mohammed bin Salman] from his father and his social and economic reforms.”

While Iran has made the conscious decision not to react angrily to any provocations, there is no sign that it is considering any retreat on its regional policies.

“Iran is aware that taking one step back means the Saudi-US-Israel alliance will become more aggressive,” said the adviser. “We cannot sit back and recognise Saudi hegemony in the region. Any concessions by either side can happen only through talks not conflicts.”

With the two sides already active in Yemen, some in Tehran now fear Lebanon could become a new pressure point.

“Iranian leaders think they are playing a chess game with the US and Israel which may show itself in a Iran-Saudi power struggle in Lebanon — a Pandora’s box where a conflict may start but might end up in Israel,” said Nasser Hadian, a reform-minded university professor of international relations.

“No one in Iran believes that Saudi Arabia, which could not even succeed in a Yemen with absolutely no power, would dare to strike Iran.”

The rivalry could also intensify in Iraq. More than 2m Iranian pilgrims went to southern Iraq on Thursday to mark the 40th day of martyrdom of Hossein, the third Imam of the Shia, in a display of power. “This gathering shows our potential but we are not going to use it unless necessary,” said the adviser.

“In the worst-case scenario, if there will be any military confrontation, Iran will respond with all its visible and invisible forces around the world and target Saudi Arabia, US and Israel which will create a big mess for everyone for a long time.”

Iran supreme leader dismisses Trump’s ‘rants and whoppers’

October 18, 2017


Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website/AFP | Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday dismissed US President Donald Trump’s “wants and whoppers”

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed US President Donald Trump’s aggressive criticism as the “rants and whoppers” of a “brute”, in a speech on Wednesday.”I don’t want to waste my time on answering the rants and whoppers of the brute US president,” Khamenei said in a speech to students in Tehran, published on his Telegram channel.

It was his first response to Trump’s bellicose speech last Friday in which he called for tougher sanctions to curb Iran’s “destabilising activities” in the Middle East.

“They are angry as today the Islamic republic of Iran has disrupted their plans in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq,” Khamenei said.

“Everyone be assured that this time, too, America will be slapped and defeated by the nation of Iran.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief urges ‘actions’ to cause the US pain

September 23, 2017

As Iranian leaders castigate US president, IRGC head Jafari says ‘taking a decisive position against Trump is just a start,’ and that the US must ‘witness more painful responses’

.Commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari holds a press conference in Tehran (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari holds a press conference in Tehran (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

The commander of Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards urged his country to use “all its options” and take unspecified “actions” in the next few months to cause pain to the United States in the wake of criticisms of Iran by US President Donald Trump this week.

“Time is now ripe for correcting the US miscalculations,” General Mohammad Ali Jafari said Wednesday, a day after Trump addressed the UN and called Iran a “corrupt dictatorship” and a “murderous regime.”

Added Jafari: “Now that the US has fully displayed its nature, the government should use all its options to defend the Iranian nation’s interests.”

No automatic alt text available.

“Taking a decisive position against Trump is just the start,” he went on, in remarks quoted by the Fars news agency, “and what is strategically important is that the US should witness more painful responses in the actions, behavior and decisions that Iran will take in the next few months.”

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday that Trump’s “cheap, ugly, foolish and unreal” remarks before the UN General Assembly were a sign of desperation.

In a meeting with a clerical assembly, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the comments by the US president, who also denounced the world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, “do not come from power, but from anger, desperation and weak-mindedness.”

On Wednesday at the UN, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani derided Trump as a “rogue newcomer” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the leader of a “rogue and racist regime,” and vowed that Tehran would respond “decisively and resolutely” if the Iran nuclear deal is remade or canceled.

Later Wednesday, Rouhani said the Iranian people were waiting for an apology from Trump for his “extremely offensive” rhetoric and “unfounded” allegations about Iran.

Iran Accuses U.S. of Sabotaging Nuclear Deal Ahead of U.N. Talks

September 18, 2017

Comments by Iranian Vice President escalates clash with Washington ahead of talks

Image may contain: 3 people
Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi accused the U.S. of violating the spirit and letter of the 2015 nuclear deal in a speech at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Monday. PHOTO: RONALD ZAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

VIENNA—Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday accused the U.S. of violating the spirit and letter of the 2015 nuclear deal, escalating a clash between the two countries at the start of a crucial week of talks on the accord’s future.

