Arash Karami, Al Monitor, August 08 2016:… A number of Iranian analysts viewed the meeting as an extension of the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry. An article in Mehr News concluded that the meeting was the result of either pressure applied by Saudi Arabia or Abbas’ “welcoming dance for Riyadh” to strengthen ties between Saudi and the PA. Despite Iran’s support for resistance groups in Palestine, the article continued, Iran has never taken an …
Were Saudis behind Abbas-MEK (Mojahedin Khalq) meeting?
Three weeks after former Saudi intelligence head Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud attended a rally for the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) and called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with MEK leader Maryam Rajavi in Paris.
According to the MEK, the meeting took place to discuss fighting fundamentalism and terrorism in the region. Iran, which accuses the MEK of being behind assassinations and bombings resulting in the deaths of thousands over the last 37 years, criticized the meeting. “[Abbas’] problem is that he does not focus on pursuing the rights of the Palestinian people,” said Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the former deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs and current foreign policy adviser to parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. He called the meeting “support for terrorism” and said that it will neither weaken Israel nor liberate Jerusalem. Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that the MEK is supported by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia and called Abbas a “puppet of America.”
Iran is one of the main sponsors of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) rivals for power in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to Fars News Agency, a coalition of Palestinian groups condemned Abbas’ meeting. A statement by the group read that the meeting can only hurt relations between Palestinian groups and Iran, which has helped Palestinian resistance groups more than Arab countries have since the 1979 revolution. The statement viewed Abbas’ meeting as being in line with Saudi policies in the region, and given the recent closeness between Saudi Arabia and Israel, “the negative consequences of this action will be a hundred fold.” Ten Palestinian groups, most notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has close ties to Iran, signed the statement.
A number of Iranian analysts viewed the meeting as an extension of the Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry. An article in Mehr News concluded that the meeting was the result of either pressure applied by Saudi Arabia or Abbas’ “welcoming dance for Riyadh” to strengthen ties between Saudi and the PA. Despite Iran’s support for resistance groups in Palestine, the article continued, Iran has never taken an official position against the PA. In fact, the leaders of the Islamic Republic closed the Israeli Embassy after the 1979 revolution and handed it over to a Palestinian delegation led by PLO leader Yasser Arafat. In the face of regional and international pressure, reported the Mehr article, Iran has supported Palestinian groups as one of the goals of the revolution.
In an article for BBC Persian, Mehrdad Farahmand wrote that some politicians meet with MEK members and take pictures with their leaders, but have little knowledge of their background. However, given Abbas’ history of political activity, he could not be unaware of MEK’s own history. Farahmand wrote that before the 1979 revolution, MEK fighters had trained in Lebanon with Fatah, the political party that Abbas now leads. The two groups had also reportedly fought together with Iraqi troops during the Iran-Iraq War. Regarding the meeting, he found, given Faisal’s attendance at the MEK rally and the Saudi media’s wide coverage and support of the Paris event, it is natural to assume that they are investing in groups opposed to Iran.
Is Saudi Arabia really seeking regime change in Iran?
Fereshteh Sadeghi, Al Monitor, July 30 2016:… One anonymous source at the Iranian Foreign Ministry told the Tehran Times on July 10 that Faisal’s statements showed Saudi Arabia’s “stupidity, indecency and political frustration.” Other Iranian officials have referred to the former Saudi spy chief’s remarks as further proof of Riyadh’s “support for terrorism.” …
Is Saudi Arabia really seeking regime change in Iran?
TEHRAN, Iran — Just as the Iranian judiciary was preparing to put those who stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran earlier this year on trial, former Saudi intelligence chief and diplomat Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud appeared to step up the campaign against Iran by appearing at the July 9 annual conference of the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) in Paris.
Iran has listed the MEK as a terrorist organization since the 1980s, blaming it for the deaths of over 12,000 Iranians, including civilians, politicians — and in recent years — nuclear scientists. The MEK notably fought on the side of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), and also later helped Saddam suppress an uprising by Iraqi Shiites and Kurds.
At his 30-minute speech in Paris, Faisal expressed admiration for the “people of Iran,” while lambasting the Islamic Republic and particularly its late founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Indeed, he accused Khomeini of trying to “export” the Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spared no time in reacting to Faisal’s appearance at the MEK gathering, not to mention his remarks. What seemed to have infuriated the Iranians the most was that he repeated the crowd’s chants — in Arabic — of the popular Arab Spring slogan “The people want the fall of the regime.”
One anonymous source at the Iranian Foreign Ministry told the Tehran Times on July 10 that Faisal’s statements showed Saudi Arabia’s “stupidity, indecency and political frustration.” Other Iranian officials have referred to the former Saudi spy chief’s remarks as further proof of Riyadh’s “support for terrorism.”
