Iran denies links to Saudi-busted ‘terror cell’

Prospects of a Saudi-Iran deescalation appear dimmer as the two sides have entered a fresh episode in their war of words.

al-monitor Saudi policemen stand guard in front of the Public Grievances Department building in Riyadh on March 11, 2011, as Saudi Arabia launched a massive security operation in a menacing show of force to deter protesters from a planned Day of Rage to press for democratic reform in the kingdom. Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 29, 2020

Tehran rejected allegations from Riyadh over a “busted terror cell” that the kingdom says has been nurtured by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh dismissed the accusations as “an old and worthless scenario” that came “in continuum” of similar Saudi claims against Iran in recent years.

Saudi officials announced on Monday the confiscation of weapons from the cell and the arrest of 10 of its members, some of whom received IRGC training inside Iran back in 2017. The Iranian spokesperson said those statements indicated that the Saudi government has “given up political rationality” and advised Saudi officials “to take the path of honesty and wisdom.”

The fresh allegations came less than a week after King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia addressed the United Nations General Assembly with scathing diatribes against Tehran. The 84-year-old monarch slammed what he called Iranian “expansionist” policies in the Middle East and pointed the finger of blame toward the Islamic Republic for “a chaotic and unstable” Middle East. The king's speech was also a plea for a “solution” to curb Tehran’s “support for terrorism.” Iran was quick to slam the statements as “delirium” prompted by the Saudi government’s “consecutive defeats” and an attempt to “evade responsibility over its war crimes against Yemeni women and children.”

During his address, the Saudi king also referenced last year’s attack on the Saudi Aramco oil facility, for which his government, the UN and the United States have implicated Iran and the Tehran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Tehran has denied any role in the incident but has recognized the rebel group’s “right to defend the Yemeni nation against Saudi aggressors.”

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Islamic Republic and the Saudi kingdom have treated one another as almost intolerable regional rivals, with tensions over a host of contentious issues occasionally reaching boiling points. But the two sides have entered an unprecedented escalatory cycle since 2016 after a group of Iranian hard-liners stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

The Iranian government distanced itself from the provocative takeover, accusing “rogue elements” who were infuriated by the Saudi government’s execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Tehran says the Saudi kingdom has shrugged off its multiple offers for unconditional dialogue to talk out the deep-seated differences and reinstate formal diplomatic relations.

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