Why is Iran trying to assassinate Saudi ambassadors?

Turki Aldakhil
Turki Aldakhil
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On Oct. 11, 2011, American officials said there was an Iranian plot to assassinate then-Saudi ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir. The plan was to blow up the restaurant he went to, then the Saudi embassy. The perpetrators confessed to the plot, which the FBI called Operation Red Coalition. Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri were arrested and charged by the federal court in New York with plotting to assassinate Jubeir.

A few days ago, plots to assassinate Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Assiri and Saudi ambassador to Iraq Thamer al-Sabhan were revealed. Iraq’s government went as far as being alert when it asked Sabhan to leave the country. Such behavior reflects the extent of Iranian incursion in the Iraqi system.

Let us briefly look at the history of Iran’s targeting of embassies. In Nov. 1979, the US embassy was attacked and occupied in Tehran, and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. In June 1980, the first secretary at Kuwait’s embassy in India, Mustafa al-Marzouq, was assassinated. In Sept. 1982, Kuwaiti diplomat in Madrid Najib al-Refai was assassinated. In April 1983, the US embassy in Beirut was blown up.

Iran does not recognize international conventions regarding embassies and consulates, does not hesitate to assassinate any political figure, and intervenes everywhere at any time.

Turki AlDakhil

In Dec. 1983, a bomb was detonated targeting the French embassy in Kuwait. In Dec. 1983, a truck was blown up targeting the US embassy in Kuwait, killing 17 people. In Aug. 1987, the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked and 275 diplomats were detained. In Feb. 1990, Saudi diplomats were killed in Thailand. In Feb. 2011, Saudi diplomat Hassan al-Qahtani was killed in Pakistan.

These are the most significant events that can be easily listed. There are many others. Iran has tried to intimidate diplomats who are making rare efforts to communicate with the different spectra of societies where they work.


Saudi embassies in Lebanon and Iraq are trying to communicate with social categories from different affiliations and movements. This pains Iran, which got used to communicating with only one party. Sabhan managed to enter Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish homes, and break the political monotony in Iraq that depends on supporting one faction with pure Iranian characteristics.

Responding to Iranian verbal attacks made through Iraqi officials, Sabhan said: “Saudi Arabia’s policy is steady and isn’t linked to people. Saudi Arabia won’t give up on the Arabism of Iraq.”

The main reason behind Saudi Arabia’s disagreement with Lebanon’s government was the country’s departure from Arabism. Some politicians in Iraq are doing the same. Iran does not like Sabhan’s emphasis on Iraq’s Arabism. Meanwhile, Shiite politicians, including Moqtada al-Sadr, demand a return to Arab visions, and to the Arab - not Persian - sphere of interests.

Saudi diplomacy has found its way into areas of influence that Tehran could not compete with. Ambassadors’ success put them in Iran’s firing line. Until today, Jubeir, Sabhan and Assiri are practicing political and not military work. They are men serving their country’s interests. There is no point choosing force against diplomacy as this would be a militant and terrorist approach.

Iran proves daily that it acts outside the context of an institutional state, and is closer to having a bloody revolutionary status as it does not recognize international conventions regarding embassies and consulates, does not hesitate to assassinate any political figure, and intervenes everywhere at any time. Iran is more a militant organization than a state - how can a state plan to assassinate an ambassador by blowing up a restaurant?

A state’s power is in its diplomats, who turn the impossible into reality. This is what these Saudi ambassadors have done.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 30, 2016.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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