In an interview with Fars News Agency on July 10, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who until recently served as deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, said that he had previously told the Saudis that “it is impossible to use terrorists as a tool to make the region insecure and at the same time expect calm within the kingdom.”
Al-Monitor asked Seyed Mohammad Houshisadat, a professor of political science at Tehran University and visiting researcher at the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies, whether Faisal was voicing his own views or Riyadh’s official stance.
Houshisadat said, “Prince Faisal is an influential figure from the conservative branch of the Saudi ruling family. He was the director of the General Intelligence Directorate for 23 years and served as ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United States. His role and key positions leave no doubt that those remarks are Saudi Arabia’s official line. Therefore Iranian authorities and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps see his speech in the framework of the kingdom’s policy vis-a-vis Iran.”
Houshisadat added, “The Saudis have been seeking to topple the Islamic Republic since 1979; they backed Saddam Hussein in the war with Iran despite having grave ideological differences with him. Their relationship with the MEK dates back to the 1980s. However, the events over the past two years and the increased Iranian influence in the Middle East prompted them to drop the ambiguity and pursue the policy of regime change in Iran with more transparency.”
When asked about the recent remark by Ali Younesi, the presidential aide for ethnic and religious minorities affairs, that Riyadh is making the same mistake Saddam made when he used the MEK in his war against Iran, Houshisadat replied, “The Saudis are trying to revive threats … by activating several opposition groups, including the MEK, or Kurdish militants in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region and Baluch militants in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. In the long run, this policy will backfire — as it did for Saddam Hussein — but for the time being, the MEK has turned into Saudi Arabia’s instrument to bash Iran.”
Al-Monitor also discussed Faisal’s appearance in Paris with Beirut-based Iranian political analyst Mohammad Sadeq al-Husseini. He said he believes “Riyadh has significantly shifted its regional policy by increasing hostility toward Tehran and growing friendly ties with Israel.” In this vein, Husseini told Al-Monitor, “Prince Faisal’s statement is the official declaration of a previously hidden agenda.”
Al-Monitor also asked Houshisadat what Tehran’s response might be to Faisal’s call for regime change in Iran. He said, “There are two camps in Iran: One promotes direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia and the second camp favors dialogue. Iranian policymakers have always sought to de-escalate tensions and negotiate with Saudi Arabia. Considering that fact, Tehran will not confront Riyadh directly because it knows only too well that the region cannot stand another war — this time between its two powerhouses. Besides that, the current world order would not support an all-out war that would endanger Western financial and political investments in the Middle East and divide it along two hostile lines.“
Husseini, who is one of the founders of the popular Arabic news channel Al-Mayadeen, similarly dismissed the possibility of war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, he told Al-Monitor, “The United States and Israel are encouraging Saudi Arabia — and in fact would support it — if Riyadh launched a war against Iran.”
He added, “But Tehran is not walking into that trap and instead responds to the Israelis, the Americans and the Saudis on the ground in Syria and Iraq.” In this vein, Husseini predicted that “in the coming months, we will witness an escalation of regional violence and tensions related to Saudi Arabia’s aggressive attitude. Saudi Arabia is … using any means to put pressure on Iran.” However, he said that he doubts such a policy will achieve its desired results.
Most of all, Amir-Abdollahian perhaps expressed the most ominous concern, saying, “Saudi Arabia’s strategic mistake to employ terrorists will eventually cause irreversible losses not only to the kingdom but to all of us.”
Why Iran needs to fight Saudi Arabia to forge peace
Hassan Ahmadian, Al-Monitor, July 20 2016:… Turki al-Faisal Al Saud’s call for regime change in Tehran, let alone his mere participation at the July 9 Mujahedeen-e-Khalq’s (MEK) annual conference in Paris, is an unprecedented move against Iran by a high-ranking Saudi royal. Prior to Faisal’s statements at the MEK convention, the Saudi deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, paid …
Why Iran needs to fight Saudi Arabia to forge peace
Summary: Despite all the challenges it poses for Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional policy and strategic behavior is still not perceived as a threat in Tehran — but could failing to respond be a mistake?
TEHRAN, Iran — Turki al-Faisal Al Saud’s call for regime change in Tehran, let alone his mere participation at the July 9 Mujahedeen-e-Khalq’s (MEK) annual conference in Paris, is an unprecedented move against Iran by a high-ranking Saudi royal.
Prior to Faisal’s statements at the MEK convention, the Saudi deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, paid a 10-day visit that started on June 14 to Washington and then Paris, during which he stressed the necessity to counter the “Iranian threat.” Meanwhile, as has been the norm during his tenure so far, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who accompanied Mohammed, went even further in his criticism of Iran’s regional policy, demanding that Tehran stop “exporting its revolution.”
