Rising Iran-Saudi Tensions

October 27, 2015

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals, with both countries falling on different sides of Middle Eastern conflicts. In Syria, Iran backs President Bashar al Assad, while Saudi Arabia supports Sunni rebels. In Yemen, Iran is widely believed to support the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has controlled the capital, Sanaa, since September 2014. Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against the Houthis in March. Both countries have accused each other of contributing to turmoil in the region.

Tensions also flared in September when hundreds of pilgrims – including more than 400 Iranians – were killed in a stampede during a hajj ritual in Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's two holiest cities. Iranian officials accused the Saudi government of mismanagement that led to the tragedy. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir countered that "the Iranians should know better than to play politics."
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia base their political systems on Islam and Sharia. But Iran is the world’s largest Shiite country, while Saudi Arabia is the bastion of a conservative branch of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. The following are quotes illustrating the tension between Iranian and Saudi officials over regional issues, followed by statements on the Mina stampede.
On Syria and Yemen
Head of Iran’s Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani
“To prevent more tension in the region, Saudi rulers, who mostly act naively, must be convinced that it serves no country’s interests to stir friction in the region.”
– Oct. 18, 2015, according to the press
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
“The Saudi government's use of weapons which contain toxic and pathogenic gases in air and missile strikes against residential areas is aimed at genocide and breaking the legitimate resistance of the brave Yemeni people.”
– Oct. 6, 2015, according to the press
“Targeting residential areas, hospitals, service [providing] centers and the carnage of innocent women and children along with the inhumane blockade of the Yemeni people are flagrant examples of war crime.”
– Oct. 6, 2015, in a meeting with Yemen’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee
Supreme Leader's top Adviser for International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati
"The remarks by the naive Saudi foreign minister finds no ears on the international scene since everyone knows that his comments don’t have any wise and fair basis."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran as the biggest regional power enters the scene and takes action wherever it feels that a neighboring country or one of its allies has been endangered or is posed to plots."
"Of course, Saudi Arabia is too little to implement such plots directly but it is supporting the terrorists in the Muslim regional states in the role of a proxy of the West, including the US."
– Oct. 27, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
"Attacks on residential areas, schools, and hospitals [in Yemen] are in flagrant violation of humanitarian laws and rules.”
– Oct. 7, 2015, according to the press
“Considering the fact that for seven months Saudi Arabia has been attempting to occupy Yemen using force, when it comes to Syria they are not in a position to make such comments…I recommend that [Jubeir] instead of passing the buck considers cooperation and constructive behaviour in the region,” referring to Jubeir’s comments that Iran was occupying Syrian territory.
– Oct. 21, 2015, according to the press
“Saudi authorities have yet provided no plausible response to demands for a thorough investigation into the Mina incident which killed thousands of Sunni and Shia Hajj pilgrims; this along with Saudi unsuccessful strikes against Yemen clearly demonstrates a crisis in the files and ranks of the Saudi regime inside; ethnically-motivated provocations against its own people by Saudi Arabia would just confound the crisis.”
“I recommend to Saudi officials to wisely abandon their adventurist approach in the region and come to the path of fairness and justice toward their own citizens.”
– Oct. 25, 2015, according to the press
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
"The Saudi officials' comments have broken the diplomatic norms and it seems that their anger-mingled behavior is affected by the result of the wrong moves they have made in the region.”
"All these events show that the Saudi government has been entangled in a political and ruling chaos."
– Oct. 26, 2015, according to the press
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
"Saudi Foreign Minister Adil al-Ahmad al-Jubayr, whose country has taken a military, security, and excessive approach against Yemenis and for more than seven months has targeted the country's civilians by constant bombardments, lacks the competency to speak about Iran's regional role.”
"While the global community is appreciating Iran's constructive and stabilizing role in the region and has called for Iran's further participation and role in settlement of regional crises, unfortunately, the only country that is still looking at the regional developments with the win-lose approach and is insisting on removal of others is the Saudi Arabia…But its non-constructive and destructive approach does not lead to anywhere.”
"Using such arrogant, despicable, and out of diplomatic norms about the fate of other nations is an indication of diplomatic stagnation.”
"Unfortunately, the same outlook has resulted in the entanglement of some countries and peoples of the region including Syria and Yemen in a pre-designed war and extremism.”
"A country (Saudi Arabia) that has been striking the people and infrastructures of the Muslim country of Yemen for about 7 months from air and ground and has killed thousands of civilians, including women and children, is not in a position to speak bout the interference of another country, and such a country should make its statements based on the facts.”
"Saudi Arabia has opted for militarism which does not have any outcome other than massacre of the innocent people, and we hope that it would immediately change this approach in a bid to stop the killing of the innocent people and, rather, support political solutions to achieve stability and tranquility in the region.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Seyed Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabifard
“[The] Saudi regime has the least international prestige, and it provides boosts for terrorist groups in the region; we believe that the future belongs to Yemeni people, and they will be the ultimate victor.”
“[The] daily bombarding and siege on Yemeni people are telling examples of crime against humanity; we believe effective publicizing the events in Yemen is a necessity now; however, mainstream media refuse to attend their inherent duty to communicate the news of Yemen to the world thanks to Saudi’s corrupting them by purchasing them.”
– Oct. 8, 2015, according to the press
Saudi Arabia

Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
"It is difficult to have positive relations [with Tehran] when Saudi Arabia and its people are the target of continuous aggression by Iran.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
“We wish that Iran would change its policies and stop meddling in the affairs of other countries in the region, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”
“We will make sure that we confront Iran’s actions and shall use all our political, economic and military powers to defend our territory and people.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
 “Iran must comply with the agreement it reached with the 5+1 countries on its nuclear deal and refrain from all negative tactics in order to restore peace in Syria and Yemen.”
– Oct. 20, 2015, according to the press
“Is this the way a responsible country aspiring to a nuclear deal should behave? It only confirms the concerns raised by Gulf countries,” in reference to reports of Iran smuggling arms to rebels in Yemen.
– Oct. 20, 2015, according to the press
"The question is: what must Iran do to be part of the solution in Syria? The answer is very simple:  It has to withdraw from Syria and it has to stop supplying weapons to Bashar al-Assad's regime and it has to withdraw the Shi'ite militias that it sent ... and then it can have a role.”
Iran is now an "occupier of Arab lands in Syria.”
– Oct. 19, 2015, according to the press
Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi
"As for those countries that have claimed recently to join in the fight against ISIS terrorism, they can’t do that at the same time as they support the terrorism of the Syrian regime and its terrorist foreign allies like Hezbollah and the Quds Force and other terrorist sectarian groups.”
– Oct. 1, 2015, according to the press 
On the Mina stampede
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
"The Saudi government should accept its heavy responsibility in this bitter event and it should meet its obligations based on the principles of truth and fairness. The mismanagement and improper measures that caused this catastrophe should not be overlooked."
—Sept. 24, 2015, in a statement

“Ignorance of the time turned our Festive Day into grief by Mina deadly tragedy. May God accept these sacrifices and devotions from Muslim nations. Using advanced militray equipment, they bombard Yemeni people, yet they fail to act when humanity demands and show their courage only when facing the defenseless people."

“Saudi officials fail to do their duties and act against their responsibilities and show slyness in some cases; if Iran wants to react, Saudi Arabia’s conditions will not be good. In case of reaction, our response will be firm and severe."

“Saudi Arabia evades its duties in helping transfer of corpses of Hajj pilgrims; however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been self-restraint observing principles of Islamic ethics and the spirit of fraternity in the Islamic world; they should understand though that disrespect of tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Medina would precipitate Iran’s ‘severe and strong’ reaction." 

—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to army cadets



President Hassan Rouhani


“We demand Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Iranian Hajj Headquarters and the Supreme Leader’s permanent delegation to Mecca and Medina in order to deliver medical help to Iranian pilgrims.”
“I have tasked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contact the Saudi authorities and take necessary actions.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in remarks to the press
"Saudi Arabia should act upon its legal and international responsibilities vis a vis the foreign nationals and Hajj pilgrims and the aspects of the incident should be clarified precisely.”
"The Saudi media display animations instead of showing the footages of reality (of what happened in Mina), and this is an insult to the Islamic societies.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"If we can change the dynamics and establish good relations between us and Saudi Arabia it will certainly benefit everyone involved. These days, though, it is important to keep in mind that our conditions have become much tougher, because a number of our pilgrims to Hajj were killed in Mina. Thus far 170 Iranian pilgrims have been killed. Dear lives, precious lives, lost.
"This lack of proper management, responsible management, of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is extremely sad. We do not know all of the underlying causes, the root causes, so we do not want to pass judgement. But the Saudi Arabian government has made itself quite occupied and concerned elsewhere – Syria, Yemen, the region as whole – and it seems to have forgotten Mecca itself, how to manage it. It seems to have forgotten Mina. It seems to have forgotten the millions of pilgrims that every year go to their country."
—Sept. 27, 2015, in a meeting with American think tanks, academics, and NGOs
Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
"The weak management of the Saudi government and lack of capability of the Saudi Hajj officials have certainly been the cause of the tragic incident in Mina.”
"The change in Saudi Arabia's security preferences and seeing its security in the war on the Yemeni people and helping the Al Khalifa in suppressing the Bahraini people have played important roles in the emergence of this tragedy.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati
"What has happened is suspicious because some high-ranking technical, scientific and political figures of the Islamic Republic of Iran have gone missing or been martyred in the incident and the Saudi government should account for the event.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press

