PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “Worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs”


Iran’s regime opened a new front in its anti-Saudi campaign on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif using an opinion column in The New York Times to proclaim “Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism”.

Opening with the declarations of links between Saudi Arabia and Al Qa’eda, via the Syrian civil war, Zarif asserts:

Saudi Arabia’s effort to persuade its Western patrons to back its shortsighted tactics is based on the false premise that plunging the Arab world into further chaos will somehow damage Iran. The fanciful notions that regional instability will help to “contain” Iran, and that supposed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are fueling conflicts, are contradicted by the reality that the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis.

Iranian-Saudi relations, long shaped by rivalry within the region, have deteriorated since last autumn’s Mina stampede, in which thousands of Hajj pilgrims — including 464 Iranians — died. In January, the Saudi execution of a prominent Shia cleric led to a crowd attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, followed by Riyadh’s breaking of relations with the Islamic Republic.

Iran has continued to denounce Saudi Arabia over issues such as the Syrian conflict and Saudi military intervention in the Yemeni civil war, but the rhetoric was sharply escalated last week by the Supreme Leader’s portrayal of the Saudis — using the Mina disaster as a reference — as “traitors” and “vile and barbaric progeny” serving the US and Israel.

President Rouhani and Zarif, who once promoted “engagement” with Saudi, joined the campaign with Rouhani stating, “Saudi Arabia is committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism.”

See Iran Daily, Sept 13: “Regional Issues Must Be Solved Through Understanding — But Saudi Rulers Are Criminals”

Distorting Syria and Iraq

In his column in The New York Times, Zarif opens with a series of distortions of the Syrian civil war to portray the Saudis as the culprits for the conflict, in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced.

The Foreign Minister starts with the assertion that “Saudi clients” have “lavishly funded” Jabhat al-Nusra — the jihadists who formally revoked allegiance to Al Qa’eda in July — and are using US “PR firms” to rebrand the organization. He says, in a further exaggeration, that “Nusra still dominates the rebel alliance in Aleppo”, Syria’s largest city.

Having built his image of Saudi-backed Al Qa’eda leading the fight against the Assad regime, Zarif broadens his attack to declare that
“the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis”. Making no reference to the Islamic State, he sees Saudi Arabia as the primary threat in Iraq:

While the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq set in motion the fighting we see today, the key driver of violence has been this extremist ideology promoted by Saudi Arabia — even if it was invisible to Western eyes until the tragedy of 9/11.

The princes in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, have been desperate to revive the regional status quo of the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, when a surrogate repressive despot, eliciting wealth and material support from fellow Arabs and a gullible West, countered the so-called Iranian threat.

The Foreign Minister even portrays the Saudis as responsible for the Islamic State’s deadly attacks in France and Belgium in the past 10 months, “The attacks in Nice, Paris and Brussels should convince the West that the toxic threat of Wahhabism cannot be ignored.”

Then, in the last paragraph, he suddenly becomes conciliatory:

Though much of the violence committed in the name of Islam can be traced to Wahhabism, I by no means suggest that Saudi Arabia cannot be part of the solution. Quite the reverse: We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and violence that threatens us all.

Supreme Leader’s Liaison “Never Move Towards Tensions with Saudi Arabia”

Curiously, Zarif’s article was published as the regime gave its first signal of easing back on the anti-Saudi rhetoric.

The Supreme Leader’s military advisor, Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, appeared to be motivated by outreach to Saudi Arabia’s fellow Gulf states, “We must improve our relations with Oman, Kuwait, and even Qatar. We should never move towards tensions with Saudi Arabia.”

Safavi did maintain blame on Riyadh, saying it “wants to have tense relations with Iran” and “is incensed at Iran’s increasing geopolitical weight”: “They blame Iran for their own failures in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and even Yemen.”

On Monday, President Rouhani said to the Emir of Qatar, “Regional issues must be solved by regional countries and only via political negotiation, dialogue, and understanding.”

However, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a Tehran Friday Prayer Leader, told an audience that the Saudi monarchy “must be tried in Islamic courts and receive due punishment”.

See Iran Daily, Sept 13: “Regional Issues Must Be Solved Through Understanding — But Saudi Rulers Are Criminals”

Regime In-Fighting Surges Over Compliance with International Financial Regulations

A major fight within the regime is developing over Iran’s compliance with international financial regulations.

Facing the web of ongoing US-led restrictions after the July 2015 nuclear agreement, the Rouhani Government is seeking adherence to Financial Action Task Force regulations, thus easing Iran’s re-entry into the international banking and finance system.

However, elements of the regime, such as the Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader’s office, object to measures ensuring the compliance. The Guards have been among regime factions accused of violating financial regulations, leading to the “blacklisting” of Iran by the FATF.

On Tuesday, a senior Presidential advisor, Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, said Friday Prayer leaders who criticized the approach to the FATF are “unaware of the government’s actions“: “We expect…compassion and fairness regarding the services of the Islamic Republic of Iran and government in…Friday prayer forums.”

Translator Davari Imprisoned for 1 Year Without Charges

Translator Marjan Davari is nearing a year of detention in Evin Prison with no formal charges filed against her.

Davari is also being denied proper legal counsel and medical treatment for severe pain in leg joints, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The translator was arrested at her father’s home on September 23, 2015 in Karaj, west of Tehran. She was initially held in solitary confinement for three months in Evin’s Ward 209, which is controlled by the Intelligence Ministry. She is suffering from severe pain in the joints of her legs, but has not received sufficient medical treatment in prison, according to the source.

Davari taught at the Rah-e Ma’refat (Road of Wisdom) Institute, owned by her husband. An “informed source” said she was arrested in connection with the institute’s activities.

The Iranian regime can be hostile towards alternative spiritual faiths or activities, often prosecuting their adherents.