Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's September 5, 2016 message for the annual Hajj pilgrimage was particularly anti-Saudi in tone; in it, he called on the countries in the region, and on all Muslim countries, to recognize the true nature of the Saudi rulers, and described them idolaters, infidels, criminals, and servants of the American Satan and the Zionists, and saying that they act in this Satan's name, murder Muslims in the region, and deliberately caused the deaths over the years of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, most of them Iranian. He also called on the Islamic world to rethink whether Saudi Arabia should continue to administer these holy sites. Khamenei's message was posted on his website along with images showing his hostility towards the Al-Saud dynasty, which he referred to as "the accursed tree" (see Appendix).
It should be mentioned that this year Iranian pilgrims are barred from making pilgrimages to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia. Following the 2015 stampede in Mina, in which over 1,000 pilgrims, mostly Iranians, died, the Iranian regime accused the Al-Saud royal family of responsibility for the disaster. After Saudi Arabia and Iran failed to reach a deal on arrangements for Iranians to attend this year's pilgrimage, the two countries traded accusations on who was to blame for the impasse. The Saudi regime stated that the Iranian delegation to the talks had made unreasonable demands in an attempt to politicize the Hajj. The Iranian authorities, for their part, announced that this year Iranians would not perform the pilgrimage. It should also be noted that, in early January 2016, Saudi Arabia announced that it was cutting off relations with Iran, after Iranian protestors stormed and set fire to Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran following Saudi Arabia's execution of senior Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr.
Khamenei's virulent anti-Saudi comments came the day after Expediency Council Chairman and pragmatic camp leader Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized Khamenei's policy vis-à-vis both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In his September 5 Hajj message, Khamenei reiterated the two main pillars of this policy - political conflict with the U.S. and with Saudi Arabia.
Khamenei's statements provoked harsh responses from Saudi officials. They stressed that Saudi Arabia has always allowed all pilgrims to carry out the Hajj, and that Iranian pilgrims are prevented from doing so this year as a result of the Iranian regime's unreasonable demands and its attempts to politicize the Hajj ceremonies. The Saudi mufti even said that Iranians "are not Muslims, but rather Zoroastrians, and that their hostility towards the Muslims, particularly the Sunnis, is ancient." The Saudi press published many cartoons and images condemning Khamenei and the Iranian regime (see Appendix).
The following are excerpts from statements by Iranian and Saudi officials.
Rafsanjani Criticizes Khamenei's Militant Attitude Regarding Saudi Arabia And U.S.
On September 4, 2016, Rafsanjani's website published a recent interview with him in which he challenged Khamenei's policy vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Rafsanjani noted that Americans are human and wish to maintain relations with Iran. With regard to Saudi Arabia, he clarified that Iran must first of all conduct itself appropriately and morally - hinting that it is Tehran that should extend the hand of friendship to Riyadh.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Question: "Regarding Saudi Arabia and the current situation, who should reach out in friendship? You have said several times that it was you who reached out in friendship to the late [Saudi] King 'Abdallah, and that they [the Saudis] welcomed this..."
Rafsanjani: "If I were president - I don't mean right now - had I been president at that time, I would not have seen a problem with this issue. Presently, [Iranian President Hassan] Rohani is not in the same position I was. This [dialogue with Saudi Arabia] is possible and I think it is not so hard to get Saudi Arabia to accept [Iran's] authority. Saudi Arabia understands that there is nothing to gain from a conflict with Iran, and has already realized that it is helpless in Yemen, and that it is suffering humiliation after humiliation there. A country with so many weapons and so many divisions and soldiers can accomplish nothing besides killing people. Ultimately, it will wise up. In any case, we must conduct ourselves appropriately and morally, and then act [to repair relations]...
"The Americans are humans too, and they have certain interests. They want us to work with them. The American people want us to work together. They are afraid [of a scenario in which] we are not working with them and no sanctions [remain]; then, Russia, China, and India [will be] potential [candidates] for cooperation with Iran. They are doing all these calculations, and I think there is a chance that they will make up for [how they acted in the past]."
