The story behind the ‘spontaneous’ torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran

IranWire reports: Following the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, January 2, a one-line notice appeared on an Iranian website called Officers of the Soft War. Posted at 5:00 PM, it read, “At 15:00 on Sunday all gather in front of the Al-Zion Stable in Tehran.” The “Al-Zion Stable” was the site’s pejorative term for the Saudi embassy.

The website is an important news and propaganda site for hardline supporters of Iran’s political system. The notice followed its publication of pictures of protests that led to an attack on the Saudi consulate in Mashhad.

But according to another Iranian site, the Tasnim News Agency, some protesters had already gathered in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran by the time the notice went online. They were calling the Saudi royal family “jackals of the Zionists.”

Iran’s Diplomatic Police, who are responsible for protecting diplomatic missions, ended that round of protests. Some of them began to paint over the anti-Saudi graffiti on the embassy walls. Pictures show that by 5:00 PM, at least three layers of Diplomatic Police were protecting the embassy.

But five hours later, the embassy was deserted. It seems embassy staff had predicted that another attack was on its way. But the Diplomatic Police either had no inkling of this, or did not want to show that it knew what would happen next.

At 10:00 PM demonstrators launched a new attack.

Most of the protesters were young, and many carried posters of al-Nimr, one of 47 men executed by the Saudi government on Saturday. Some were armed with stones or bows and arrows, and had covered their faces with Arabic keffiyehs—patterned cloths often associated with Palestinian protestors.

Members of the crowd then set the embassy alight with Molotov cocktails. Photographs from the scene show no shortage of the Diplomatic Police, but one policeman was quoted on social media saying, “we have been told not to obstruct them too much.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times adds: “What group here in Iran benefits politically from storming an embassy?” a former member of the Iranian National Security Council, Aziz Shahmohammadi, asked rhetorically. He was suggesting that the answer lay with the hard-liners — a loose alliance of clerics, ideologues and military commanders. “Such people are even against foreign soccer coaches to train our teams.”

The embassy attack played into their agenda of opposition to President Rouhani, whom Mr. Shahmohammadi said was clearly blindsided by the riot.

“For them, this might lead to electoral gains, an example that Iran is better off isolated. But they are missing the big picture here: We need and want peace and calm,” he said.

The act of cutting ties seems a simple one, but the consequences can be far-reaching. “We are moving increasingly towards conflict,” Mr. Shahmohammadi said.

“This is bad for the entire region — in Syria, in Yemen, and to a lesser extent in Lebanon and Iraq as well,” he added. “Cutting ties is fanning the flames in a region already on fire.” [Continue reading…]

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