Tehran is becoming more aggressive by the day. This heightened level of aggression is manifested in incessant taunts which are meant to elicit some form of aggressive response from Tehran’s enemies which can generally be categorized as Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel, the PMOI (Iranian resistance in exile) and anyone who supports them. It’s not that any of this is totally new to Tehran but the levels of aggression have risen sharply over the past few weeks. Examples of Tehran’s increased aggressive behavior can be found on many levels:
- Increased anti-Saudi rhetoric
- Increased anti PMOI rhetoric and military maneuvers
- Increased military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
- Increased military presence in Syria and in Iraq
- Increased talk of Russian-Iranian military alliances
- Increased hardline speeches by Iranian “moderates”
Tehran will probably not be the first to take these aggressions to military level against any of its enemies since it prides itself on not starting wars but the increase in aggressive behavior from Tehran points to one direction: Tehran is willing to taunt enough people in order to be attacked and it feels safe enough by Moscow’s side to say and do whatever it wants.
More anti-Saudi rhetoric
Last week, Khamenei relaunched his tirade against Saudi Arabia with a vengeance as it became clear that neither Riyadh nor Tehran were ready to get over their differences in regards to the agreements needed to allow Iranian pilgrims into Saudi Arabia. Khamenei’s rant represented a distinct escalation and was vicious even by his standards: The Saudis, he ranted, are “oppressive”, “arrogant”, “faithless”, “blaspheming” “murderers” who are in collusion with the US and Israel and have made Saudi Arabia “unsafe” for pilgrims and for that reason, he called on Muslim countries to “fundamentally reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of the holy sites, although he didn’t offer any advice on how such a “reconsideration” is to take place.
Rouhani echoed Khamenei’s rant and called for Muslim unity (“the “Hajj period should be regarded as a chance to safeguard the interests of the Muslim Ummah and foster unity within the Islamic community”) against Saudi Arabia by calling on Muslim countries to “take coordinated actions to resolve problems and punish the Saudi government”. But he didn’t stop only at the issue of the Hajj: “If the existing problems with the Saudi government were merely the issue of the hajj… maybe it would have been possible to find a way to resolve it…Unfortunately, this government by committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism in fact shed the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen”. Finally, he added his own thoughts on his favorite subject, terrorism: “Regional stability depends on ending support for terrorism…everyone knows which countries are assisting them from inside and outside the region and which countries are supplying terrorists with weapons and armaments”. Of course, Rouhani doesn’t mention how Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, are shedding Muslim blood in “Iraq, Syria and Yemen” nor does he mention how Iran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, an organization designated by the western world and the Arab League as terrorist but designated as “shining freedom fighters” in Tehran.
And what about Javad Zarif, Tehran’s star diplomat? He joined the attack and sounded more like Khamenei than Khamenei himself: “Saudi rulers are brazen enough to openly express alliance to the Zionist regime; they have abused and taken hostage sacred Islamic shrines in line with their petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist policies in serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons; ‘stupidity,’ ‘fanaticism,’ ‘intransigence,’ and ‘unlimited wealth’ have rendered the Saudi family callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands, with a penchant for ‘beget, foster, and spread terrorism’ to plague the world and larger parts of the Middle East including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen with the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred spewed by its unexperienced rulers”. This is the same Zarif who had told an Omani minister only one week before to “abandon the illusion of rivalry” in the region. “Illusion of rivalry”? Mr. Zarif, this is no “illusion”, this is a reality in which a “cold war” developed into a series of “proxy wars” and is now in danger of developing into an all-out frontal war which is bound to engulf the whole region in flames.
The recalling theme of Riyadh’s ties to the “Zionist” cause is partly true: the main reason that Israel is warming up to diplomatic and other ties with the Gulf States is the mutual fear of Tehran. Of course, the Saudis and the Arab League will not openly endorse a firm relationship with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue isn’t dealt with but the Arab States are also cooling a bit on the Palestinian issue specifically because Tehran’s influence on Hezbollah and even Hamas continues to grow. If the gulf States are more open to dealing with Israel, Tehran can only blame itself…or perhaps, that’s exactly what Tehran wanted from day one – to place Saudi Arabia with Israel against the Palestinians.
In any case, the guys in Tehran didn’t get the support they needed from the Muslim countries, specifically, the members of the Arab League who joined Saudi Arabia’s call to Tehran to stop politicizing the Hajj. Tehran reacted in the expected manner and called again on the Arab League to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop funding terror and to stop killing civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, without mentioning, once again, its own supports for terrorist organizations and its own responsibility for the deaths of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenites.