This situation has in fact been prevalent ever since King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud was crowned in January 2015. As such, one can assume that there has been a paradigm shift in Riyadh’s regional policy, which encompasses relations with Tehran. At this point, Saudi Arabia has crossed so many unwritten rules in its dealings with Iran that some observers anticipate a war between the two nations.
Yet despite all these changes, there are no parallels in Iran’s policy toward Saudi Arabia. Even with reference to the abovementioned developments, Iran did not bother to reciprocate — at least in terms of the level of its reaction. The question as to why it did not react has two logical answers. The first would be that Iran accepts the Saudi accusation that it is the main source of instability and terror in the region. However, given internal debates on regional policy in Tehran, this assumption has no basis. The second possible answer is that Iranian elites do not perceive the Saudi moves against Iran as being of importance, in terms of their effect. This answer is more relevant in Iran’s internal debates.
In fact, Iranian elites tend to exclude Saudi Arabia from their list of perceived national security threats, even though Riyadh has ironically been the main source of threat against Iran during the past five turbulent years in the Middle East. Iranians have been witnessing aggressive acts on the part of Saudi Arabia in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and now even within Iran. Yet, Iranian elites still refrain from viewing Riyadh as a threat.
In the Iranian debate on Saudi Arabia’s regional policies, there have always been two viewpoints: The first and most prevalent one stresses the need for dialogue and diplomatic engagement with Riyadh as the best way to stop its hostile attitude toward Iran. Indeed, the majority within Iran’s diplomatic and political and even security apparatus hold this stance. The second and more marginal viewpoint takes Riyadh’s hostility as a threat and advocates the creation of an infrastructure to counter this threat. Notwithstanding its reasoning, this point of view has never made its way to foreign policy decision-making in Iran. Thus, Iran’s formal bureaucracy has never moved to perceive Riyadh as a threat and hence never dealt with it as such.
This perception stems from a tradition in Iran’s worldview that divides Middle Eastern states into independent and dependent ones. In the view of Iranian elites, at least in the 1980s and 1990s, Saudi Arabia was dependent and could not initiate nonaligned policies. According to this point of view, even the Saudi support for Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War was not an independently initiated Saudi policy. Thus, Saudi hostility toward Iran at that time was perceived as being somewhat beyond the will of the Saudi state. Even though this understanding of Saudi Arabia has changed in Iran during the past decade, Tehran’s approach toward Riyadh has not. As such, within the current framework of the Iranian understanding of Saudi Arabia, differences with Riyadh are seen as manageable via diplomacy. This was the case during the tenures of former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) as well as Principlist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13), and has continued under incumbent President Hassan Rouhani since 2013, too.
Another reason why Tehran in the past did not consider Riyadh as a threat was the perception of the latter’s military as weak and security as fragile. In this reading, a country with limited military might is not considered as a direct threat. Accordingly, Riyadh was perceived as so vulnerable in terms of its military and security that it would be deterred from posing any sort of direct threat against Iran. In other words, the logic behind this perception was that the risk of putting oneself in jeopardy would pre-empt threats against others. Despite Saudi Arabia’s huge military expenditure over the past decade, this perception has not changed. Indeed, there have even been voices in Tehran who despise Riyadh for what they perceive of as the Saudis’ purchasing arms that they cannot use.
Despite all the changes in Saudi foreign policy, Riyadh is still perceived in Tehran almost the same way it was a decade ago. Although the voices demanding a stronger stance and a revision in Iran’s policy toward Saudi Arabia are getting louder, it seems that Iranian elites, even if they feel a need for change, still stick to the previous policy of preferring diplomatic engagement to resolve differences to avoid yet more escalation with Saudi Arabia. Thus, the main objective in Tehran is to de-escalate the situation or at the very least stop any further escalation.
Hence, despite all the challenges it poses, Riyadh’s regional policy and strategic behavior is still not perceived as a threat in Tehran. At this point, the question is thus whether Iran’s approach to de-escalation will eventually backfire. Indeed, the Iranian perception of Saudi Arabia as not constituting a direct national security threat appears to be well understood in Riyadh and may even be part of Saudi decision-makers’ calculations in their dealings with Iran. As such, Saudi decision-makers may have latitude that their Iranian counterparts are lacking. Taking developments last year as an example, Riyadh appears to not have missed an opportunity to escalate things with Tehran, in the knowledge that the Iranians will not respond in kind.
Thus, Iran’s policy of seeking to not create another source of instability in the Middle East by avoiding counterescalation in its dealings with Saudi Arabia may, in fact, very well paradoxically constitute a threat to both regional stability and Iranian national security. By avoiding a shift in policy toward Saudi Arabia, Iran may be inviting Saudi escalation against both Tehran and its allies while at the same time tying its own hands in terms of its responses. In other words, current Iranian policy can best be characterized as an inverse security dilemma that may cause more trouble than it solves.