President Donald Trump has said he expects not to certify Iran’s compliance with the accord when a decision comes due next month, a move that could unravel the agreement.  Failure to certify the accord would give Congress an opportunity to decide whether to re-impose U.S. sanctions that were suspended as part of the 2015 deal.

Speaking in Vienna at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees Iran’s compliance with the accord, Mr. Salehi said Iran is complying fully with the 2015 agreement. Under the pact, Tehran significantly reduced its nuclear program.

“The American administration’s overtly hostile attitude and actual foot-dragging policies and measures aim at undermining the nuclear deal and blocking Iran’s legitimate benefits from its full implementation,” said Mr. Salehi, who also heads Iran’s atomic agency. That is “contrary to the letter and spirit of the” nuclear deal.

Mr. Salehi’s comments took place as world leaders gather in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. A meeting of foreign ministers from Iran and the six countries that negotiated the agreement is planned for Wednesday in New York.  If  the U.S. and Iranian officials both attend, that would be the highest level meeting between the two countries since Mr. Trump took office.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also expected to discuss the agreement when he meets Mr. Trump later Monday. Both leaders have fiercely criticized the deal.

nuclear deal, who steers Iran’s foreign policy decisions, on Sunday warned that any “wrong move by domineering powers” on the 2015 accord would draw an Iranian response.

The United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week will be dominated by international concern about North Korea after the country fired a missile over Japan again last week. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib tells us what to watch out for during the meetings. Photo: Getty

Iran has complained that the U.S. is undercutting the accord by increasing sanctions on Iran and by pressing international partners not to do business with Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said while Iran may be in “technical compliance” with the accord, it has violated the spirit of the accord through its missile tests, support for terrorism and its regional actions in Syria and Yemen.

So far, the body that oversees implementation of the agreement has said all sides are complying. That body, which comprises of senior officials from the countries who negotiated the deal, is set to meet again Tuesday in New York.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, also speaking in Vienna, again pressed the IAEA to step up its oversight of Iran’s activities. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said last month, following a visit to the IAEA, that there were hundreds of sites in Iran where suspicious activities were taking place.

She said the U.S. “strongly encourages the IAEA to exercise its full authorities to verify Iran’s adherence to each and every nuclear commitments under the” agreement. “We will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal.”

The American administration’s overtly hostile attitude and actual foot-dragging policies and measures aim at undermining the nuclear deal and blocking Iran’s legitimate benefits from its full implementation.

—Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi

U.S. officials have also expressed concern about the agreement’s terms, specifically the expiry of key constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities from the middle of the next decade. Critics of the deal say that could open a pathway over time for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Washington has been pressing European governments to adopt a more aggressive stance against Iran, both over the nuclear accord and on Tehran’s other actions. European officials have said they support the current agreement.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano reiterated in his remarks on Monday that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitment under the deal.

Mr. Amano was re-elected unopposed to lead the agency for a third term on Monday, until late 2021.

The former Japanese diplomat, 70, has steered the IAEA during one of its most turbulent periods since 2009. He was in charge during the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011 and as North Korea expanded its nuclear program and expelled IAEA inspectors.

Write to Laurence Norman at


Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei


No automatic alt text available.



Iran won’t bow to US ‘bullying’ on nuclear deal: Khamenei

September 17, 2017


© KHAMENEI.IR/AFP/File | Iran will not give in to US “bullying” as Washington attempts to undermine Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran will not give in to US “bullying” as Washington attempts to undermine Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday.

“Iran, which is a powerful nation, will not give in to pressure and will not bow,” Khamenei said in an address to police officers in Tehran.

“The corrupt, lying, deceitful US officials insolently accuse the nation of Iran… of lying, whereas the nation of Iran has acted honestly and will continue on this path until the end in an honest manner,” said Khamenei.

“The enemy should know that bullying may work in other parts of world, but it will not work in the Islamic republic.”

President Hassan Rouhani left on Sunday for the UN General Assembly in New York, where he is set to hold crucial talks on the 2015 nuclear deal, which eased international sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic programme.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up the deal and his administration has been looking for grounds to declare Iran in non-compliance, despite repeated UN declarations that Tehran has stuck to its commitments.

“You are the liars. The nation of Iran is standing firm and any wrong move… will face a reaction by the Islamic republic,” said Khamenei.