In his first extensive comments on the recent protests in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Jan. 9 pointed the finger at the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, saying they planned the unrest.
On Dec. 28, people in the northeastern city of Mashhad took to the streets to express their anger at the government for failing to control the cost of living. The protests — which, according to a number of Iranian officials were initially orchestrated by opponents of moderate President Hassan Rouhani — quickly got out of control and turned into a crisis in many small cities.
On Jan. 2, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani stated in an interview that Saudi Arabia, Israel and a number of Western countries had plotted the unrest. The protests reportedly led to the arrest of thousands of people and the deaths of almost two dozen people, who, according to officials, were killed by “rioters.” Law enforcement officials have said that a large number of those who were arrested have been freed.
In an address in the holy city of Qom on Jan. 9, Khamenei reacted to the protests, differentiating between those who expressed their objections peacefully and those who reportedly destroyed public property. “Regarding the recent events, there have been various analyses," said Khamenei. "There is a correct point commonly made: that is, separating people's honest and rightful demands from the violent and vandalizing moves by a certain group. These two must be separated.”
As noted above, these comments are the supreme leader’s first major reaction to the recent unrest; previously, he had only indicated that “the enemy” was behind the protests and had promised to address the matter “at the right time.”
Khamenei told the crowd in Qom, “That a person is deprived of a right and objects to it, or that protesters — hundreds of people — come together and gather to express their concerns, is one thing. That a number of the people from this gathering misuse this motive to insult the Quran, insult Islam, insult the flag, burn the mosque, commit sabotage or set the country on fire is another thing. The two should not be mixed."
Accusing a foreign trio of planning the unrest, the supreme leader continued, “The plot was made by the Americans and the Zionists [Israel]. They have been plotting for many months to initiate riots in small cities and eventually move toward the center. Money was provided by a wealthy government near the Persian Gulf,” hinting at Saudi Arabia. Khamenei added, “The third side of the triangle consists of the US submissive henchmen: Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, the murderous MEK.”
In a direct hit at US President Donald Trump, who tweeted in favor of the protesters, Khamenei said, “The US president says the Iranian establishment is terrified by their power. Well, if we were so terrified of you, how did we kick you out of Iran in the late '70s and send you packing out of the entire region in the 2010s?” He added, “The US president says the Iranian people are hungry. Don't they see the 50 million Americans or more starving in the United States? Iranian people have lived a life of dignity and honor, and by God's grace their economic problems will be solved.”
Khamenei continued, “US officials have started talking nonsense: The US president says the Iranian establishment is frightened by its people. No. The Iranian establishment was born by these people; it's for the people and relies on them. Why should it be scared of them? If it was not for these people, there wouldn't be an establishment.”
Vowing to retaliate, Khamenei addressed the White House, saying, “The rulers in the United States, firstly, know that they didn’t achieve their goal: They might try to repeat it, but they know that they can never achieve it. Second, they damaged us during these days — they know there will be some sort of retaliation. Third, this man who sits at the head of the White House — although he seems to be a very unstable man — must realize that these extreme and psychotic episodes won't be left without a response.”