Almost immediately after Yemeni fighters launched a missile at Riyadh's airport Nov. 4, Saudi officials and US President Donald Trump both pointed fingers at Iran, saying Tehran was behind the attack. In response, Iranian officials were quick to rebut the allegation.
On Nov. 5, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said, “Shipping missiles to Yemen is not even possible and these missiles that are being launched belong to Yemen, which are rebuilt and have had their range increased to pursue revenge for the blood of their martyrs.”
Describing the Saudi accusations as “provocative,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said Nov. 5, “Our friendly advice to them is to put aside the false accusations and to stop the attacks on the innocent and defenseless Yemenis as soon as possible, and to pave the way for an intra-Yemeni dialogue and to bring peace in Yemen.”
Despite the apparent restraint shown by Iranian diplomats and military commanders alike, the hard-line Kayhan daily chose a headline for its Nov. 6 front page that prompted a dire warning by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Under the headline “The IRGC commander denied Trump’s accusation, but Kayhan affirmed it,” the moderate Entekhab news site wrote Nov. 6 that it was unclear why Hossein Shariatmadari, the Kayhan editor-in-chief who claims he is the only one fighting to maintain Iran's Islamic Revolution, would take an action "that is in the interest of hard-liners in the United States and its president."
Moreover, the moderate Jomhuri-e Eslami newspaper, whose editor-in-chief — just like Kayhan's — is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, slammed the hard-line newspaper for deciding to go with the contentious headline.
“The officials of Islamic Republic have repeatedly announced that they don’t seek a war with any country, though they are always ready to defend the country, the political system and nation, and will respond to any aggression decisively," Jomhuri-e Eslami reported Nov. 7.
The newspaper added, “No one has the right to state or write something that smells of advocacy of war. Such people should know that they are playing in the field of the United States and the Zionist regime [Israel].”
In response to the wave of criticism, Kayhan defended its position, arguing Nov. 7, “Kayhan dedicated the headline of its issue yesterday to the occurrence of [the Yemeni missile attack] and predicted that the next target would be Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, based on Ansar Allah’s threats to fire missiles and such threats coming true in Riyadh. … But some people didn’t like this headline, and some claimed that the headline of Kayhan was against national interests.”
The newspaper, which is a staunch enemy of the moderate administration of President Hassan Rouhani, went on to argue that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance’s warning was done hastily while loud protests by Reformists were based on “ignorance.” The newspaper said, “[They] didn’t pay attention to the clear and obvious matter that what Kayhan chose as its headline was, in fact, the previous threats and promises of Ansar Allah against Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”
Meanwhile, noting Saudi Arabia’s accusation of Iranian involvement in the Nov. 5 missile strike, foreign policy analyst Alireza Bigdeli wrote in the Reformist Arman daily Nov. 6, “Iran needs to be more careful because there are many signs of [the formation of a] triangle of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States — both in our region and in the international arena — to influence the thoughts of the world through misrepresentation of Iran; one [projected] image within this framework is that of Iran as a supporter of terrorism that wants to access the Mediterranean Sea to build military bases in Syria.”
Bigdeli added, “Even comments from senior Saudi officials indicate that they are looking for political and economic instability in Iran to prevent Western investment in Iran and provoke domestic and world public opinion against [Iran].”