The article points out that the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) recently resumed hostilities with the Iranian regime after approximately 20 years without open conflict. The KDPI has reportedly declared that Iran is still violating Kurdish rights, leading to the conclusion that conflict is the only way for the Kurdish ethnic minority to reclaim those rights. But Tehran apparently dismisses the notion that the recent rebel activities are autonomous and are based on ongoing human rights violations or instances of political imprisonment of Kurds. Instead, the Iranian regime has publicly suggested that these activities have been instigated from outside, and specifically that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is financing the KDPI in order to destabilize Iran.
The Rudaw report was spurred by the fact that the Kurdish Region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani had responded to these accusations, and also to parallel accusations accusing the regional capital of Erbil of turning a blind eye to that interference. Barzani flatly denied the claims that have mainly been advanced by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. He also indicated that there was no evidence of Saudi presence or interference in Kurdish affairs, with or without complicity from Erbil.
Tehran has presented no evidence to undermine Barzani’s statements. And furthermore, Tehran’s credibility on such matters is damaged by the fact that Iranian officials are prone to claiming foreign intervention in the case of virtually any acts of domestic rebellion, whether it be military or merely social. In fact, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the head of Iran’s Basij civilian militia, even went so far as to blame Western-based media for the rates of divorce and drug addiction in Iran, during a ceremony to destroy satellite television receivers last weekend.
But regardless of the credibility of Iran’s claims about Saudi interference, the prevalence of those claims appears to be clear evidence of deteriorating relations between the two Middle Eastern powers. Of course, this deterioration has been well recognized at least over the past several months. In January, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran following the storming of the Saudi embassy by Iranian mobs angry over the execution of a Shiite dissident cleric.
Tensions between the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom subsequently reached new heights in January when former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal attended the annual rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, during which he explicitly endorsed a platform of regime change in Tehran. This might seem to lend credence to Tehran’s accusations, but so far Iranian authorities have publicly accused Riyadh of sponsorship of Kurdish rebels, but not of groups like the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which have no designated ethnic or religious limitations.
Meanwhile, foreign commentators have similarly stopped short of concluding that Saudi Arabia has any direct involvement in Iranian resistance movements, even after such a public endorsement by a member of the royal family. In one example of this, US Marine Corps Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwait published an editorial at Family Security Matters on Thursday in which he described Turki as issuing a “tacit declaration of war,” but also left some doubt as to whether Riyadh was in fact ending the mutual “kabuki dance” with which the two countries have traditionally hidden the extent of their antipathy.
But Zumwait clearly makes the case that if this “dance” comes to an end, it will be Iran’s doing more than Saudi Arabia’s. That is, whereas Iran may have reason to accuse Saudi Arabia of prospective interference in its affairs, the Saudis have considerable evidence of longstanding and ongoing Iranian interference throughout the Middle East. This was the focus of a joint-statement made by the 21 active member states of the Arab League early this week. It called for the ouster of Iranian influence from the region as a necessary prerequisite to confronting issues of terrorism in various countries being affected by sectarian conflict.
Zuwait described the Islamic Republic of Iran as having been engaged in a region-wide game of “Shia monopoly” since the mullahs came to power in 1979. In recent years, Iranian officials have boasted of control over the Arab capitals of Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and Sanaa. And Zuwait notes that they demonstrably have their eyes fixed also on Manama and Jerusalem.
Although there may be some debate about the extent of Tehran’s commitment to this endeavor, there is really no doubt about its interest in expanding its regional influence or financing proxies in and around each of the aforementioned capitals. Yet this has not prevented the Iranian leadership from crying foul when they believe they have reason to suspect Saudi Arabia or other foreign parties of exerting their own influence with the aim of changing governments in the Middle East.
This fact was discussed in an article that appeared at the Huffington Post on Thursday. It looked at apparent expansion in relations between Iran and Turkey, and asked the question of why the mullahs stood by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he faced down a coup attempt. The article points out that relations between the two governments have been strained but have also been improving in line with the increasingly Islamist ideology of Erdogan’s rule. The preservation of that trend was beneficial to Iranian interests in and of itself. But more to the point, Iran’s defense of Turkey has apparently provided the former with leverage in discussions over the future of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The Huffington Post points out that in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, a number of Iranian officials delivered remarks that expressed support for Turkey but also invoked the Syrian crisis and asserted that Iran expected other countries to join in defending supposedly democratically elected governments. One politician even went so far as to say, “The most important thing is that this experience might be an opportunity for Mr. Erdogan to understand the situation in neighboring Syria.”
Of course, not all of Iran’s regional interventions are aimed at preserving elected governments. In Yemen, the Houthi rebellion is understood to have been financed, supported, and perhaps instigated by Tehran, and it is endeavoring to replace the elected government of President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi.
Iran has denied being the driving force behind the rebellion, even as it has levied matching accusations against Saudi Arabia and the West. The Huffington Post notes that some Iranian officials suggested that the attempted coup in Turkey was directly analogous to the British and American orchestrated coup that removed Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh from power in pre-revolutionary Iran.
While most of Iran’s recent accusations against the West have not been as specific as its accusations against Saudi Arabia, various Iranian public statements have made vague references to Western plans for the “soft overthrow” of the regime. Some have even implied more elaborate Iranian suspicions, as when Brigadier General Ali Shadmani, the deputy chief of staff of the Iranian army, said that the Islamic Republic was prepared to destroy any “sedition” that might originate from Western “enemies.”
As Fox News reports, these comments came in the midst of another in a series of attempted shows of force in the Persian Gulf region. “If the enemy makes a small mistake, we will shut the Strait of Hormuz,” Shadmani said, repeating a threat that had been made earlier in this year, amidst other statements suggesting readiness for war on Iran’s part.