Saudi, Tehran ‘war of words’ threaten mutual destruction
TEHRAN, May 8, (Agencies): Iran’s defense minister on Monday lashed back at Saudi Arabia, slamming the kingdom’s deputy crown prince over belligerent comments last week that underscored the deep rivalries between the Sunni and Shiite powers.
In a wide-ranging interview, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said there was no space for dialogue with rival Iran due to its Shiite ambitions “to control the Islamic world.” Framing the tensions with Iran in sectarian terms, the prince said the Saudis would not sit and wait for war but would “work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”
On Monday, Iran’s defense minister Gen Hossein Dehghan was quoted as saying that Iran would advise against “such a stupidity” because in that case, nothing would be “left in Saudi Arabia except Makkah and Madinah,” the two holy cities. Dehghan spoke to Al-Manar TV, owned by the Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group.
The remarks were published on Iranian state television’s website. Referring to a possible Saudi attack or invasion of Iran, he said he doesn’t “understand how they would attempt to do something like that … they must imagine they have a powerful air force to do so.”
Ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained since Iran’s 1979 revolution, and significantly escalated last year Riyadh executed a leading Shiite cleric in the kingdom. This sparked the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Iran by protesters, after which the two countries severed diplomatic and trade ties. The two nations’ rivalry has played out in proxy wars across the region.
They back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen and they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq. The conflicts have deepened Sunni-Shiite enmity between hardliners on both sides. Dehghan expressed suspicions over what he described as Riyadh’s close ties with the United States and also Israel, suggesting such ties go against “interests of Muslim nations.”
The Saudis seek to “please” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the “purpose of provoking Netanyahu’s action against us.” Dehghan also urged Saudi Arabia to withdraw from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states has been fighting Iranbacked Shiite rebels known as Houthis. The confl ict has worsened an already dramatic humanitarian crisis in Yemen and killed thousands of civilians, mostly by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
In another development, the head of the Iranian armed forces warned Islamabad on Monday that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government does not confront Sunni militants who carry out cross-border attacks. Ten Iranian border guards were killed by militants last month.
Iran said Jaish al Adl, a Sunni militant group, had shot the guards with long-range guns, fired from inside Pakistan. The border area has long been plagued by unrest from both drug smuggling gangs and separatist militants. “We cannot accept the continuation of this situation,” Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the head of the Iranian armed forces was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. “We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases.” “If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are,” he said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Pakistan last week and asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to improve the border security. Pakistan assured Iran it would deploy additional troops along its border. In 2014 Iran warned it would send troops to Pakistan to retrieve five Iranian border guards kidnapped by Jaish al Adl.
Pakistan said at the time that such action would be violation of the international law and warned Iranian forces not to cross the border. Iran refrained from sending the troops when a local Sunni cleric stepped in and resolved the situation.
Four of the guards were released a few months later, but one was killed by the militants. Jaish al Adl is a Sunni militant group that has carried out several attacks against Iranian security forces with the aim of highlighting what they say is discrimination against minority Sunni Muslims in Iran, where the majority are Shi’ites. The group claimed responsibility for attacks that killed eight border guards in April 2015 and 14 border guards in October 2013.