On 11 February 2014 a news headline screamed: “IRAN 1979: THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION THAT SHOOK THE WORLD. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, Iran’s Islamic Revolution shocked the world and redrew the map of global alliances.”1

The causes of the revolution lay with the increasingly authoritarian rule and opulent lifestyle of the Shah, who eventually alienated the clergy and the people he ruled over. Riots, strikes, and mass demonstrations led to martial law being imposed and eventually the Shah and his family were forced into exile.

This paved the way for the return of the Islamic fundamentalist, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been living the previous 14 years in exile in Iraq and France for opposing the regime. Soon after his return, a referendum was held and on 1 April 1979, the Islamic Republic was proclaimed. Interestingly, the Soviet Union was the first state to recognise the Islamic Republic.

The storming of the US Embassy in Iran in 1979 [EPA]

The storming of the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979, by Islamic militants, who took 52 Americans hostage, was the start of decades of enmity between the two countries. The American hostages were released in January 1981, ending 444 days in captivity.2

Even to those who weren’t looking for regional changes, the hostage crisis signalled the start of major hostilities between the US, its allies and Iran, resulting in, among other things, decades of sanctions.1

Another feature of Iran’s growing belligerency with its neighbours was the start of the Iran-Iraq war on 22 September 1980; a conflict which lasted for eight years. During this war, the Soviet Union supplied Saddam Hussein with large amounts of conventional arms and this led to the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, deeming Islam principally incompatible with the communist ideals of the Soviet Union (such as atheism) and leaving secular Saddam as an ally of Moscow.

God then turned this anti-Soviet feeling right around. In July 1988, the war with Iraq finished, following negotiations in Geneva under the aegis of the UN. This, combined with the fall of the USSR, witnessed a sudden increase in diplomatic and commercial connections with Moscow. Soon afterwards, Iran began purchasing weapons from Russia.

Further cooperation continued so that by the mid-1990s, Russia had agreed to continue work on developing Iran’s nuclear program, with plans to finish constructing the nearly 20-year delayed nuclear reactor plant of Bushehr.

Today, as confrontation between the United States and Iran escalates, the country is finding itself further pushed into an alliance with China and Russia. Also Iran, like Russia, “views Turkey’s regional ambitions and the possible spread of some form of pan-Turkic ideology with suspicion”.3

Russia and Iran also share a common interest in limiting the political influence of the United States in Central Asia. This common interest has led the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to extend to Iran observer status in 2005, and offer full membership in 2006. Iran’s relations with the organisation, which is dominated by Russia and China, represents the most extensive diplomatic ties Iran has shared since the 1979 revolution. Iran and Russia have co-founded the Gas Exporting Countries Forum with Qatar.1

Unlike previous years, in which Iran’s air fleet was entirely Western made, Iran’s air force and civilian air fleet increasingly became domestically and Russian built, as the US and Europe continued to maintain sanctions on Iran. In 2010, Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment led the UN to pass a new resolution, No 1929, to vote for new sanctions against Iran, which banned the sale of all types of heavy weaponry (including missiles) to Iran. This resulted in the cancellation of the delivery of the S-300 system to Iran.5 In September 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree banning the delivery of S-300 missile systems, armoured vehicles, warplanes, helicopters, and ships to Iran.6

This caused an estimated loss of $13 billion in arms sales to Iran and forced Iran to depend on China for arms. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticised Russia for kowtowing to the United States and as a result of the cancellation, Iran brought a lawsuit against Russia in the Swiss court. In response to the lawsuit, Russia threatened to withdraw diplomatic support for Iran in the nuclear dispute.7

In addition to their trade and cooperation in hydrocarbons, Iran and Russia have expanded trade ties in many non-energy sectors of the economy, including a large agriculture agreement in January 2009, and a telecommunications contract in December 2008.8 In July 2010, Iran and Russia signed an agreement to increase their cooperation in developing their energy sectors. Features of the agreement include the establishment of a joint oil exchange, which, with a combined production of up to 15 million barrels of oil per day has the potential to become a leading market, globally.9 Gazprom and Lukoil have become increasingly involved in the development of Iranian oil and gas projects.4

Relations between Russia and Iran increased favourably between 2010 and 2014, as both countries were under US sanctions and were seeking new trade partners. The two countries eventually signed an historic US$20 billion energy deal in 2014 to bypass Western sanctions.10

Iran constantly chided the West over sanctions until finally Iran and the P5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States plus Germany) and the EU signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 14 July 2015, in Vienna. This deal opened up Iran’s nuclear program to inspectors in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and was hailed by the Obama administration as a great accomplishment. Israel condemned it as the worse deal ever.

