Oct. 17 -- Almost from the moment the U.S. announced it had broken up a plot by Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the global media expressed skepticism about the case.
The Saudi-funded media proved a stark exception. As far as those outlets, which dominate the Arabic-speaking world, were concerned, there was little doubt: Iran had been caught red-handed engaging in terrorism, and the repercussions should be severe.
The Saudi-based daily Al-Jazirah editorialized:
It is no longer acceptable to tolerate the evil acts of the Iranian regime, particularly toward neighboring Arab countries that once courted the regime, though they were sure it was carrying out acts that violate international norms and good neighborliness.
Allegations made public last week by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder -- that a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard had directed Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar to assassinate the Saudi envoy -- can only be viewed as the last straw, the paper wrote.
Saudi Arabia, thank God, is capable, thanks to its people and its military capabilities and international standing, of facing this transgression.
Is Saudi Arabia truly able to stand up to Iran? Its forces have performed poorly in recent years just fighting a ramshackle Iranian-linked militia along the border with Yemen. Al-Jazirah seemed a bit uncertain about the kingdom's potency, ultimately concluding:
Everybody, not only the Arab Gulf and other Arab countries, must confront these criminal deeds. The international community must firmly oppose this renegade regime, not only by isolating it but also by getting rid of this regime, which poses a threat to international peace and security.
Other Saudi-based media heartily agreed, with an editorial in the daily Al-Madinah headlined: “Let the International Response to Tehran Be Astounding.”
The paper Al-Watan went so far as to publish a piece by columnist Isa Sawadi predicting that “the conspiracy targeting the Saudi ambassador is bound to fuel an uprising inside Tehran, be it sooner or later. All we have to do is wait to see what the coming days will bring.”
In an accompanying piece, columnist Adwan al-Ahmari declared, “the time has come to cut off Iran’s fingers." There is no difference between Iran and al-Qaeda, he argued, in terms of “targeting and liquidating the innocent.”
Commentators in the Saudi media were so worked up about Iran, they found themselves arguing its behavior was even worse than that of Israel, the usual villain in the Arab media. The assassination plot, wrote columnist Turki Abdullah al-Sudeiri in the pro-monarchy, Saudi-based Al-Riyadh, put Iran in "first position, ahead of Israel in the level of enmity."
Israel is resented for occupying Arab territory. But, wrote al-Sudeiri, "If we were to talk about occupation, we would find that Iran annexed several Gulf positions inside its border through the use of violence.” He wrote that “Iran interfered in Lebanon’s affairs while Israel did not,” ignoring Israel's several invasions of Lebanon and its multi-year occupation of its southern region. He wrote that Iran funded militant extremists recently in Bahrain and instigated violent protests in the eastern, oil-rich areas of Saudi Arabia. “All of this, in addition to other actions in states other than Lebanon, was not done by Israel,” wrote al-Sudeiri.
Outside the Saudi-funded media, the role of Israel played differently. Articulating a sentiment widely expressed in Middle East media critical of U.S. policies, Ibrahim al-Amin wrote in the Beirut-based daily Al-Akhbar that with the publicizing of the assassination plot, the U.S. was setting the stage for a major confrontation -- and possibly a war -- against Iran and its allies. Exhibit A, he said, consisted of initial media reports that the Iranian plot included an attack on the Israeli Embassy. Now, al-Amine said, the Americans are emphasizing the Saudi angle because they "believe this will adversely affect Iran’s image and its Arab and international relationships, and push Saudi Arabia to take additional opposing stands against Iran.”
Meanwhile, as the Saudi print media kept in lock step, denouncing the Iranians for the alleged assassination plot, users of social media in the kingdom had some fun with the scandal. As the week wore on, users of Twitter weighed in with whatever ailed them -- from traffic jams to the failures of the Al-Nasr football club -- claiming Iran was to blame.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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