Khamenei In Hajj Message: The Saudis Are Infidels, Idolaters, And Killers Of Muslims; They Encourage Terrorism And Operate According To U.S., Zionist Dictates
The following day, on September 5, 2016, Supreme Leader Khamenei published his Hajj message. Following are excerpts from Khamenei's Hajj message, from his English-language website:
"...Those who have reduced Hajj to a religious-tourist trip and have hidden their enmity and malevolence towards the faithful and revolutionary people of Iran under the name of 'politicizing hajj' are themselves small and puny Satans who tremble for fear of jeopardizing the interests of the Great Satan, the U.S.
"Saudi rulers, who have obstructed the path of Allah and Masjid ul-Haraam [i.e. the Mecca Grand Mosque] this year and who have blocked the proud and faithful Iranian pilgrims' path to the Beloved [God's] House, are disgraced and misguided people who think their survival on the throne of oppression is dependent on defending the arrogant powers of the world, on alliances with Zionism and the U.S., and on fulfilling their demands. And on this path, they do not shy away from any treason.
"Almost one year has now passed since the horrifying events in Mina, as a result of which several thousand people tragically lost their lives - under the hot sun with thirsty lips - and this happened on the day of Eid while they were in the clothes of ihram [i.e. pilgrimage clothes]. Shortly before that, another group of people was crushed to death in Masjid ul-Haraam while they were worshiping and performing tawaf and salat [Hajj rituals].
"Saudi rulers were at fault in both cases. This is what all those present, observers, and technical analysts agree upon. Some experts maintain that the events were premeditated. The hesitation and failure to rescue the half-dead and injured people, whose enthusiastic souls and enthralled hearts were accompanying their praying tongues on [the] Eid ul-Adha [holiday], is also obvious and incontrovertible. The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers - instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst. They murdered them.
"Several thousand families from different countries lost their loved ones, and their nations were bereaved. From the Islamic Republic [of Iran], close to 500 people were among the martyrs. The hearts of their families are still broken and bereaved and our people remain grief-stricken and angry.
"Instead of apology and remorse and judicial prosecution of those who were directly at fault in that horrifying event, Saudi rulers - with utmost shamelessness and insolence - refused to allow the formation of an international Islamic fact-finding committee.
"Instead of being tried as the accused, they acted like the plaintiff and with increased malice and vileness, they revealed their long-standing enmity towards the Islamic Republic and towards any flag of Islam raised to confront kufr [heresy] and arrogance.
"Their propaganda mouthpieces - from the politicians whose behavior towards the Zionists and the U.S. is a source of disgrace for the world of Islam, to impious and haraam-eating [i.e. eaters of foods forbidden in Islam] muftis who blatantly issue fatwas against the Book [i.e., the Koran] and Sunnah, and to media minions who are not even deterred by codes of professional conduct from spreading and telling lies - are making futile efforts to show that the Islamic Republic is at fault for depriving Iranian pilgrims of this year's Hajj pilgrimage.
"The fitna-promoting rulers, who by forming and arming wicked takfiri groups have plunged the world of Islam into civil wars, murdering and injuring the innocent and shed blood in Yemen, Iraq, the Levant, Libya and other countries - the godless politicians who have extended the hand of friendship towards the Zionist regime, have closed their eyes on the Palestinians' sufferings and heartrending tragedies and have spread their oppression and betrayal to the cities and villages of Bahrain - the irreligious and unconscionable rulers who gave rise to the great tragedy in Mina and in the name of being servants of the two holy places, sacrificed divine sanctity and God's guests on the day of Eid in Mina and in Masjid ul-Haraam shortly before that - these same people are now claiming the need to avoid politicizing Hajj and are accusing others of the great sins that they themselves have committed and caused.
"They are the perfect example of the enlightening Koranic description: 'And when he turns his back, his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and to destroy crops and cattle and Allah does not love mischief. And when it is said unto him: Be careful of your duty to Allah, pride takes him to sin. Hell will settle his account, an evil resting-place' (Koran, Al-Baqara, Verses 205-206).