Significantly, Russia agreed to the delivery of the S-300 system in 2016, following the JCPOA decision. This cooperation has now continued to develop further, as Brother Andrew Dangerfield’s article in the last Lampstand (page 27) noted; Iran has recently provided Russia facilities at its Hamedan air base to enable it to strike targets in Syria. See map below.11

A still image taken from video footage and released by Russia’s Defence Ministry on August 18 2016, shows a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber landing at an air base near the Iranian city of Hamadan. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS TV.

In contrast to Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran, we have US President Donald Trump threatening to cancel the deal and re-impose sanctions. Whatever the outcome of this posturing, we can expect to see the alliances predicted in Ezekiel 38 strengthening between Russia and Iran.

Iran’s Antagonism with Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king’s official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.12

Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are the two major denominations of Islam. Their division dates back to a Sunni-Shia schism following the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in AD 632. A dispute over succession to Muhammad as caliph of the Islamic community spread across various parts of the world, leading to the battles of Jamal in AD 656 and Siffin in AD 657.

The present demographic breakdown between the two denominations is di cult to assess and varies by source, but a good approximation is that 85-90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, and 10-15% are Shia. Indonesia has the largest number of Sunni Muslims, while Iran has the largest number of Shia Muslims in the world. Pakistan has the second-largest Sunni as well as the second-largest Shia Muslim population in the world.13

For more than 80 years, the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia has fluctuated between belligerence and cooperation.

Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia were cooperative. Ties improved in the 1960s in the face of the threats posed to both by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arabism and by potential Soviet penetration. Another mutual threat was posed by the secular Arab-nationalist Baathists in Iraq, who took power in the 1960s.

After the Iranian revolution in 1979, religion would be at the forefront of Iran’s state identity. Ayatollah Khomeini claimed broad Islamic support for the revolution and was quick to criticise the ‘decadence’ of the Wahhabi Saudi monarchy. The claim that a Shiite theocracy would be the authoritative voice of Islam clashed with the Saudi Kingdom’s assumed religious legitimacy as the guardian of the two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina. Iranian attempts to use the media to mobilise Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority caused further concern in the Kingdom over Iran’s intentions.

When Saddam Hussein made his first state visit to Saudi Arabia in August 1980, he received approval from King Khalid for his plans to invade Iran in the throes of political transition. Saudi Arabia provided billions in financial assistance to Saddam’s campaign and pressed for other Gulf States to follow suit. Direct attacks occurred midway through the war. Iran struck Saudi tankers and the Kingdom responded by shooting down two Iranian jet fighters. In 1987, 275 protesting Iranians were killed in a riot and stampede in Mecca. By the end of the war in July 1988, Iran accepted a ceasefire agreement with Iraq following negotiations in Geneva under the aegis of the UN. An estimated 750,000 Iranians and 500,000 Iraqis had perished, including 95,000 Iranian child soldiers, mostly between the ages of 16 and 17, with some being younger.

After the war, Saudi Arabia attempted to improve relations with Iran, and a period of peace followed.

When Saddam Hussein was toppled from power in 2003, after the US-British invasion, the entire regional dynamic was shaken. The Saudis, along with Saddam Hussein, had been able to present themselves as an e ective counterweight to Iran’s regional ambitions, but the Saudis could no longer rely on this dynamic.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the Iranian presidency in 2005, he promised to revive the ideological vigour of the early years of the revolution. This became evident not only in Iran’s enhanced role in Iraq but in its strengthened relations with the Syrian government, with Hezbollah in Lebanon and with Hamas in the Palestine territories. Ahmadinejad’s support for the Palestinian cause also served to emphasise Saudi inaction over the issue by appealing to the Arab person on the street.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Saudi King Abdullah during Ahmedinejad’s rst visit to Saudi Arabia in 2007

In recent years, Sunni-Shia relations have been increasingly marked by conflict, particularly the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict. Sectarian violence persists to this day from Pakistan to Yemen and is a major element of friction through the Middle East. Tensions between communities have intensified during power struggles, such as the Bahraini uprising, the Iraq War, and most recently the Syrian Civil War; and in the formation of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that has launched genocide against Shias.

