Iran says it would hit back at nearly all of regional rival Saudi Arabia’s territory with the exception of Islam's holiest places if the Saudis do anything "ignorant."
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s comments on May 7 came after the Saudi deputy crown prince made what Tehran said were "unlawful and inflammatory" remarks accusing Tehran of attempting to dominate the Muslim world and suggesting any battlefield would be inside Iran, not Saudi Arabia.
The semiofficial Tasnim news agency quoted Dehghan as telling Arabic-language Al-Manar TV that "if the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina."
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman on May 2 said any “battle” for influence between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and the Shi'ite theocracy would not take place inside Saudi Arabia.
"We know that the aim of the Iranian regime is to reach the focal point of Muslims [Mecca], and we will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia. We will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia," he said, while ruling out any dialogue with the Iranians.
Iran gave mixed signals after the remarks, first reacting angrily, then saying it was still ready for talks to solve regional issues.
On May 3, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said “these comments are proof that Saudi Arabia supports terrorism and seeks confrontational and destructive policies in the region and towards Iran.”
While Salman leveled many criticisms at Iran's Shi'ite-led government, Qassemi said it is Saudi-backed Wahhabism that has bred "radical ideologies" espoused by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda and that is feeding the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, on May 4 said Tehran has “no desire, nor any interest, in an escalation of tension in our neighborhood” and was open to talks with the Saudis.
U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran have long competed for influence in the Middle East.
The rivalry has played out increasingly in proxy wars across the Middle East. The two countries have supported opposing sides in various regional conflicts, including in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.