"Based on reports, this year as well, besides barring the participation of Iranian pilgrims and pilgrims from certain other countries, they have placed pilgrims from the participating countries under unprecedented surveillance, with the help of the spy agencies of the U.S. and the Zionist regime. They have made the divine sanctuary unsafe for everybody.
"The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarize themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent, and materialistic nature. They must not let those rulers escape responsibility for the crimes they have caused throughout the world of Islam.
"Because of these rulers' oppressive behavior towards God's guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of Hajj. Negligence in this regard will confront the Islamic Ummah with more serious problems in the future.
"Muslim brothers and sisters! This year enthusiastic and sincere Iranian pilgrims are absent from the Hajj ceremonies, but they are spiritually present among the pilgrims from different parts of the world and they are concerned about them and they pray that the evil progeny of the taghut [infidel tyrants] do not succeed in harming them."
Khamenei: "The Hated Saudis Are A Group Within The Islamic World, And Some Of Its Members... Act Against The Muslims"
Two days later, on September 7, Khamenei reiterated his anti-Saudi statements, at a meeting with families of victims of the Mina stampede. He repeated his accusation that the Saudi rulers are not acting like true Muslims or for the benefit of the Arabs, but rather are collaborating with the U.S. against the true Muslims - i.e. the Shi'ites - while it is Iran that is acting according to the Koran and for the benefit of the Arabs. He also reiterated his claim that the Mina stampede was deliberately caused, and called for removing the administration of the Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia from the hands of the Al-Saud family.
Following are excerpts from his remarks:
"The Mina disaster shows again that Saudi Arabia - the criminal and accursed tree - is unfit to administer the holy sites, and this should be realized by all in the Islamic world. If Saudi Arabia is right [by insisting] that it is not responsible [for the disaster], then it must allow a true Islamic and international team to come in, to scrutinize the situation, and to clarify the matter. Saudi Arabia must not use [its] money to shut mouths...
"The brave Iranian nation is standing fast against Saudi Arabia's stupidity and confusion, and proudly states its positions, which stem from the Koran. Other nations and countries must also show courage and must grab the Saudis by the throat...
"The supporters of the Saudi regime are accessories to the crimes of this regime and to the Mina disaster. The dishonorable Saudi regime relies on American support, and is brazenly standing against Muslims and spilling their blood in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Bahrain. Therefore, America and other supporters of Riyadh are accessories to the Saudi crimes.
"The propaganda apparatuses that the [Saudis] control are attempting to depict the Mina disaster as [just] another Shi'ite-Sunni or Arab-non-Arab dispute. The Saudi rulers' propagandists repeat this lie [as well] - even though most of the 7,000 Mina martyrs were Sunnis, including those from Iran...
"Al-Saud, and the terrorist elements that it created, are drowning the Arabs in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq in blood and ashes. That is why, in contrast to the criminal Western propaganda, Saudi Arabia is not supporting the Arabs, and the Mina affair has nothing to do with some fabricated media clash between Arabs and non-Arabs...
"The truth is that the hated Saudis are a group within the Islamic world, and that some of its members, knowingly or not, are acting against the Muslims. The Islamic world must stand against them and express disgust with the Saudi bosses - that is, the criminal America and England.
"The various [Iranian regime] apparatuses, including the Foreign Ministry, the Hajj [and Pilgrimage] Organization, and the Martyrs Foundation [Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs], need to deal seriously with the Mina disaster, and fully carry out their duty [in this regard]."
Iranian President Rohani: Saudi Arabia Commits Crimes In The Region, Supports Terrorism, And Spills Muslim Blood - And It Must Be Punished
On this issue, Rafsanjani's protégé, Iranian President Hassan Rohani, aligned with Khamenei, and at a September 7, 2016 government meeting made harsh statements about Saudi Arabia. He said that the country was spilling Muslim blood in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen and bombing it cruelly, and demanded that it be punished. Following are excerpts from his statements:
"If the problem with the Saudi regime was just the issue of the Hajj and [the] Mina [disaster], then maybe we could have solved it. But, unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is committing crimes in the region, supporting terrorism, and spilling Muslim blood in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, cruelly bombing women and children in Yemen every day.
