Tensions date back to the 1979 Iranian revolution. The Saudi monarchy, which based its legitimacy on Islam, felt its dominance threatened by the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Relations were strained throughout the 1980s, as Saudi Arabia quietly supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Tensions eased slightly under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), who sought to improve Iran’s relations with its neighbors.
1981: Iranians clash with Saudi police after chanting political slogans in Mecca and Medina. Iranian officials accuse Saudi authorities of discriminating against Iranian pilgrims.
Why do you bomb oppressed people of Yemen, destroy infrastructure of a weak country & kill women & children? #Yemenattack— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) April 15, 2015
January 2016: Saudi Arabia executes Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, a prominent Shiite leader who supported anti-government demonstrations, along with 46 others for alleged terror-related offenses. The move prompts protests or condemnation from Shiites in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, and Yemen. In Iran, protestors burn part of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and storm the compound. Demonstrators try to attack the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad. Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Bahrain, and Djibouti sever diplomatic ties with Iran. And the UAE downgrades its relations with the Islamic Republic.
Iran Foreign Ministry urges police to end violence & restore calm at Saudi embassy & protect diplomatic properties. pic.twitter.com/H5X3w9zsb4— Negar نگار (@NegarMortazavi) January 2, 2016
May 2016: Saudi Arabia and Iran fail to reach a deal over security and logistics concerning the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Saudi officials accused Iranian counterparts of walking out of talks despite offering solutions to the Iranian demands. Riyadh's pilgrimage ministry issues a statement saying the Iranian government “will be responsible in front of Allah Almighty and its people for the inability of the Iranian citizens to perform Hajj for this year,” adding that the Saudi leadership “has stressed its categorical rejection to politicize Hajj rituals.”
Iran had barred its pilgrims from traveling to Mecca to take part in the annual Hajj after claiming Saudi Arabia had failed to guarantee the safety of its citizens. This was primarily in response to the Hajj stampede that occurred the previous year and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, most of which were Iranian.
September 2016: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses the kingdom of “murdering” pilgrims during the 2015 Hajj. Khamenei criticizes Saudi management of the pilgrimage, calling on Iranians and other Muslims to hold them accountable. “The stampede demonstrated that this government is not qualified to manage the Two Holy Mosques,” said the Supreme Leader.
Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, a top Saudi Sunni cleric, responds by dismissing Khamenei’s comments as “not surprising” considering Iranians are “not Muslims” and their “hostility towards Muslims is an old one.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif then responded via Twitter.
Indeed; no resemblance between Islam of Iranians & most Muslims & bigoted extremism that Wahhabi top cleric & Saudi terror masters preach.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 6, 2016
Khamenei also took to Twitter to accuse the Saudis of “depriving” Iranians of the opportunity to attend the Hajj.
March 2017: Saudi Arabia announces that Iranian pilgrims will attend and participate in this year’s annual Hajj after an absence in 2016 due to tensions between the two countries. “The ministry of Hajj and the Iranian organization have completed all necessary measures to ensure Iranian pilgrims perform Hajj 1438 according to the procedures followed by all Muslim countries,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.
March 14: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. A senior adviser tells Bloomberg that the two leaders both opposed “Iranian expansionist moves in the region” and support for terrorist organizations.
April 2017: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Iran is ready to establish good relations with all neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia. “What happened in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran was carried out by some reckless people and was condemned by all institutions,” Rouhani said, referring to protests that occurred following Saudi Arabia’s execution of prominent Shiite leader Sheikh Nimr al Nimr in January 2016. “It seems that Saudi Arabia was preparing to deal inappropriately with Iran, and I think it was all due to the defeats it had suffered in Yemen and Syria, so these defeats caused Saudi Arabia to be resentful and so it wanted somehow to compensate for what had happened to it. The embassy had material losses that could have been compensated but Riyadh gave the subject more than its size,” he said. “The positive steps that have been taken so far will lead to allowing Iranian pilgrims to join other pilgrims in the coming Hajj season and Saudi Arabia will stop its illegal measures in Yemen, which are an obstacle to better relations with it.”
May 2, 2017: In a televised interview, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says there is no space for dialogue with Iran due to its ambitions “to control the Islamic world,” and its desire to spread its Shia doctrine. When asked if there was a possibility for direct dialogue with Iran, he replied: “How can I come to an understanding with someone, or a regime, that has an anchoring belief built on an extremist ideology? What are the interests between us? How can I come to an understanding with this?” He added, “We know we are a main target of Iran. We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”
On the same day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reveals that Pakistani, Indonesian, Kazakh and Russian officials had offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that Tehran was open to dialogue.
May 3, 2017: Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, reacts to the Saudi prince’s comments. “These comments are proof that Saudi Arabia supports terrorism and seeks confrontational and destructive policies in the region and towards Iran.”
May 4, 2017: Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Gholamali Khoshroo, sends a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Security Council President Elbio Rosselli describing Prince Salman’s remarks as “unlawful and inflammatory.” He asks Guterres to circulate the letter as a document of the U.N. Security Council. The following is the full text.
Upon instructions from my Government, I wish to bring to your attention the recent unlawful and inflammatory statement made by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- who is also the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia.
