In recent days, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the top echelons of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) dispatched threatening messages to Saudi Arabia’s rulers in response to the hundreds of Iranians killed in the stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, which claimed the lives of over a thousand Hajj pilgrims. Khamenei, along with IRGC commanders and ideological camp leaders, were furious at the Saudi royal family, holding it responsible for the disaster and promising a “harsh and decisive” response if Saudi Arabia continued what they called its deliberate anti-Iran conduct. The daily Kayhan, which is close to Khamenei, even claimed that Saudi authorities had intentionally caused the stampede after it was planned by the Israeli Mossad.
In fact, in the past 18 months, Iran has repeatedly threatened Saudi Arabia and the Al-Sa’ud royal family, as tensions between the two countries escalated against the backdrop of the nuclear negotiations, the Saudi policy of lowering oil prices, and the wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Thus, for example, Iran’s leadership threatened to “use all means at its disposal against Saudi Arabia,” including targeting Saudi oil transports, sparking Shi’ite uprisings in eastern Saudi Arabia, threatening to set oil wells on fire, and more, in order to cause the collapse of the Al-Sa’ud regime.
Two Models For Iran’s Political And Military Conduct
Two distinct models characterize Tehran’s geopolitical and military conduct vis-à-vis its regional and global rivals :
- The “Paper Tiger” model – mainly vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia. Faced with the empowered military and political Sunni Arab bloc, which is stronger than Iran, the Iranian regime backs down, revealing itself as a paper tiger. This model has come into play on several occasions, when Iran didn’t dare to exercise its power revealing its threats as hollow: In 2003, when the U.S. besieged Iran from the south (Iraq) and the east (Afghanistan); in Bahrain in 2011, when a pro-Iranian Shi’ite coup was thwarted by a show of Saudi-Gulf military might, and in Yemen during the past year, where Saudi Arabia is heading a Sunni-anti Iran coalition and is the most active member of this coalition.
It seems that this time as well, Iran’s threats follow this “Paper Tiger” model.
- The “Intimidating Bully” model–mainly vis-à-vis the U.S. The latter has been forgiving and sympathetic to the Iranian regime’s demands and to its expansion in the region, in addition to seeing it as a partner in its strategic interests, such as the fight against ISIS – despite Iran’s international terrorist activity. The U.S. has even shown willingness to grant Tehran limited nuclear status despite its violations of Security Council resolutions and IAEA regulations. Iran has continued its military and political expansion in the region alongside its ongoing issuing of threats, even against the U.S. military. It has become clear that the U.S.’s sympathetic stance has neither softened nor curbed Iran’s offensive activity in the region, but has only encouraged its hostile policy.
This document will review the current wave of threats by Iran’s leadership against Saudi Arabia:
Khamenei’s Office Posts Military Threat Video
On October 5, 2015, the official website for the office of Supreme Leader Khamenei posted a four-minute video showing Ayatollah Khomeini and then-president Khamenei mourning the death of Iranian pilgrims killed in a 1987 incident in Mecca. The video later shows footage of the bodies of Iranians killed in the Mina stampede some two weeks ago, while Khamenei condemns the lack of cooperation by Saudi authorities in the efforts to return the bodies to Iran. Khamenei is then seen flanked by military commanders and warning the Saudis that ongoing lack of cooperation would trigger a “harsh and decisive” response by Iran. This is followed by an intimidating display of IRGC naval capabilities. See the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0OKgBgivTc&feature=youtu.be.
IRGC Commander: We Are Prepared To Take Vengeance On Saudi Arabia
“If need be, at any time and in any place in the region, the IRGC is prepared to carry out any decisive and heroic move to defend the honor of Muslims, especially Iranians, vis-a-vis the evil ignorant Al-Sa’ud rulers. [The IRGC] will take vengeance on Al-Sa’ud.
“The Islamic world has grown tired of Al-Sa’ud’s betrayals and ignorance, which include the massacre [they carry out] in Yemen, the displacement of the dear Syrian people, oppressing Bahrainis, the collective slaughter in Iraq, the creation of sectarian schism, and support for terrorism. [Saudi Arabia] will dissolve in the rage of Muslims.”