"The problem with Saudi Arabia is greater than just issues such as the Hajj. Countries in the region and the Islamic world should coordinate measures for solving the existing problems, and should punish the Saudi government. If that happens, the Hajj pilgrimage can be made genuinely and honorably, in Mecca, Medina, and the holy sites, and the countries in the region will be saved from the terrorism backed by the Saudi regime and the Yemeni people can live in peace and security."
Rohani also stressed that Iran would continue to support "Muslims and oppressed people throughout the world" and added that in the near future, there would be security in all the countries of the region, particularly Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Cartoon on Iranian Tasnim website: "The Blind Murderer - last year, over 6,000 died in the Mina disaster, and Saudi Arabia is still falsely reporting that only 700 were martyred" (Tasnimnews.com, September 5, 2016)
Khamenei Advisor: Al-Saud Regime Serves America, Zionists
On September 6, 2016, Khamenei's international affairs advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, called Khamenei's statements about Saudi Arabia resolute and decisive. He added that the Al-Saud regime was an accomplice to the shedding of Muslim blood in the region, and that Saudi Arabia had sent its mercenaries, that is, ISIS, to the region. Velayati also accused the Saudis of attempting to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and of supporting Wahhabi extremism, and said that instead of serving the holy sites, they serve America and the Zionists.
Saudi Responses To Khamenei's Statements
Saudi Crown Prince: The Iranian Regime Is Seeking To Politicize The Hajj
The day after Khamenei's Hajj message was released, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Naif responded to Iran's statement that it is the Saudis who are not allowing Iranian pilgrims to make the Hajj, stressing that since its establishment, the kingdom allowed all pilgrims to carry out the Hajj and that Iranian pilgrims are prevented from doing so this year as a result of the Iranian regime's desire to politicize the Hajj:
"Since its establishment, Saudi Arabia has served the two holy sites [Mecca and Medina], taking care of [all] those interested in making the pilgrimage to them, and providing everything they need to carry out this supreme mission... What was said in the Iranian media and by some Iranian officials is not credible or objective. They [the Iranians] know full well that Saudi Arabia has facilitated Iranian pilgrims just like other pilgrims - but that this year, the Iranian Hajj delegation made demands that contradict the purpose of the Hajj and the obligations of other Hajj delegations. These [demands] jeopardize the security of Hajj and the pilgrims, including the Iranian pilgrims, and also violate the sanctity of the place and the time.
"Saudi Arabia will absolutely not allow Iran or its ilk to do anything that... that will violate the Hajj ceremonies, undermine security, or [negatively] impact the lives and safety of the pilgrims. It is elements in Iran that do not want the Iranian pilgrims to come, due... to their desire to politicize the Hajj and transform it into slogans that contradict the teachings of Islam and harm the security of the Hajj and of the pilgrims..."
Mufti Of Saudi Arabia: Iranians Are Not Muslims
In an interview with the official Saudi daily Makkah, 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, mufti of Saudi Arabia and head of its Council of Senior Scholars, had harsh words for Khamenei and the Iranian regime: "Khamenei's attack on Saudi Arabia and his questioning of the special measures it undertakes during the Hajj are unsurprising. We must understand that they are not Muslims, but rather Zoroastrians, and that their hostility towards the Muslims, particularly the Sunnis, is ancient. Anyone attempting to harm the service that Saudi Arabia [does] for the Hajj and the pilgrims... will be unsuccessful..."
Saudi Arabia's Council Of Senior Scholars: "Islam Does Not Accept Iranian Regime's Attempts To Harm And Curse The Hajj Ceremony"
Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars itself also criticized Khamenei on Twitter, and expressed support for the Saudi policy vis-à-vis the Iranian demands: "Islam does not accept the Iranian regime's attempts to harm and curse the Hajj ceremony. Moreover, these attempts constitute harm to Hajj sites and rituals. The Council of Senior Scholars supports Saudi Arabia's permanent policy to ban any element from ruining the Hajj atmosphere, harming the safety of the pilgrims, or attempting to damage Islamic unity. [To maintain] the security of the [Saudi] state and its holy sites, we cannot allow any action or behavior to overshadow this atmosphere of faith, harm public interests, or offend Muslims."