On 2 May 2017, Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated, "We will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia." While categorically rejecting the baseless allegations against my country, I wish to underline that his statement reflects an unveiled threat against the Islamic Republic of Iran, in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, as well as a clear admission of the long-known complicity of the Saudi regime in acts of terror and violence inside Iran, the latest of which resulted in the murder of 9 Iranian border guards, by the Saudi-financed armed bands. This blatant threat and admission is being made by a regime with a long record of supporting aggression and using terrorist and extremist groups for its short-sighted and dangerous ambitions in the region and beyond.
Over the past four decades, our region and the world have suffered tremendously as a consequence of Saudi insecurity and misplaced obsession with Iran, clearly manifested in the above-quoted statement. This has led to irresponsible, provocative and ill-fated policies and practices of promoting and financing extremism globally and short-sighted and self-defeating adventurism in the region.
We all – including Saudi authorities -- need to be reminded of the fact that this misplaced obsession and insecurity lead to the Kingdom’s unreserved support and financing of Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Iran from 1980 to 1988, whose devastating consequence was not confined to the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who became victims of Saddam’s aggression and use of chemical weapons, but engulfed the entire region after his invasion of Kuwait and threats against KSA, biting the hands that had fed and sustained him.
The creation of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the 90’s, sponsorship of terror and instability in Iraq since 2003, and formation, financing and arming of ISIS, Al-Nusrah and other terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria over the past several years are other manifestations of the same Saudi misplaced obsession, which have brought misery and insecurity to the entire globe. It is imperative for the international community to take necessary action to compel Saudi Arabia to stop its reckless sponsorship of terrorism and extremism in the region and across the globe, and particularly its blatant and open aggression, starvation and genocide against the people of Yemen.
In contrast to Saudi rulers, the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that peace and stability is in the common interest of every state in the Persian Gulf region and no country can attain security at the expense of insecurity for others. We have no desire, nor any interest, in an escalation of tension in our neighborhood. We continue to stand ready for dialogue and accommodation to promote regional stability, combat destabilizing extremist violence and reject sectarian hatred. We hope Saudi Arabia will be persuaded to heed the call of reason.
I should be grateful if you would have the present letter circulated as a document of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
May 7, 2017: Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan responded to Prince Salman’s comments in an interview with Al Manar TV. “We recommend them (Saudis) not to make any ignorant move, but if they do, we will not leave anywhere intact except Mecca and Medina,” he said.
Late May 2017: President Trump visited Riyadh, where he signed a $110 billion arms deal. In a joint statement, Saudi Arabia and the United States “agreed on the need to contain Iran’s malign interference in the internal affairs of other states, instigation of sectarian strife, support of terrorism and armed proxies, and efforts to destabilize the countries in the region.” After Trump’s visit, Iranian leaders harshly criticized Saudi Arabia’s regional policies.
First concrete result of POTUS cozying up to despots in Riyadh: Deadly attack on peaceful protesters by emboldened Bahrain regime. Google it— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 23, 2017
May 27, 2017: Supreme Leader Khamenei condemned Saudi Arabia for trying to “gain the friendship of Islam’s enemies” (e.g., the United States) but dealing harshly with Muslims. “They oppress their own people in this manner, and oppress the people of Yemen and Bahrain in other ways. But they are going to perish,” he said in a speech marking the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
June 5-22, 2017: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic relations and imposed trade and travel bans with Qatar for its alleged support for terrorism. The group issued 13 demands for Qatar to resolve the dispute. The demands included shutting down diplomatic posts in Iran, expelling members of the IRGC and only conducting trade and commerce with Iran that complied with U.S. sanctions.
June 7-11 2017: At least 12 people were killed and 46 were wounded in twin terror attacks on the Iranian Parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. This Islamic State claimed responsibility, but Iranian officials blamed Saudi Arabia for the attacks, pointing to Mohammed bin Salman's May remarks threatening to bring the battle to Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused Riyadh of being "actively engaged" in supporting militants inside Iran days after the attacks.
Such crimes that show foul play & humiliation of perpetrators & their masters are too small to interfere w/Iranian nation's determination.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 9, 2017
The outcome of these crimes is nothing but increased hatred towards US govt. & their agents in the region, such as Saudi regime. #Tehran— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 9, 2017
August 30, 2017: Iranian President Rouhani accused Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorists in Yemen and Syria. "Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen and their support of terrorists in Yemen and Syria are main hurdles to improve ties between Tehran and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia should stop backing terrorists," Rouhani said.
Iranian officials instead blamed to Saudi aggression in Yemen. "How should the Yemeni people react to bombardment of their country. So they are not allowed to use their own weapons? You stop the bombardment first and see if the Yemenis would not do the same,” President Hassan Rouhani said. But remnants of four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis on May 19, July 22, July 26 and November 4, 2017 appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, according to a confidential U.N. report from November 2017.
December 2017: Yemeni Houthi rebels fired another missile at Saudi Arabia, but it was intercepted by Saudi's air defense system before it reached Riyadh. "This hostile and indiscriminate act by the Iran-back Houthi armed group proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting (the) Houthi armed group with qualitative capabilities," a Saudi spokesman said. Iran denied the allegations.
