Iranian regime’s fourth pillar: Antagonism toward Saudi Arabia
When Iran’s mullahs set up the Islamic Republic in 1979, the pillars of its foreign policy were opposition to the West (particularly the US), anti-Semitism, and asymmetrical warfare by funding, training and arming terrorist groups and militias to act as proxies. Antagonism toward Saudi Arabia has become another pillar. Tehran’s obsession with undermining the Kingdom has reached unprecedented levels under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch, the Quds Force, have stepped up efforts to arm, finance and train Houthis rebels in Yemen in the last few years. On several occasions, Tehran provided the means for terrorist groups to target Saudi Arabia. For example, it supplied missiles to the Houthis that were fired at Riyadh. Such a move can be seen as an act of war.
Anti-Saudi propaganda is rife in Iranian state-owned media and social media, and in outlets affiliated with Tehran. This antagonism is not limited to hardliners; it is shared by moderates, as can be seen in media affiliated with them.
Iran’s state-controlled English- and Arabic-language outlets are trying to sway public opinion against Saudi Arabia in the West and the Arab world, respectively. It is doubtful that Iran’s propaganda has had a concrete impact because it has lost its credibility in the Arab world due to its involvement in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts, as well as in Iraq and Lebanon.
Anti-Saudi propaganda is rife in Iranian state-owned media and social media, and in outlets affiliated with Tehran. This antagonism is not limited to hardliners.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Iranian leaders have been using social media and public events to ratchet up anti-Saudi sentiment via incendiary rhetoric. For instance, when a military parade was attacked in the Iranian city of Ahvaz at the end of September, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately and absurdly blamed Saudi Arabia and the UAE without providing a shred of evidence.
Yet evidence of the Iranian regime using its proxies to attack Saudi Arabia has been documented by credible international organizations, including the UN.
There are several reasons behind antagonism toward the Kingdom becoming a core pillar of Iran’s foreign policy. Tehran is more forcefully trying to export its Shiite ideology — velayat e faqih (governance of the Islamic jurist) — to the rest of the Middle East and the Muslim world.
That is why Khamenei has prevented Iranians from performing the Hajj pilgrimage and asked Muslims to challenge Saudi custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Makkah and Madinah. He wrote on his official website: “The world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of Hajj.”
In addition, the IRGC is more robustly pushing to achieve the Iranian regime’s hegemonic ambitions in the region through various means, including brute force. As a result, taking into account Saudi Arabia’s large size, vast natural resources and geostrategic position in the region, Tehran views Riyadh as a rival.
Tehran is focusing more on opposing the Kingdom because Riyadh refuses to submit to Iran’s pursuit of regional supremacy. Contrary to its claims, Tehran’s sectarianism has been a core tenet of its opposition to Saudi Arabia.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh