The article in The Commentator singled out Ayatollah Reyshahri, who has won a seat on the Assembly of Experts, having been a member of the “List of Hope” endorsed by President Hassan Rouhani, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and other individuals who have been grouped together as “moderates” and “reformists” in the current election cycle. The article described Reyshahri’s successful efforts to marry a nine year-old girl when he was in his twenties, and it quoted a “reformist” political analyst as acknowledging that Reyshahri had “killed many people,” but that this would have to be overlooked because the electorate had no other options.
This article follows upon documents released by the National Council of Resistance of Iran profiling some of the most prominent members of the moderate/reformist faction in last Friday’s elections. Those documents said, for instance, that Rafsanjani himself had overseen the worst period of Iranian terrorist attacks in the history of the Islamic Republic and had been deemed the “godfather of terror” by reformists who were active at the time.
No doubt the NCRI’s contributions would support Azarmehr’s conclusion that individuals like Reyshahri underscore the “intellectual poverty and ineptness of Iran’s so-called reformists.” Azarmehr went on to say that the supposed disputes between this faction and Iran’s traditional hardliners is largely an exercise in political theater, semi-publicly encouraged by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and aimed at presenting an illusion of democracy.
Mirroring criticism of the mainstream coverage of the elections, Azarmehr indicated that many Western policymakers and commentators had fallen prey to this deception. And this sentiment was repeated in another editorial that appeared in Asharq al-Awsat, which said that, “the current US administration trusts the Tehran regime more than the Iranians do.”
The article went on to say that this situation has been harmful to the United States’ traditional Arab allies in the Middle East. It argued that the false narrative Iranian moderation had led to the lifting of international pressure and was continuing to contribute to Iran’s imperial reach into the broader Middle East, especially in conflict areas like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. This is the very thing that has prompted nervous reactions and countermeasures from Saudi Arabia and its supporters.
In other words, Awsat and other critical news outlets see a positive view of the recent Iranian elections as contributing to escalating tensions between the main rivals for power in the Middle East, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Guardianpublished a general profile of this conflict on Wednesday, highlighting some of the advantages and disadvantages that exist on each side. The article suggested that current geopolitical factors, including the West’s détente with Iran, give the Saudis the impression that Iran is gaining ground in the broader Middle East while they themselves are losing. The Guardian also claims that compared to Iran’s direct interventions through the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and other military-political institutions, the Saudis “have little more than cash” to offer to their sides of the various regional proxy conflicts.
However, other articles on Wednesday gave the clear impression that Riyadh was committed to utilizing its superior economic position to the greatest possible advantage. The growing conflict with Iran helps to explain Saudi efforts to substantially increase their oil exports to China, which is Iran’s largest Asian oil buyer and a potential ally in a number of different areas.
CNN reports that Saudi Arabia had increased its oil shipments to China by 36 percent during the month of February, leading to a three-year high at a time when the Saudis had been engaged in talks with Russia aimed at freezing global oil output at January’s levels. Iran’s participation in that freeze had been demanded by both sides of the talks, but Tehran balked at the prospect, being fixated on efforts to increase its own outputs to pre-sanctions levels and reclaim market share in the wake of the July 14 nuclear deal with six world powers.
CNN plainly states that the Saudi efforts in China are aimed at thwarting Iran’s resurgence, both in the political and the economic sphere. For their part, the Iranians have repeatedly claimed to be making swift gains in their oil output and financial returns, but the CNN report notes that there is currently no objective evidence that Iran has been successful in dramatically boosting its oil output. This leaves open the possibility that Saudi efforts to constrain Iran’s return are having some effect.
Furthermore, the Saudis are not only striving to exert pressure on Iran directly; they are also using their economic position in apparent attempts to discourage cooperation with Iran among other countries in the Middle East. For example, the Economist reported on Wednesday that Riyadh had cancelled four billion dollar aid payments to Lebanon, apparently over the increasing influence that the Lebanese paramilitary Hezbollah enjoys in Syria alongside its Iranian handlers.
While the Economist doubts the ability of this strategy to actually diminish Lebanese tolerance of Iran and Hezbollah, it also points out that Iran had responded to the situation by offering to replace the Saudi payments – a bit of propaganda the recently de-sanctioned nation can certainly not afford to follow through on.