Head of the Judiciary Sadeq Amoli Larijani
“The Saudi government could not easily free itself from the heavy burden and responsibility of the Mina incident; the event is extremely terrible in terms of the scope of the fatalities, and all Islamic countries should devise effective measures to prevent the repetition of similar issues in the future. Contrary to the ongoing trend where Hajj pilgrims received improved services and better facilities, in recent years, the problems stymied the process, with insecurities rising considerably.”
“Saudis’ attribution of the event to heavenly preordained affairs is mere an attempt to bring other strange and ludicrous causes into the event; the real issue is their sheer incompetence in meeting the challenges on Hajj pilgrims’ security, while the heavenly providence has been on the place; Islamic countries would not easily close the case, and the bitter memory of the event will linger on for years to come.”
“The event indicates that Saudi officials are among the most irresponsible and heedless officials ever to rule a country; they should compensate for all aspects of the disaster; the general expectation from a ‘strong government’ is to transparently address all facets of the event, and bring the perpetrators and contributors to justice, along with providing apologies to the multitudes of pilgrims’ families.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, in a meeting with judiciary officials
Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
“The officials in the Saudi government in charge of maintaining order in this huge ritual are responsible for the incident and should be accountable to the Muslims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri 
"Given the usurper Zionist regime's infiltration and influence on the al-Saud, there is a growing possibility that the crane crash incident at the Grand Mosque (in the holy city of Mecca) and the death of thousands of people in Mina were the result of deliberate crime.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"In the very first hours after the Mina catastrophe, the country’s armed forces expressed their readiness to provide any (necessary) assistance to the relevant bodies and are fully prepared at the moment, too."
“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are ready to perform any mission in this regard."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli
"As Iran's interior minister I ask you to order the concerned Saudi Hajj officials to do their utmost cooperation with the Iranian relief workers stationed in Mecca and Mina to organize the affairs of the Iranian pilgrims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in a letter to Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef
Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi
"This year's hajj ceremony was disorganized as the Saudi government had hired young and inexperienced people.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Head of Parliament’s National Security Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
“It’s not the first time that the Saudi government has shown its incompetence during the hajj.”
“Two tragic incidents have taken place in a short time, the Saudi government is not capable of managing hajj pilgrimage.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Supreme Leader’s Representative on Hajj Affairs Seyed-Ali Ghaziaskar
“This incident is unprecedented in the history of hajj. Saudi officials do not let our medical team and doctors to reach the affected areas and hospitals to help.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht 

"The Saudi government has nothing to say and that's why the foreign minister of this country goes into hiding and does not speak with our foreign minister, so we are forced to use other means at our disposal to solve this problem." 
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Minister of Intelligence Seyyed Mohammad Alavi
"The negligence of Al Saud rulers caused this incident and the unwise conduct that they displayed after the Mina tragedy gave this tragedy the appearance of a crime and Muslim world will not forgive them for their behavior."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press


Judiciary Spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei

"The Saudi rulers cannot shrug off responsibility for the Mina tragedy and they should be accountable for what happened in Mina last Thursday."

"All material and emotional losses of the Mina incident should be compensated for."
—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to Basij forces

Saudi Arabia
Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir
"I believe that the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty."
– Sept. 27, 2015, according to the press
“And we will reveal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back. If mistakes were made, who made them will be held accountable.”
“And we will make sure that we will learn from this and we will make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I want repeat again this is not a situation with which to play politics.”
“I would hope Iranian leaders would be more sensible and more thoughtful with regards to those who perished in this tragedy, and wait until we see the results of the investigation.”
– Sept. 27, 2015, according to the press
“The Iranians know very well that the Kingdom will do everything in its capacity to provide and facilitate visits to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia. The Iranians realize that the Kingdom is doing tremendous work for the service of the guests of Makkah. And I believe what they said contradicts the idea of sovereignty and non-interference. The Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques was clear when he ordered a thorough investigation and will hold any individual or organization accountable if found guilty. This investigation is ongoing and we will make the results public.  The Iranians are the last to speak of Hajj and pilgrims, because they have caused chaos multiple times in the past, through protests in the 80s, which resulted in a number of death due to their riots.”
– Sept. 28, 2015, according to the press