Iran has accused Saudi Arabia and by extension the US of having a hand in the deadly terror attacks in the heart of the Iranian capital. With Tehran now warning of revenge, the Middle East is on the brink of all-out war.
The powder-keg Middle East is already on edge with long-running proxy wars in several countries, whose latest expression is the diplomatic crisis erupting between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The latter is accused of not showing sufficient fealty to the Saudi rulers and of “treacherous” friendly relations with Iran.
The gun and bomb attacks in Tehran in which 17 people were killed could not be more incendiary. It was a strike at the very heart of the Islamic Republic. As well as shooting up the parliament, the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran – was also targeted by suicide teams claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
Only days before, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, venerated the mausoleum marking the 28th anniversary of the death of modern Iran’s founding father. The attack at the shrine is an audacious blow to the very foundation of the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s intelligence has accused both the US and Saudi Arabia of “involvement.” The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Iran’s elite military force – has vowed revenge. Saudi Arabia denies involvement.
US President Donald Trump’s reaction also immediately inflamed Iranian anger. Rather than condemning the terror attacks, Trump implied the atrocity was a lesson to Iran over its alleged role in sponsoring terrorism in the region. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif called Trump’s comments “repugnant.”
While other countries, including Russia and France, unequivocally condemned the shooting rampage in Tehran and promised a united response to fight terrorism, the ambiguous reaction of the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia fueled Iranian ire that both had a hand in the murderous plot.
Last month, Saudi Arabia’s deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is seen as the de facto ruler of the kingdom in place of his ailing father King Salman – issued an extraordinary threat to Iran. In a nationwide televised interview, the Saudi heir warned his country would “take the battle” to Iran’s territory.
Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the defense minister, repeated long-held accusations that Iran was trying to destabilize Saudi Arabia and its Sunni neighbors. Iran has consistently denied such claims.
“We know that we are the main goal of the Iranian regime,” he said. “We will not wait until the battle becomes in Saudi Arabia, but we will work to have the battle in Iran.”
The Saudi prince did not conceal the hatred of the House of Saud toward Shia Iran, which is viewed as a heretic enemy in the eyes of extreme Sunnism professed by the Saudi Wahhabis. He said his country would “never talk with Iran.”
Iran responded furiously. Its Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan hit back by saying that if Saudi Arabia were to do something “stupid,” Iran’s response would be to “leave no area in Saudi Arabia untouched except Mecca and Medina” – the two holy sites of Islam.
Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo formally protested to the Security Council over what he said was an “unveiled threat” by Saudi Arabia.
The terror attack in Tehran Wednesday is being seen by Iran as the Saudis delivering on their “unveiled threat” to bring the battle to the heart of the Islamic Republic.
It seems clear the assault was the work of ISIS. Apart from claiming responsibility on its Amaq website and broadcasting videos of the violence before the assailants were neutralized, the terror group has recently stepped up calls for operations inside Iran. The deadly attack in Tehran is believed to the first such operation inside Iran by ISIS. But other Wahhabi-related militants groups have long been waging terror in remote parts of Iran.
In April, ten Iranian border guards were killed by militants affiliated with the Jundallah group in the southeast near Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the time, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of “complicity” in that terror strike. Jundallah and other anti-government terror groups in Iran, such as Ansar al Furqan, are suspected of funding by Saudi Arabia.
Previously, the assassinations of at least four Iranian nuclear scientists was seen by Tehran as being carried out by another terror group, the MeK (MKO), connected to the American CIA.
Despite official denials from Riyadh, plenty of evidence shows Saudi Arabia is a key sponsor of Wahhabi terror networks, including ISIS and its myriad offshoots. These networks have been instrumental in prosecuting regime change in Syria, which has been orchestrated covertly by the CIA and its regional allies in Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich Sunni kingdoms.
President Trump has recklessly embraced the Saudi-led Gulf regimes with his region-wide tour two weeks ago, in which he signed record weapons deals worth up to $350 billion. During his first overseas visit as president, Trump was feted in Saudi Arabia – his first port of call. He used his landmark trip to rally Saudi Arabia and its allies to confront Iran as the “number one terror sponsor.”
Trump’s misplaced embrace of Saudi rulers isn’t so much irony as insane.
The American president openly shares the Saudi obsession of depicting Iran as “evil.” During his election campaign, Trump pledged to rip up the UN-approved nuclear accord with Iran which his predecessor Barack Obama had negotiated along with five other world powers: Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
The Trump administration and the US Congress have ratcheted up the hostile rhetoric toward Iran ever since his inauguration in January.
Recently Trump appointed a hardline CIA veteran, Michael D’Andrea, to head up clandestine offensive operations against Iran.
In the context of Trump’s escalating military support for Saudi Arabia and his enjoining of anti-Iran rhetoric in lockstep with Riyadh, the terror attacks in Tehran are a further reckless incitement.
The latest diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Persian Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia is also connected. While nominally a Sunni monarchy aligned with Saudi Arabia, the Qatari rulers have shown ambivalence toward the push by Trump and the House of Saud to ramp up hostility against Iran.
Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani made the “unforgivable” gesture of congratulating Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on his re-election last month. That was at the same time Trump was in Riyadh beating the anti-Iran drum.
The Saudi rulers view Qatar as being “too soft” toward their arch-enemy Shia Iran. This has led to irrational accusations from Riyadh this week that Qatar – a Sunni state – is colluding with Shia Iran to destabilize the region.
The day before terror struck Tehran, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel blamed the surge in tensions in the Middle East to “Trumpization,” and in particular the president’s flooding of the region with mega arms supplies. With blood now on the streets of the Iranian capital, Trump is inciting much more than tensions. He’s inciting all-out war.
By Finian Cunningham