Relations between the two regional rivals worsened after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the 2015 Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Iran blamed the disaster on organisers’ incompetence, and boycotted last year’s hajj.

Ties worsened further when Sunni ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shi’ite cleric a year ago. Angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

This interesting headline appeared in the Jerusalem Post:

19/2/2017 SAUDI ARABIA AND ISRAEL ISSUE TWIN WARNINGS ON IRAN

Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Liberman, and Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, each highlighted Iran as the main threat to regional stability on Sunday (19th February, 2017) at the Munich Security Conference, but fell short of saying they would cooperate to thwart Iran. Saudi Arabia retained its caution about being identified with Israel. While Liberman called for an alliance with Sunni states, Jubeir did not directly respond when asked if he envisions a coalition with Israel against Iran.14

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir address the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 19, 2017
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI/DEFENSE MINISTRY/REUTERS)

Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, addressing the conference earlier, struck a conciliatory tone towards Gulf states, saying: “We have to address common problems and perceptions that have given rise to anxieties and the level of violence in the region”.

Jubeir pointedly rejected a new Iranian call for a dialogue with Sunni Arab Gulf states, telling the conference that the Islamic Republic is trying to “upend the order” in the Middle East and seeks the destruction of Saudi Arabia. “The Iranians speak of wanting to turn a new page, wanting to look forward, not backward. This is great, but what about the present?” he asked. “We can’t ignore what they are doing in the region. We can’t ignore their constitution which calls for the export of the revolution. How can we deal with a nation whose intent is to destroy us?”

Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, recently travelled to Oman and Kuwait to try to improve relations. But Jubeir was sceptical of this: “We’re looking for actions, not words. Saying things is one thing and doing something is another. Sending ballistic missiles to the Houthis [in Yemen] are actions, sending weapons in violation of Security Council resolutions to the Houthis is an action, sending Shi’s militias to fight in support of [President Hashar] Assad is action. When you plant terror cells in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and other places, that’s action. And action is more important than words.”

Liberman, meanwhile, accused Iran of trying to undermine Saudi Arabia and termed Major General Qassem Aoleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force, “the No.1 terrorist in the world”. “If you ask me”, he said, “What is the biggest news in the Middle East? I think that [for] the first time since 1948, the moderate Arab world, Sunni world, understands that the biggest threat for them is not Israel, not Jews and not Zionism, but Iran and Iranian proxies”, Liberman said, pointing to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and the Houthi militia in Yemen.14

We can see how the Word of God is being fulfilled before our very eyes. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Muscat, Oman, and Yemen are the Sheba and Dedan of Ezekiel 38:13 and their destiny will be to protest the Russian-led alliance in the latter days. Deteriorating relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are pushing each country further apart into the arms of Russia and the West respectively.

Behind all these developments is the steady hand of our Lord, outworking his Father’s purpose amongst the nations, preparing them for the great day of God Almighty. May that time of manifestation soon come when the glory of Yahweh will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

References:

  1. Source www.aljazeera.com
  2. Adapted from Iran profile – timeline – BBC news 14/1/2017
  3. Herzig Edmund, “Iran and the former Soviet South,” Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1995, ISBN 1 – 899658 – 04 – 1, p.9
  4. Iran-Russia relations – Wikipedia 14/1/2017
  5. John Pike “Analysts Say Iran-Russia Relations Worsening” globalsecurity.org.
  6. RIA Novosti, 22/9/2010
  7. Strokan, Sergey. “Russia and Iran: Heading toward a political earthquake?” (http:rt.com/politics/columns/sergey-strokan-column/Russia-iran-nuclear-missile) RT, 15 August 2012
  8. Tehran Times.
  9. “Iran Investment Monthly Aug 2010.pdf ” (PDF) Turquoisepartners.com
  10. https://knowledge.energyinst.org/Energy…/search-results?
  11. www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-russia-iran-idUSKBN15Q0CR?il=0
  12. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-fact-book/geos/sa.html
  13. Shia – Sunni relations – Wikipedia
  14. www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Saudi-Arabia-Israel-present-de-facto-united-front-against-Iran-481996