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Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been high ever since a stampede in Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in early September killed 2,389 people, among them at least 468 Iranians. Immediately after the stampede, Iran claimed that 2,000 people died and that hundreds of its citizens were still missing while Saudi Arabia insisted that the death toll was only 769.
Iranian media and government officials later reported that Saudi Arabia abducted several diplomats and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps during the stampede. Some Iranian and Egyptian news outlets even went as far blaming the Israeli secret service Mossad for the abductions. The Mossad had pre-planned the stampede with the Saudi authorities to abduct the members of the IRGC, and the Iranian diplomats reported the Egyptian News Agency al-Nahrein (Nile Net) at the end of September.
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The body of one missing prominent Iranian diplomat was found only at the end of November and was subsequently handed over to the authorities in Tehran. The missing diplomat was Ghazanfar Roknabadi, the former Iranian ambassador to Lebanon and a key player in Iran’s involvement in Lebanon and the war in Syria. Saudi Arabia held him accountable for the organization of Iranian (terrorist) activities in Sunni countries.
This weekend, tensions between the archenemies started to boil over after news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed 47 Shiites and Sunnis for involvement in terrorist activities. Many of those executed were affiliated with Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia said.
Among the Shiites that were executed was the Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr “who spent more than a decade studying theology in Iran and had been a driving force behind Shiite-led anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia since 2011,” The Times of Israel reported
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Iranian officials reacted furiously to the news of al-Nimr’s execution and claimed that “the Saudi government supports terrorist movements and extremists, but confronts domestic critics with oppression and execution.” Hossein Jaber Ansari, the spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, threatened that Saudi Arabia will “pay a high price” for its policies.
Shortly after Ansari issued his statement, an angry mob stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and set the building on fire. The protesters took down the Saudi flag, hurled Molotov cocktails and succeeded to ignite fires inside the building before Iranian police intervened and firefighters arrived at the scene. The building was heavily damaged. The Saudi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashhad underwent a similar fate and was destroyed by a large crowd of protesters.
Saudi Arabia reacted with furor to the assault on its embassy and consulate, and accused Iran of “terrorism and undermining regional stability”. The Iranian ambassador was summoned by the Saudi authorities and was told that Iran has no right to accuse Saudi Arabia of terrorism because it sponsors terrorism and abuses human rights.
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“Iran’s regime has no shame as it rants on human rights matters, even after it executed hundreds of Iranians last year without a clear legal basis,” a statement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.
“By defending the acts of terrorist, the Iranian regime is considered a partner in their crimes and is held completely responsible for its policies of incitement and escalation.”
The statement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry claimed that Iran has provided members of the Al-Qaeda leadership safe haven since the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
Saudi Arabia also leveled harsh criticism on Iran’s “flagrant interferences in regional countries, including Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, as well as Syria where it has directly intervened through its Revolutionary Guard and Shiite militia.” An act that has caused the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians the Saudi Foreign Ministry claimed.
The mutual accusations of involvement in terrorism and abuses of human rights by Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran seem like a clear example of the pot calling the kettle black.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia support terrorist movements and were directly involved in terrorist acts against Western and Jewish/Israeli targets. For example, Iran was behind the 1994 bombing of the AMIA/DAIA building of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia was directly involved in the 9/11 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States
Furthermore, both countries are among the worst human rights abusers in the world as was again proven by the Lebanese news site YaLibnan this weekend.
YaLibnan published two shocking reports about executions in Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2015.”
“Iran wins the world record for most executions per capita,” YaLibnan reported. “Tehran hanged at least 694 people between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, the highest rate of executions in the Islamic Republic in some 25 years,” the Lebanese news outlet wrote citing a new UN report. The article gave numerous examples of the abysmal state of affairs when it comes to human rights in Iran, a country where people can receive the death penalty for posting criticism of the government on social media.
The other YaLibanan report dealt with the number of executions and beheadings in Saudi Arabia last year.
“Saudi Arabia carried out at least 157 executions in 2015, with beheadings reaching their highest level in the kingdom in two decades, according to several advocacy groups that monitor the death penalty worldwide,” YaLibanan reported.
Many of those executed by Saudi authorities were convicted for drugs-related crimes. Saudi Arabia rejects comparisons with the Islamic State about the beheadings and claims that its “judiciary process requires at least 13 judges at three levels of court to rule in favor of a death sentence before it is carried out.”
Yalibnan quoted Delphine Lourtau, research director at Cornell Law School’s Death Penalty Worldwide, who refuted the Saudi defense of its death penalty procedure. Lourtau gave some examples of the flaws in the procedures and said that “defendants on Saudi Arabia are not provided defense lawyers and in numerous cases of South Asians arrested for drug trafficking, they are not provided translators in court hearings. She said there were also questions over the degree of influence the executive has on trial outcomes when it comes to cases where Shiite activists are sentenced to death.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader poured oil on the flames when he posted a couple of tweets on Sunday morning that said Saudi Arabia will face Divine revenge and in which he claimed Saudi Arabia is like ISIS.
Doubtlessly, unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 3, 2016
He also posted a poster of Al-Nimr on his Twitter account that stated “awakening is not suppressible” and included pictures of Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin and the Lebanese arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar, who murdered an Israeli father and his three year-old-daughter in 1979 and was liquidated by the IAF two weeks ago.
The crisis between the Sunni monarchy and the Islamic Republic which portrays itself as the defender of Shiite Muslims was exacerbated later on Sunday when Saudi Arabia decided to severe all ties with Iran. The Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that all Iranian diplomats had to leave the kingdom within 48 hours.