Meanwhile, there are other adversaries whose relations with the Islamic Republic have not improved in any dimension, whether economic or rhetorical. And of course, at the top of this list of nations is the state of Israel, which the Iranian regime has repeatedly declared a target for outright destruction. Last year, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched two nuclear-capable ballistic missiles with the message “Israel must be completely wiped out” written on their sides in Hebrew. The Jewish state was the most virulent critic of the JCPOA, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu viewed as paving the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon, and thus an existential threat to Israel.
In lieu of direct attacks using advanced weapons, the Islamic Republic follows through on its rhetorical threats against the Jewish state by supporting and promoting anti-Israeli terrorism by such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas. There was a distinct resurgence in this support at a two-day anti-Israeli conference held by the Iranian regime. Reuters reported on Tuesday that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had used the event to call for another intifada, or uprising, by Palestinian groups. The report attaches some significance to the fact that this apparent call to arms came amidst a time of “increasingly heated rhetoric” by Iran and its adversaries, led by the new presidential administration in the United States.
Khamenei’s remarks referred to Israel as a “fake nation” and a “cancerous tumor” on the region. He also called the creation of the Jewish state in the years after World War II a “dirty chapter” in the history of the world. While this commentary is generally familiar, having been delivered to a conference that is held on an annual basis, the Washington Post claims that the precise content of Khamenei’s speech was some of the most vitriolic in recent years.
This vitriol can easily be seen as going hand-in-hand with the anti-American rhetoric that only seemed to intensify in the wake of nuclear negotiations with the previous US administration, and then again with the inauguration of the new administration, which is pursuing a much more assertive policy on Iran. A major talking point of the Trump campaign involved his disdain for the JCPOA, and his overall perspective on Iran has been linked to an effort to repair relations with Israel, which were damaged by Obama’s and Netanyahu’s opposing viewpoints on that deal.
Netanyahu and Trump met last week amidst reports that they would be discussing mutual policies toward Iran while reaffirming the special relationship between their own countries. Trump subsequently expressed a firm commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, not just during the time period of the JCPOA but at any point in the future. Then, over the weekend, this commitment was reiterated by Vice President Mike Pence at the conference on international security policy that is held each year in Munich.
Pence also took the opportunity to identify Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – a talking point that was echoed by representatives of a number of other Iran adversaries that were in attendance. For instance, Al Jazeera quoted Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir as saying that Iran is “determined to upend the order in the Middle East” and that it would be difficult for the international community to deal with the Iranian regime unless its behavior changed drastically.
Jubeir went on to call on Western and Gulf Arab nations to set clear “red lines” relating to this behavior, and to enforce them with economic sanctions and other such restrictions. This seems to be in keeping with the approach that the White House has begun pursuing under the leadership of President Trump, who recently ordered a review of the possible listing of the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization.
This listing would inevitably lead to more comprehensive restrictions on doing business with Iran, notwithstanding the sanctions relief under the nuclear deal, since the IRGC controls large swaths of the Iranian economy. Such restrictions are also in keeping with the recommendations of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the leading Iranian opposition coalition, which has called for the complete blacklisting of the IRGC.
For the NCRI, this is a first step toward popular regime change, but it is not yet clear whether this prospect enters into the calculations of the Trump administration. The same cannot be so easily claimed about some of Iran’s other adversaries. Last summer, Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal attended an annual NCRI and explicitly declared support for the project of regime change. What’s more, this is not the only surprising alliance that the Saudi royal family appears to have made in recent years, as tensions and proxy wars between it and the Iranian regime have continued to escalate.
In its report on the Munich Security Conference, The Media Line claimed that “remarkably similar diatribes against Iran by Saudi and Israeli delegates were indicative of an obvious but unlikely anti-Iranian alliance by the two countries. The conference and surrounding events also seemed to suggest that that alliance could expand, in the sense that other nations in the region might be interested in coordinating their strategies for confronting Iran over its world-leading support for terrorism and its destabilizing interventions into the region.
Another report by Al Jazeera pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently concluded a tour of the Arabian Peninsula and subsequently touched of an “exchange of barbs” between his government and that of the Islamic Republic. Erdogan personally accused Tehran of destabilizing the region, and Iranian officials responded by summoning the Turkish ambassador to answer for the comments. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu then elaborated upon Erdogan’s statements by referring to the Iranian regime’s apparent efforts to make Syria and Iraq part of a “Shiite crescent” under the control of the Iranian supreme leader.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi warned the Turkish government against repeating these sorts of accusations, adding that the Islamic Republic’s patience “has limits.” However, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying, “Instead of accusing countries that have criticized Iran, it should take constructive steps and review its own regional policies.” This recommendation can easily be viewed as reiteration of the Saudi foreign minister’s call for a dramatic change in Iranian foreign policy, in absence of which he and other critics of the Iranian regime will urge for international action in the form of sanctions and other punitive measures.