PHOTO: President Rouhani addresses a ceremony on Saturday for Iranian victims of the stampede in Saudi Arabia
UPDATE 1800 GMT: The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has stepped up the challenging rhetoric against Saudi Arabia.
“The IRGC has prepared all potential capacities to show Iran’s rapid and harsh reaction” in line with the Supreme Leader’s remarks this week, General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Saturday.
“The IRGC is firmly and strongly ready for any measure at any time and in any region to defend the dignity of Muslims, particularly the revolutionary Iranian nation, if necessary,” Jafari added.
Jafari said the IRGC would take revenge on cruel Saudi rulers for the “heinous crime” of the stampede near Mecca.
Meanwhile, the head of the Expediency Council, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, echoed the calls of Iran’s leadership for an inquiry into the disaster near Mecca.
Rafsanjani has been a leading advocate of engagement with Riyadh, but has had to mute that line amid the denunciations of the Saudis.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: After a brief lull because of Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, Iran’s leaders have renewed their challenge of Saudi Arabia over the Mecca stampede that killed at least 769 pilgrims on September 24.
Speaking at a tribute to Iranian victims on Saturday, President Rouhani urged the formation of a fact-finding committee to find the reasons behind the disaster and to build confidence that it will never be repeated.
He said that Iran has so far pursued a language of passion, brotherhood, kindness and diplomacy over the incident, but that it will use the language of might and power if necessary: “If it is proven that a number of [Saudi] authorities are to blame for the incident, we will never forgive [those accountable for] the blood of our loved ones.”
Tehran’s officials say 465 Iranians were killed in the crush, which occurred as two groups converged in narrow streets in Mina, near Mecca, for the “Stoning of the Devil” ritual. Iran claims that the true death toll is about 4,700.
After delays and disputes, the bodies of 104 Iranians were finally returned to Tehran early Saturday.
The episode has turned tension in Iranian-Saudi relations into confrontation, with Tehran immediately denouncing Riyadh over the deaths. The Supreme Leader has led the allegations of Saudi negligence and ineptitude and demanded an apology. High-level officials and clerics have called for Saudi Arabia to be stripped of oversight of the hajj, with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation taking over. Rouhani opened his address to the UN General Assembly on Monday with the call for an independent inquiry.
Amid the rhetoric, the Rouhani Government has effectively suspended its hopes for an “engagement” with Saudi Arabia to address regional crises such as the Syrian conflict, the Yemeni civil war with Saudi-led aerial intervention, and the challenge of the Islamic State.
Delivering the Tehran Friday Prayer, Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani declared, “Saudi officials must know that they are not only responsible for the Mina disaster, but also that the whole world is waiting for Saudi Arabia’s answer about the causes of the Mina incident.”
He asserted, “All these issues and disasters of the Hajj are not hidden from Islamic countries nor from Iran; Saudi officials should be scared of the Supreme Leader’s warning.”
In New York, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told counterparts from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that Iran was “not politicizing this incident” but asking for “accountability and full transparency”.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has accused the Iranians of playing politics with the tragedy, turning down a request from Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif for a meeting.
Jubeir subsequently said, “The Iranians are the last ones who should speak about Hajj affairs because they have been the cause of problems and annoyances for other pilgrims in the holy cities in past decades.”
Activist Given 7 1/2-Year Sentence for Facebook Posts
Soheil Arabi, whose death sentence for “insulting the Prophet” was recently struck down by the Supreme Court, has been given a 7 1/2-year prison sentence.
The Tehran Criminal Court also ordered Arabi to study Islamic courses for two years to “prove his repentance” for posting content on Facebook against the Prophet Mohammad, a source added:
Mr. Arabi must read 13 books on theology and religious awareness for two years and prepare summaries for each one to clear his doubts. He must also be in contact with the True Path Institute as well as the Imam Khomeini Research Center and present his questions. Every month he will present to the court the questions, answers and book summaries.
Arabi was arrested in November 2013 by the Revolutionary Guards and subsequently given the death sentence, which was nullified in June.
Arabi, who said he was “not in a suitable state of mind” when he wrote some of his Facebook posts, is already serving a three-year sentence in Evin Prison for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “waging propaganda against the State”.