Tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran has severely worsened recently following two major events: The Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on September 21, 2014, as well as of strategic sites on the shores of the Red Sea; and fears in Saudi Arabia regarding major concessions by the P5+1 group to Iran leading up to the singing of a permanent nuclear agreement.
However, unlike in the past, this time tension between the countries boiled over to the point of mutual recriminations in the political and diplomatic arena. Thus, for example, some interpreted the death sentence handed down by a Saudi court to Shi'ite oppositionist Nimr Baqr Al-Nimr as an anti-Iranian move. The same goes for the dramatic drop in global oil prices, which was interpreted by Iran and many analysts in the Arab world as a move meant to harm the Iranian economy.  One expression of the escalation in tension is the widespread coverage given in recent weeks by Saudi media, particularly the official daily Al-Watan, to the issue of persecuted ethnic minorities in Iran, chiefly the Sunni Baluchi, Kurdish, and Ahwazi minorities. This coverage includes many reports, articles and interviews dealing with these minorities, putting an emphasis on their "oppression" and the "inhuman acts" they are subject to by the Iranian regime.
Thus, for example, Al-Watan featured an article on Iran's racist discriminatory policy regarding Sunnis, and contrasted the policy of Iran, which, it said, "leads its Sunni students to the gallows," with policies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states - which invest in educating youth regardless of their ethnicity and "make sure to grant scholarships to Shi'ite students." An opinion piece in the official Saudi daily Al-Jazirah also compared the treatment of Shi'ite minorities in Saudi Arabia with that of Sunni minorities in Iran. The piece claimed that Iran employs a policy of oppression and persecution of the Ahwazi Sunni Arabs, which is expressed by attempts to eliminate their Arab identity, suppress their Sunni faith, culturally oppress them with a ban on speaking and studying Arabic, and steal the natural resources in their territory.Another article in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh claimed that Iran's Sunnis "suffer marginalization, security scrutiny, persecution, arrests, and torture, in addition to not being allowed to conduct their rituals and build mosques." The official Saudi daily Makkah likewise published, on November 29, 2014, an article condemning Iran's "racist policy" towards minorities living in its territory, which, it said, is manifested in arrests, torture and executions.
In addition to reports and articles, Saudi media provided a pulpit for spokesmen for Iran's ethnic minorities, who spoke at length about their harsh oppression, which included usurpation of rights, persecution, and execution. In October 2014, the official Saudi daily Al-Watan conducted a series of interviews with these spokesmen, including with the leader of the National Organization for the Liberation of Ahwaz, also known as HAZM, and with the head of HAZM's executive committee; with Saeed Hamidan, executive director of the Ahwaz Organization for the Defense of Human Rights;and with officials in the Kurdish PJAK organization.These spokesmen complained of "the denial of minority rights in Iran," and of "racist treatment" and even "executions," "crimes against humanity," "ethnic cleansing," and "mass extermination" carried out against them.
Moreover, Saudi media also spotlighted spokesmen from armed opposition groups working against Iran, which seems to grant Saudi legitimization and support for anti-Iranian military action. Thus, for instance, on October 25, 2014, the website for the Saudi channel Al-Arabiya interviewed the head of the armed Baluchi group Jaish Al-'Adl (the Army of Justice), Salah Al-Din Farooqi, who said that his organization "will continue armed action [against Iran] so long as the Baluchi people and [Iran's] Sunnis are subject to oppression, discrimination, and marginalization at the hands of Iranian authorities."
Al-Watan also published an interview with Jaish Al-'Adl commander Farooqi on October 27, 2014, in which he revealed that his group downed an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) jet over Baluchistan on October 11, 2014, killing seven high-ranking IRGC officers. It should be mentioned that Iranian media reported that a mechanical failure caused the plane to crash.
From Al-Arabiya interview with Jaish Al-'Adl leader
It seems that the intense Saudi media coverage of ethnic minorities in Iran, specifically Al-Watan's Farooqi interview, in which he claimed responsibility for downing the Iranian jet, outraged the Iranian authorities. Al-Watan even explicitly stated that its intense coverage of persecuted ethnic minorities in Iran angered the regime there. According to the paper, the Farooqi interview "embarrassed the Iranian regime in front of Iranian public" and "in response, the IRGC issued a furious communiqu├® threatening Saudi media to stop spotlighting the issue of minorities..."Conversely, it seems that Iran's ethnic minorities are pleased at being given a pulpit. Al-Watan reported that its editor received a letter from HAZM thanking the daily in the name of "the Ahwazi Arab people" for its coverage and for its "stand for Iran's oppressed and weak."
Ahwazi organization's letter to Al-Watan editor (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, October 30, 2014)
It should be mentioned that Saudi media has always featured allegations of Iranian interference in Saudi Arabia's internal affairs and Iranian attempts to incite Saudi Shi'ites against local authorities, and that it has featured numerous articles calling to answer Iran in kind by supporting the ethnic minorities there. This recent trend in Saudi media appears to be an implementation of this stance.