On the very day US regurgitates Saudi & Emirati propaganda on #Yemen, #CAR report confirms US & Saudi weapons end up in the hands of ISIS. With this U.S. administration, it seems hypocrisy knows no bounds. https://t.co/Gf7kAwieTE— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 15, 2017
January 16, 2018: Houthi rebels said they fired a short-range ballistic missile toward a regional airport in the Saudi border province of Jizan. Saudi defense forces said they shot down the missile over Jizan. "This hostile action by the Houthi group, which is backed by Iran, proves the Iranian regime's continuous support for the armed Houthi group by providing them with capabilities, which is in violation of UN resolutions," said spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Colonel Turki al-Malki.
Governments like Saudi regime, which help the U.S. and the Zionist regime, are certainly betraying the Islamic Ummah and the World of Islam.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 16, 2018
February 2018: Saudi Arabia supported a UN draft resolution by the United States, Britain and France that would condemn Iran for failing to stop Yemen's Houthi rebels from obtaining ballistic missiles. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said the resolution would help hold Iran accountable for its "radical and aggressive behavior" in the region. “In order to ensure than Iran comports itself with international law, we must have firmer positions with regards to ballistic missiles and with regards to Iran’s support for terrorism,” al-Jubeir said a the Munich Security Conference. “Iran must be held accountable."
Jubeir also blamed Iran for heightening regional tensions and called for a fundamental change in the Iranian regime. "We didn't attack Iran," Jubeir said. "Iran is the one that is attacking us. Iran has started to undermine Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, including countries in Africa."
"The US and its local clients in our region are suffering from the consequences of their own wrong choices," Iranain Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded. "But they use this and other fora to revive the hysteria on Iran's foreign policy and try to obscure its realities."
Later in the month, Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of war crimes in Yemen on Twitter.
Desperate attempt @ UNSC by US&UK to cover up complicity in 3 yrs of Saudi & Emirati war crimes in Yemen failed. Since the very start, Iran called for ceasefire, aid, dialogue & inclusive government. This—not a delusion of military victory or accusations—remains the only solution— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 27, 2018
March 15, 2018: Saudi Arabia said it will develop nuclear weapons if Iran does so. “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a CBS interview. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi blasted the crown prince for his remarks. “He has no idea of politics apart from bitter talk that emanates from a lack of foresight ... His remarks do not deserve a response, because he is a delusional, naive person, who never talks, but with lies and bitterness,” Qassemi responded.
March 29, 2018: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for more economic and political pressure on Iran, saying it was needed to avoid a direct military confrontation in the region. "We have to succeed so as to avoid military conflict," Prince Mohammed told the Wall Street Journal. "If we don't succeed in what we are trying to do, we will likely have war with Iran in 10-15 years."
It's official: Supplying bombs, targets and refueling #Saudi warplanes is apparently not enough. US now proclaiming that it's "doing the planning" in war on #Yemen too. US complicity in world's biggest humanitarian disaster unfathomable.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 29, 2018
April 9, 2018: Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami responded to Saudi Arabia's late March comments in the Wall Street Journal, saying the crown prince had fallen into the trap of the illusion of power. "Those words have been said by a man who has little experience in state affairs," Hatami said. "Hitler acted under an illusion of power, believing himself to be strong. So did Saddam Hussein [when he attacked Iran in 1980]. When the Americans attacked Iraq, they too had this delusion of power and strength. They thought they would occupy Iraq, appoint a new ruler and that would be it. But in all important issues they have failed miserably and plunged the country into the deepest hell."
Aprili 10-11, 2018: In a visit to France, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran of supporting terrorism in the region. “Saudi rulers have made themselves as notorious as Zionist regime’s officials in being epitomes of crime and aggression in the region,” Bahram Qassemi said in response.“Those who have placed their names and countries in the list of the murderers and aggressors of the region and are considered the same with notorious aggressive and murderous dictators of the region like Saddam should know that levelling baseless and illusionary accusations or bringing up hallucinatory claims will not change the fact that the countries and nations of the region along with whoever who monitors regional developments, are aware of Saudi Arabia’s role in creating, spreading, and arming extremist pro-violence terrorists who have emerged in different eras with different names like Al-Qaeda, ISIL and so forth and have committed numerous murders and humanitarian catastrophes in some neighboring, regional, and world countries," he added. "The current Saudi rulers, along with the Zionist regime, have become the symbols of crime and aggression in the Middle East and they have added up to instability and regional woes by interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries of the region."
April 14, 2018: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei accused the United States of creating ISIS with Saudi money.
The U.S. played a major role in creating #ISIS, they entered where ISIS was trapped to save them. They raised the wicked creatures [ISIS] with Saudi money, turning them [ISIS] lose on Iraqi and Syrian nations; but, resistance against the US and their agents saved these countries.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) April 14, 2018
U.S. officials agitate Saudis, creating discord and chaos in West Asia. Why don't you agitate the Zionists? Because they want to turn Muslims against one another; thus, avoiding the burden of an outcome from confronting the Islamic Republic and the powerful Iranian nation.— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) April 30, 2018