PHOTO: Tehran Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Emami Kashani
Trying to limit the fallout from last weekend's attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, Iran's clerics suggested on Friday that the "enemy" had staged the protests which burned and ransacked part of the complex.
The attack has fed a dispute within the regime over the downturn in Iran-Saudi relations, including the breaking of diplomatic relations by Riyadh and several other countries. President Rouhani has pressed for an investigation to identify those responsible --- which could include elements within the regime --- while others have tried to maintain the focus on Saudi "crimes", including Riyadh's role in regional crises in Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain.
In the Tehran Friday Prayer, Ayatollah Emami Kashani suggested that Saudi Arabia, seeking a diplomatic row with Iran "from the beginning", and its allies arranged the Embassy assault:
It is clear that the attack on the Saudi embassy in Iran was carried out on behalf of infiltrators. Perhaps they used ignorant people in this attack....[They] guided and led this offense and wanted this to happen in order to throw the ball that had fallen into the Saudi court [with the execution of 47 detainees] back into Iran’s court.
That way the enemy could have the higher hand and could then move to sever diplomatic relations with Iran.
Emami Kashani blamed "young and ignorant rulers" in the region and claimed “three pillars” of “plots” against Islam: Saudi Arabia, "the planners" of Israel, and the "investors" of the US.
The line was echoed in the Friday Prayer in Qazvin. Ayatollah Abedini aruged, “Perhaps the Saudis wanted to commit some mischief from inside the embassy....We do not want officials to underestimate the mischief of America and the Saudis.”
A Week of Turmoil
Hours after Saudi Arabia executed 47 detainees including a prominent Shia cleric last Saturday, a crowd gathered in front of the embassy and threw Molotov cocktails before raiding some offices. The protest appeared to have been supported by elements within the regime, with security being withdrawn just before the demonstrators assembled.
On Sunday, as Saudi Arabia cut relations with Iran, President Rouhani said the attack by "extremists" was "unjustified". Initially, his call was overshadowed by anti-Saudi rhetoric, including the Supreme Leader's equation of Riyadh and the Islamic State.
By the next day, even the Revolutionary Guards were suggesting that the protests were not spontaneous --- as the regime initially claimed --- but organized by some deviant group.
Trying to take control of the issue from hardliners, Rouhani called on the head of judiciary to launch an investigation to identify and punish the perpetrators. At the same time, the Cabinet banned imports from Saudi Arabia.
(Hat tip to Iran Tracker for translations)
Bahrain's Gulf Air Suspends Flights to IranBahrain's Gulf Air has suspended flights to Iran from next Thursday. Mohammad Khodakarami, an official with Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, said Gulf Air had informed the CAO by letter of the cut-off. Last week, Bahrain followed Saudi Arabia in breaking diplomatic relations with Iran. The Saudis have also suspended commercial ties with Tehran. Khodakarami said Gulf Air also requested that all flights by Iranian airlines to Bahrain be suspended from Thursday. Gulf Air currently operates 14 flights each week, with destinations in Tehran, Mashhad, and Shiraz.
Supreme Leader Admits, "Some Iranians Might Not Accept Me"
Urging Iranians to vote in February's elections, the Supreme Leader has made an unprecedented admission, "There might be people not accepting me, but they also participate."
Speaking in the holy city of Qom, Ayatollah Khamenei said before 2013's Presidential ballot that some in Iran might not believe in the Islamic Republic, but this is the first time that he has said they might not accept his leadership.
The February elections are for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the body that chooses the Supreme Leader. They have prompted bitter in-fighting within the regime between hardliners and supporters of President Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The Supreme Leader effectively supported the hardline rhetoric of a "sedition" threatening the Islamic Republic by referring to the disputed 2009 Presidential election and the mass protests that followed it: "The 2009 post-election event was an unsuccessful color revolution coup d'etat."
Like the hardliners, he linked this to a warning about this year's vote:
A widespread front of enemy is standing before us, from heads of the Zionist regime and US Government to Daesh [the Islamic State] and Takfiri agents. All their analyses are focused on ways to uproot the robust tree of the Islamic Revolution.