On October 19, 2014, as part of the aforementioned series of interviews with spokesmen of Iran's ethnic minorities, Al-Watan published an interview with HAZM leader Habib Jaber. HAZM is an umbrella organization of several popular Ahwaz liberation movements that has been operating openly in Egypt since January 15, 2010. In the interview, Jaber stated that Iran had already implemented the bulk of its expansionist plan, which involves interfering in the internal affairs of Arab and Gulf states by inciting Shi'ite minorities in these countries against the Sunni regimes and by positioning Iranian loyalists in key positions. Jaber also justified the Saudi court's death sentence issued against senior Shi'ite cleric and oppositionist Nimr Baqr Al-Nimr, arguing that Iran executes Arabs without trial on far less serious charges than those brought against Al-Nimr.
Also, Jaber called on the Gulf states to support minorities in Iran, including the Arabs of Ahwaz, whom he said are heavily oppressed by Iran's Shi'ite regime, and added that support for those minorities would give Iran a taste of its own medicine by igniting conflict within its borders, just as Iran ignites conflicts in other countries.
The following is a translation of the article:
Arabs Should Support Ethnic Minorities In Iran To Fan Conflicts There, Just As Iran Is Doing In Arab Countries
"The head of the National Organization for the Liberation of Ahwaz [HAZM], Habib Jaber, expressed surprise that Iran defended Nimr Al-Nimr, whom a Saudi court sentenced to death last week 'as a warning [to others].' In a phone conversation with Al-Watan, Jaber said that if an Ahwaz resident had said in Iran what Al-Nimr said [in Saudi Arabia], [the regime] in Tehran would have executed him without a trial...
"Habib pointed out that Iran has a '50-[year] plan,' most of whose steps have been carried out successfully, and that Arab countries, on the other hand, specifically the Gulf states, have no counter-plan or counter-activity on the ground to halt Iranian expansionism. The leader of HAZM said: 'First, everyone should realize that we are not [treated like] Iranian citizens, so we cannot be [called] 'Arab-Iranians.' We are a people living on land occupied by the Persians, and our problem is no different from the Palestinian one. Iranian injustice is directed at all Iranian sectors known as non-Persian peoples. The Persians themselves also suffer from this oppression, but the oppression of [the people of] Ahwaz is qualitatively and quantitatively different.'
HAZM logo (image: Facebook.com/AlmnzmtAlwtnytLthryrAlahwazHzm)
"[In the interview,] Habib Jaber noted that Iran has been implementing the cruelest of oppression tactics against the Arabs of Ahwaz since June 1925, when a so-called uprising occurred in what was then the capital of Ahwaz, the city of Al-Muhammara, [an uprising] which was completely crushed with the aid of Britain. These [human rights] violations continued until 1979, when Arabs, particularly children, were massacred in Ahwaz, after [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini gave the military governor the authority to do this. [Jaber] added: 'These [human rights] violations did not cease, and are still taking place. In 2005, [the residents of] Ahwaz revolted, demanding rights, and their children were killed just because they demanded this.'
"Jaber described the Iranian Republic as a country that commits massive crimes, [adding that] not only is there no deterrent to stop its human rights violations, but it continues to make false accusations against the Arabs of Ahwaz on their occupied land. Wearing the red keffiyeh [one of the symbols of the Ahwazi national movement] has become a crime for which Arabs are executed, and [anyone speaking] Arabic is punished by death [merely] for using the language of the Koran."
Jaber said that, if the Arabs of Ahwaz received just a quarter of the sum that the Iranians spend on interfering in Arab countries by inciting the Shi'ites there, they would be able to give Iran a taste of its own medicine by starting conflicts within Iran.
He added: "'For us to break Iran's back, it is enough for the Arab countries to stand by us. But it is clear that the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, are currently squeezed in an Iranian vise - from the south in the form of the Houthis in Yemen, and from the north in the form of Hizbullah's incursion into Iraq. Since the 1990s Iran has been investing efforts in bringing this about, and today it is succeeding in most of the moves that it planned. But these [moves] can boomerang on Iran if the Arab [countries] use one of their cards in Iran [i.e., the Arab minorities there].'
"Jaber claimed that [the Arabs of] Ahwaz are one of five cards [that the Arabs can use against Iran], which include the Baluchis, Kurds, and other [non-Persian minorities within Iran], and stressed that it was enough to use one of these [cards], which exist as a result of Iran's stubborn policy, to ensure a crisis that would keep Tehran preoccupied with its domestic situation, which is already volatile due to its violations. Jaber said: 'Despite Iran's widespread interventionist policy, which harms the sovereignty of the Gulf states and the internal affairs of Arab countries, the [Arab] countries that are imperiled by Iran have not initiated a response, even a simple one, to [the suffering] afflicting the Ahwazis, Kurds, and Baluchis, such as raising the matter of the non-Persian peoples of Iran [on the international agenda].' According to Habib Jaber, the Gulf states must treat Iran the same way [it treats them] and take advantage of these opportunities, if only to send a message to Tehran that 'Iran's Persians are not immune to the chaos you have caused in the Arab world.'"
