Middle East

Iran calls for regional unity, slams Saudi line

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for unity in the Middle East Monday, a conciliatory message that contrasted starkly with another senior figure who accused Saudi Arabia of “heresy and deception.

”Relations between the two major Gulf powers have been strained by anti-government demonstrations in Bahrain which neighbor Saudi Arabia helped put down by sending in troops.

At a parade to mark the annual army day, Ahmadinejad said events had shown Washington had failed to dominate the region, where uprisings have taken place against several U.S.-backed governments, and he issued a plea for “honest unity.”

“Safety and stability of the region depends on honest unity and cooperation between nations and leaders in the region,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech.

But at the same event, where military hardware and troops paraded past the top brass, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s senior military adviser said Iran’s anger at Riyadh’s intervention in Bahrain had not diminished.

“The presence of Saudi forces in Bahrain to suppress the Bahraini people is against international law and is a kind of military interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain which is condemned from the international law standpoint,” Yahya Rahim-Safavi, former chief of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, told reporters.

“The presence and behavior of Saudi Arabia is a kind of ignoble heresy,” he said, adding: “The same fate might happen to the country itself and under the same pretext Saudi Arabia might be attacked.”

The war of words between Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim-dominated country in the region and an arch foe of the U.S., and the Sunni Gulf Arab monarchies which are allied to Washington, has intensified in recent days.

Saudi Arabia’s top cleric last week accused Iran of interfering in other countries’ affairs and accused it of “hypocrisy and deception.”

While showing off its military strength, Iran has stressed it had no bellicose intentions against its Arab neighbors, despite being characterized as a major threat by Israel which believes Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, a charge it denies.

The commander of Iran’s army said it planned to extend the range of its naval operations, a weeks after it sent two navy ships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a move Israel described as a “provocation.”

“As you observe today Iran has opened a footing in the Mediterranean Sea area, and in the same way that foreign forces enter our region so can we enter international waters,” Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

“We intend to double the range of our water presence twice what it is now,” he said.

Tehran arrests five Sunni rebels: report

TEHRAN: Iranian security forces have arrested five members of Sunni militant group Jundallah in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, the official IRNA news agency reported Monday.

“A [Jundallah] terrorist ring with the intention of destabilizing the region was identified and obliterated,” the agency reported quoting the provincial intelligence department as saying.

“Five terrorists were arrested along with four explosive vests and some ammunition,” the report said.

IRNA did not say when and where the arrests had been made.

The shadowy Jundallah (Army of God), whose leader Abdolmalek Rigi was hanged in June 2010, has been waging a deadly insurgency in southeastern Iran for almost a decade.

The group has claimed several attacks against civilians and officials in Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, including a December 15 suicide bombing in the city of Chabahar that killed 39 people.

Iranian officials charge that the group is receiving support from the intelligence services of the United States, Britain and Pakistan.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2011, on page 9.

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