Appendix: Images On Khamenei's Website Express His Anti-Saudi Message; Saudi Press Responds To His Statements With Anti-Iran Cartoons
Images on Khamenei's Website
As noted, Khamenei's Hajj message was posted along with a series of images on September 5 visually expressing his anti-Saudi sentiment:
"Preventing God's Will: This year, the Saudis prevented God's will and barred the brave and pious Iranian pilgrims from travelling to the house of God [the Grand Mosque]. They are humiliated deviants who see their calling in an alliance with the Zionists and Americans, and make efforts to carry out their will"
"This year, the Saudis, in addition to blocking pilgrims from Iran and from some other countries, have turned the safe house of God into an unsafe place, together with the American and Zionist espionage apparatuses"
Image shows Saudi mufti hiding behind the face of Saudi foreign minister, accompanied by text: "Useless efforts by Saudi rulers to paint Iran as the guilty party: The voices of their propaganda - from politicians to muftis who are not religious and eat [forbidden] foods and issue fatwas contrary to the Koran and Sunnah and their servants in the media - are all engaged in a useless effort to blame Iran for the ban on Iranian pilgrims during this year's Hajj"
"The Accursed Tree [Al-Saud family]: We pray that the tyrannical accursed tree does not succeed in causing damage to pilgrims from around the world" (image features the hashtag "Al-Saud Hijacks Hajj")
"The Hajj is the place to show aversion to infidels and unity to the pious: A unified Islamic Hajj embodies [the verse] 'be harsh with the infidels and merciful with each other.' This is the place to show aversion to the infidels and a united alliance with the pious"
Saudi Cartoons Slamming Khamenei And Iranian Regime
The Saudi press responded to Khamenei's statements with numerous cartoons, infographics and illustrations condemning him and the Iranian regime in general. Below are several examples:
Illustration accompanying 'Okaz article titled "Iran - World Champion in Executions and Racism" ('Okaz, Saudi Arabia, September 8, 2016)
Infographic: "The Supreme Leader Gains Wealth while the Iranians Get Poorer. Khamenei - an Empire of Plunder." ('Okaz, Saudi Arabia, September 8, 2016)
Khamenei uses Iranian pilgrims to harm Saudi Arabia ('Okaz, Saudi Arabia, September 9, 2016)
Iran uses Iranian pilgrims to "politicize the Hajj" (Makkah, Saudi Arabia, September 10, 2016 )
Cartoon in Government daily Al-Jazirah: Iran uses its serpent's tongue to "ignite sectarianism" (Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, September 11, 2016)
 Farsi.khamenei.ir, September 5, 2016.
 ISNA (Iran), May 30, 2016.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6251 Iran Furious Over Saudi Arabia's Execution Of Shi'ite Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, January 4, 2016; Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No 1215 Unprecedented Tension Between Saudi Arabia, Iran Following Execution Of Shi'ite Cleric Nimr Al-Nimr, January 4, 2016; and Special Dispatch No. 6260, Saudi-Iranian Tensions As Depicted In Cartoons, January 13, 2016.
 It should be noted that the conflict with the U.S. also includes military aspects. There have been numerous recent reports of incidents involving speedboats belonging to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confronting American ships in the Persian Gulf. The most recent incident, reported by the Pentagon in early September 2016, involved IRGC speedboats chasing off an American ship in the Gulf; preceding that were four similar incidents in August alone. The September incident is the 31st this year. Nytimes.com, August 25, 2016; Navytimes.com, September 6, 2016;. The conflict with Saudi Arabia also has military aspects, albeit indirect ones, via pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
 Hashemirafsanjani.ir, September 4, 2016.
 English.khamenei.ir, September 5, 2016.
 Farsi.khamenei.ir, September 7, 2016.
 Tasnim (Iran), September 7, 2016.
 Tasnim (Iran), September 6, 2016.
 Al-Iqtisadiyya (Saudi Arabia), September 6, 2016.
 Makkah (Saudi Arabia), September 5, 2016.
 Twitter.com/ssa_at, September 9, 2016.
 Fars.khamenei.ir, September 5, 2016.