"If An Ahwazi Arab Had Said Even 10% Of What Nimr Al-Nimr Said In His Speeches, He Would Have Been Executed Without A Trial"
"Habib Jaber said that the verdict against the so-called leader of fitna in Al-Awamiyah, Nimr Al-Nimr, is not as unjust as the injustice perpetrated by Iran against the Arabs of Ahwaz. He argued that, if an Ahwazi Arab had said even 10% of what Nimr Al-Nimr said in his speeches, he would have been executed without a trial would have been denied even the basic rights that Saud Arabia granted Nimr Al-Nimr during his trial. He added: 'We are executed for the simplest matters; even the red keffiyeh is considered a provocation by the Persians, and they convict us for it and even execute Arabs who wear it.'
"He claimed further that the actions of the leader of fitna [Nimr Al-Nimr] and his behavior during his speeches, which spread poison throughout the entire Arab Saudi population, give the kingdom the right to execute him. According to Jaber, 'all Saudi citizens are Arabs from different sects, and despite this, the leader of fitna routinely demanded that the Eastern region secede [from Saudi Arabia; moreover, he dared to say this] in Saudi Arabia [itself]. Iran's servants in the Gulf have reached this level of moral depravity because there is no plan to deter them. Most of the moves of the Ayatollahs' fifty[-year] plan, which was exposed in the 90s, have already been carried out successfully. The most damning evidence of this is [visible] in Kuwait, followed by Bahrain and Yemen.'
"The leader of the ASMLA believes that Iran's servants in the Gulf have crossed the line in their demands. He says that in the 90s, Iran began to formulate moves to acquire influence, especially in the Gulf states. According to him, this became evident in Kuwait and Bahrain, and even in Arab countries like Yemen, Syria, and specifically in Lebanon, as influential people of Iranian manufacture began to emerge. Habib mentioned that Iran penetrated the Arab region by extending aid to [Arab] merchants. After winning the sympathy of these merchants with financial and other benefits, it made them a [powerful] social class in their countries, and they took part in parliaments and other [institutions], where they began serving Iran's interests in the Arab territories.
"Habib Jaber wondered why there is no Arab counter-plan to the Iranian plan, and stressed that if Arab countries wished to deter the Iranians, they could find several openings that would undoubtedly influence Iran's plan and its expansionist efforts and attempts to infiltrate Arab countries. He added: 'Iran has penetrated deep into the Arab homeland, and has a plan which, as [Iranian] officials have stressed, does not stop in Iraq and Yemen or Syria, but [also] targets the Arab Gulf region. This, because [they consider] this area a part of the Persian Empire, which must return to it. But where is our Arab plan in the face of this Iranian behavior?'"
 Al-Nimr was sentenced to death on October 15, 2014, after the court convicted him of several charges, including incitement to topple the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; attempting to convince wanted persons to rebel against the Saudi regime; calling for the Shi'ite city of Al-Awamiyah in the Al-Qatif province to secede from Saudi Arabia; fundraising to purchase Molotov cocktails; and speaking of the illegitimacy of the Saudi government and calling to topple it and replace it with the Rule of the Jurisprudent. Al-Nimr affirmed the charges against him but has decided to appeal the verdict within a month. Al-Hayat (London), October 16, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 19, 2014.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), October 25, 2014.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), October 21, 2014.
 Makkah (Saudi Arabia), November 29, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 19, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 26, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 31, 2014. Al-Watan also published an interview with prominent Ahwaz activist 'Abd Al-Hamid bin Suhail Al-Nasri Al-Tamimi - a former Shi'ite who became a Sunni - who relayed how Iranian authorities persecuted him and told of Sunni suffering in Iran. He called on Arab countries to assist the non-Persian ethnicities that are being oppressed by the Iranian regime. Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 14, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 20, 2014.
 Aralabiya.net, October 25, 2014. The channel also reported on November 14, 2014 that Sheikh 'Abd Al-Hamid Isma'il Zahi, the Sunni Imam in the Baluchi capital of Zahedan, called to end national and religious minority discrimination in Iran's state media.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 27, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 30, 2014.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 30, 2014.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5776, 'Al-Hayat' Deputy Editor: Gulf States Should Help Al-Ahwaz Secede From Iran, June 19, 2014; and MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 4735, Article In London-Based Saudi Daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: Confront Iran On Its Home Turf, May 17, 2012.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 19, 2014.
 According to various reports, this is a plan formulated by Iran's Majlis, which has five 10-year stages, and is aimed at realizing Iran's expansionist goals by exporting the Islamic Revolution to Iran's Sunni areas, the Gulf states, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In the past, Kuwaiti columnists and elements warned against Iranian plans to take over the Gulf states. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 635, Concerns in Kuwait, Gulf over Iranian Threat to Gulf States, September 9, 2010.