Senior Iranian clerics at Friday prayers across the country today denounced the creation of an “Arab NATO” by the United States and its regional allies to fight terrorism and contain Iran’s regional ambitions. “The aim of the American president’s trip to the region and his participation at the conference of despotic and mercenary leaders of Arab countries was to create a Western-Arab-Zionist NATO to confront the Iranian nation,” Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Taghi Lotfi told worshippers in the Iranian province of Ilam. “The stance taken by the U.S. regime and corrupt Saudi ruler indicates the fact that the shadow of war over Iran has expanded,” he cautioned, adding that “this claim that nuclear negotiations or the J.C.P.O.A. [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal] has removed the shadow of war from Iran’s atmosphere is an incorrect assessment.”

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, Tehran’s Provisional Friday prayers leader, however, tried to play down the effect of the alliance, and said not all Arab countries would join such an alliance. He called those willing to become a member of it “servants” of the United States. He further claimed that Washington and its allies have failed to weaken the Islamic Republic and added that the “powerful Iran” will respond strongly to any actions by the United States or its regional allies.  

Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative to East Azerbaijan Province, also criticized the Trump administration and regional Gulf states for forming such an alliance against the “resistant front.” He claimed that Washington’s partnership with Sunni Gulf states would only cause more instability in the region.

Ayatollah Assadollah Emani, Khamenei’s representative to Fars Province, echoed a similar note. “Saving America from bankruptcy, imposing new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, imprisoning Sheikh Isa Qassim in Bahrain, and killing Muslims have been the results of Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia.”

Comment: There has been a growing concern in Tehran over the past four months that the Trump administration may form a military alliance with Arab allies – with Israel’s help – to counter Iran’s influence in the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East region. In February, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, a top Iranian cleric close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, warned that the Trump administration intended to create an “Arab NATO” and called on Muslims to “stay vigilant to U.S. plots.” Iranian media outlets have also suggested that the new U.S. administration plan to pursue a “two-pillar policy” to pressure Iran – by increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran and working with America’s traditional allies in the region to confront Iran.

In recent days, Iranian political and military leaders have also spoken against the Trump administration’s reinvigorating partnership with Washington’s traditional allies in the Gulf region. The deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) said this week that Trump’s statements at the Riyadh summit was only a confession to Iran’s superior power in the region. "50 world leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia and their only word was that Iran enjoys an uncontrollable power, and it is an honor for us (Iran)," Brigadier General Hossein Salami stressed. He warned that any actions against Iran would have dire consequences.

Separately, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (S.N.S.C.), said the multi-billion-dollar U.S. arms sale would not ensure Saudi Arabia’s security. “Stockpiling weapons has never created security and what happened to Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq is proof to this assertion,” he said during a visit to Moscow. Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, echoed a similar remark – suggesting that the huge arms deal would increase tension and instability in the Middle East.

Iranian officials and media outlets appear to be particularly troubled by Riyadh’s decision to invite leaders of about 50 Muslim countries to attend a summit with the American president.