In what was clear escalation at the highest level, Tehran, through Iran’s Supreme Leader and president, threatened the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei demanded that Riyadh gives special treatment to citizens of his country, even though he used the term “Shia”. Khamenei said that the Hajj pilgrimage this year is an opportunity that must be benefited from through “being close to the Masjid al Haram, the Prophet’s Mosque, shrines of the Imams of Guidance and the Companions [of the Prophet] in order to strengthen the value of faith and morality and submission to God the Creator.”
As for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he went further than this in the game of allocating clear-cut roles, as he said that the Hajj pilgrimage this year “is an extraordinary opportunity for defending Islamic values and if the Muslims come together, the Iranian pilgrims especially, they will thwart any enemy conspiracies and increase the unity of Muslims.” He reiterated the need to make the most of this [religious] rite in order to be free from those who attribute partners to God. Ahmadinejad concluded his comments with a clear threat to Riyadh saying that if his citizens are not treated in the right way then his country would take the appropriate steps towards Saudi Arabia!
Both statements simply mean that Iran intends to exploit the [Islamic] rite of Hajj this year because of goals and political slogans and this is contradictory to the values and teachings of the Hajj pilgrimage, as there are no sexual acts, no debauch and no arguments in the holy land and during the holy months. Moreover, this holy rite is for worship and not in any way for political exploits.
However, what’s clear to us is that Iran decided on escalation with Saudi Arabia so that it can move on and leave behind its internal crisis and the international pressure that is being put on it. Since the crisis of the last presidential elections, the Iranian regime has been practicing escalation in the media and elsewhere against Saudi Arabia in a continuous manner, as we saw how the Iranian Foreign Minister sought to drag Riyadh’s name [in the mud] in the UN, or via Iranian media, every time international pressure on Tehran regarding the nuclear file negotiations intensified.
The simplest example of this was when the Supreme Leader used the term “Shia” in a clear attempt to mobilise the followers of this sect through inciting sectarianism and this is an Iranian game par excellence that we are witnessing in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and in the Gulf countries.
There is the saying that not every time the jar falls it breaks; but the mistake committed by the Iranians today will have detrimental consequences, as the Iranian threat to exploit the Hajj season is not only incitement against the Saudis but the mistake that Tehran committed in its threat against the Hajj pilgrimage and Saudi Arabia lies in the fact that it incites religious sentiments of Muslims everywhere. Religious sentiment, which Saudi Arabia serves in the best way, is not a platform for slogans and for eliminating opponents; it is a pure place for those performing the circumambulation, those spending the night in worship and those praying to God.
Therefore, the Iranian threat against Saudi Arabia to exploit the Hajj season – unless Iran follows the right approach – means it is a clear Iranian attack on one of Islam’s religious rites and an attack on religious sentiment. This is a very dangerous matter and there will be major consequences, and the Saudis are most aware of this as they have a long history of confronting Iranian attempts to exploit sentiment towards one of the pillars of Islam, i.e. Hajj.