But Tehran didn’t give up yet: Both Khamenei and Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian parliament, called for an international “fact-finding” commission to investigate last year’s disaster in Mina. But then again, no one in his right mind in Tehran would support an international fact-finding commission in regards to the 1988 systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners by the regime.
More military actions and rhetoric
But Tehran’s aggressive mood isn’t aimed only at Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies and the chances of the Tehran-Riyadh conflict evolving into an open war seem slim despite the constant taunts from both sides. Tehran’s enemy of preference remains the US and it has backed its fiery rhetoric against the “Great Satan” with some military taunts as well.
Tehran seems to have made a strategic decision to harass the US Navy which sends out regular patrols to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the case last year in which the Iranian navy boarded a US Navy vessel which mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters, the Iranians are now harassing US navy ships and planes in international waters and air-space: It sent some of its boats to harass US cruisers until the Americans fired some warning shots and it warned Navy pilots that they would be shot down even though they were flying in international air-space.
This may sound like a storm in a tea-cup since no harm was done, but the rhetoric from Tehran is just as taunting: the Iranians denied overstepping international laws and claimed that “the (American) claims are not only untrue, but stem from their fear of the power of the Islamic Republic’s soldiers”.
But it’s not only about military actions. Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, advised Tehran to begin developing a nuclear bomb within 48 hours and not be worried about sanctions: “we must know that we do not fear and that we are ready”. Ready for what? For more sanctions? For a war? A world war?
Up until now, Tehran has always placed great emphasis on the fact that its army was for defensive purposes and as such, strengthening the army’s capabilities was a natural right since it’s meant to defend itself. This frame of thought is in tune with Tehran’s pride in not initiating a war or invading a country in centuries but this logic comes apart in regards to the numerous long-range missile tests and the numerous countries in which Iranian armies or its proxies are actively fighting – specifically in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Tehran’s military activities in all these countries is growing, not diminishing as can be viewed from the growing number of Iranian troops fighting in Syria and in Iraq and from the continuous presence of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s star chief of its elite Qods unit, in the battlefields.
And then, But Khamenei issued a statement in which he stressed that Iran’s “defensive and offensive capabilities” is an “inalienable and clear right”. The addition of the “offensive” to the “defensive” was a first for Khamenei. Why did he choose to stress the offensive capabilities of Iran’s army now?
Timing is everything and now seems to be an ideal time for Tehran to become more aggressive.
On the one hand, Tehran is frustrated with the ongoing wars in Syria and in Yemen which do not seem close to a victorious end for Iran but on the other hand, Tehran enjoys an unparalleled support of Russia in many levels – both of which explain the rise in aggressive behavior.
Furthermore, Tehran’s growing conflict with Riyadh is creating a situation in which all countries with any connection to the region have to take sides and on the whole, the Arab countries chose to ally themselves with Saudi Arabia.
And then there’s the issue of the West’s support of the PMOI, the growing exiled Iranian resistance which is creating a lot of tension within the regime.
Finally, Tehran is gearing up for the next presidential elections and Khamenei’s hardline tone is being echoed by hardliners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is calling for a redefine “revolutionary ideals” and is forcing Rouhani to become more hardline if he wants to win a second term.
But perhaps the single element which is most instrumental in increasing Tehran’s aggression is Khamenei himself, or more specifically, the legacy that Khamenei wants to leave after his death. The nuclear deal that Rouhani brokered together with Zarif might have achieved its initial purpose in lifting nuclear-related sanctions and allowing Tehran to openly ally itslef with other countries.
But the nuclear deal did not sit easily with Khamenei who kept on stressing his “red lines” only to watch some of his “red lines” crossed. The further complications with non-nuclear sanctions only increased Khamenei’s distaste for signing a deal with the “Great Satan”.
And then, there is his cherished vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” and a “New Islamic Civilization” which is slipping away from him at a time when his health is deteriorating and his death is approaching. For Khamenei, now is the time to instill in Iran the pride of his Revolutionary Ideals and take on the world because the last thing that he will want to be remembered for is that Tehran capitulated to the Western powers under him..
Will Iran finally unleash its aggression? Will it attack Saudi Arabia or make a run for a nuclear bomb? Will Russia continue to support Tehran in these cases? No one really knows but one fact is certain: Tehran has had enough of being aggressive under cover and too many people in Tehran are itching for a war…specially its Supreme Leader, Khamenei.