Iran deflected accusations by Saudi Arabia and Israel that it was destabilising the Middle East, calling the two “US client states” who were trying to gloss over their “poor choices” and “strategic blunders”.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in blaming Iran for rising regional tensions, at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.
Jubeir called for “fundamental change in the Iranian regime” after Netanyahu labelled Iran as “the greatest threat to the world” and accused it of trying to impose an “empire” across the Middle East.
Mohammed Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said in his speech that criticism of his country’s policies in the Middle East had become “obsessive” and denied attempts to become a “hegemon.
“The US and its local clients in our region are suffering from the consequences of their own wrong choices,” said Zarif. “But they use this and other fora to revive the hysteria on Iran’s foreign policy and try to obscure its realities.”
Zarif’s list of such “poor choices” included backing US support for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the US invasion of Iraq to remove Hussein in 2003, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen.
The war of words came in the wake of the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iran in recent years, when Israel launched “large scale” raids against Iranian targets inside Syria on February 10, after accusing Tehran of sending an unmanned drone into its airspace from Syria.
Israel fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or transfer weapons to the Lebanese Shia group, Hezbollah. Iran began intervening in Syria’s civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015.
Iran’s involvement in the long-running wars in Syria and Yemen has also angered its regional rival, Saudi Arabia, which is fighting against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Jubeir said “problems in the Middle East began” with the Iranian revolution of 1979, which he said “unleashed sectarianism” in the region.
The events of 1979 led to the establishment of Hezbollah, which is “the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisation”, Jubeir said. He then condemned Iran for arming the Houthis, a claim Tehran has previously denied.
“We didn’t attack Iran,” Jubeir said. “Iran is the one that is attacking us. Iran has started to undermine Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, including countries in Africa.”
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu compared Iran to Nazi Germany, saying it advocates “master faith” as the Nazis advocated “master race”.
Holding up a piece of what he said was the Iranian drone shot down over Israeli airspace, Netanyahu also urged global action against Iran.
“We will act without hesitation to defend ourselves, and we will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself,” the Israeli leader warned.
Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s speech as “a cartoonish stunt” that did not deserve a response.
He called for a new security approach in the Gulf region based on dialogue.
“We want a strong region, we do not want to be the hegemon in the region as we believe the era of hegemony is long past – regionally as well as globally,” he said.
“A strong region where small and large nations – even those with historical rivalries – can contribute to stability.”
‘Everybody to blame’
Andreas Kreig, a defence and security analyst, told Al Jazeera there was a strategic alignment between former foes, Israel and Saudi Arabia, vis-a-vis Iran.
“There’s a lot of tension in the Middle East and the tension now is not so much between Israel and the Arab world, but more between those who support Iran and those who are against Iran,” said Kreig.
“The Saudis are now on the side of the Israelis, trying to somewhat gather support, especially in Washington, DC, for a potential preliminary attack against Iran.”
Israel and Saudi Arabia’s speeches were aimed at garnering support from neoconservatives and Republicans in the US, Kreig said.
“Iran has been cast in the role of the bad guy when everybody is to blame for where we are at the moment, and what is needed is dialogue rather than confrontation.”