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Iranian Daily Remains Defiant After Warning Amid Saudi Tensions

The ultra-hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan is known for making inflammatory statements that often go against the government's official line.

When on November 6 the daily said on its front page that Dubai could become the next target of a missile attack by Yemen's Huthis after Riyadh came under attack, many thought it had gone too far.

There was criticism on social media and in the Iranian press, with many calling the daily's front-page statement foolish and unwise while warning that Iran should not provide its enemies with "an excuse" at a sensitive time.

Iran's Press Supervisory Board quickly issued a warning that the headline "Ansarollah Missile struck Riyadh, Next Target: Dubai" ran counter to Iranian national security and the country's interests.

The headline came amid a sharp escalation of tensions between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, who in recent months have engaged in a war of words while accusing each other of destabilizing the region and promoting extremism.

Tensions skyrocketed on November 4 when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri abruptly resigned while on a visit to Saudi Arabia and criticized Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah militia for fomenting unrest in the region.

Iran's Foreign Ministry rejected Hariri's accusations and said the resignation was a plot by the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to foment tensions in Lebanon and the region.

Later, Saudi Arabia said a ballistic missile fired by Huthi rebels -- a Yemeni group with ties to Iran -- had been intercepted over Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

The Saudis said the attack could be considered an "act of war," with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman accusing Iran on November 7 of "direct military aggression" against the kingdom by supplying the Huthis with ballistic missiles.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on November 6 that Saudi Arabia was blaming Tehran for the consequences of its own "wars of aggression."

Amid the growing political tension, Kayhan remained defiant.

The daily said on its front page on November 7 that Iran's national interests were to defend "the oppressed" people of Yemen, not to "worry" about Dubai's skyscrapers.

Kayhan said it had merely reported "threats and promises" by the Huthis against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The daily had previously reflected the views of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but in recent years -- particularly since the 2015 nuclear negotiations -- observers have suggested that Kayhan has lost its link to Khamenei.

Nevertheless, it remains an important voice in the country's press.

Kayhan said it was ironic that Iran's reformists -- whose media the hard-line daily claimed were full of headlines that violate the country's national interests -- are suddenly worried about Iran's national interests.

"How can those who officially [put a false attractive face] on America and scare people with America's empty threats and admit to attempts [to give a good impression] of the 2015 nuclear deal, allow themselves to speak of national interests?" the daily asked.

Government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht suggested on November 7 that the daily should face tougher action for its headline and defiant position. "This is a clear media violation and, as far as I know, judicial actions are currently being taken and we hope it will be more decisive," Nobakht said in response to a question about Kayhan.

"Nothing is more important to us than national interests," he added.