The 1987 Mecca clash involving Iranian pilgrims has been well documented, particularly by Martin Kramer. An incident in 1986, illustrative of the then-fresh drive to export revolution, has received less attention, but it is mentioned in a Jack Anderson column dated May 24, 1991.
The Saudis were tipped off, and the Pasdaran slaughtered as they attempted to debark the plane with their weapons. The paucity of information, compared to the 1987 incident, seems due to the lack of propaganda value to either side. It is the clearest example of the post-revolutionary drive to export to Saudi Arabia.
For open source analysis, the insight in the current event lies not in that Saudi Arabia has broken diplomatic relations, but in the Iranian reaction to the execution of Nimr al-Nimr. Iran’s Khameni warns of divine vengeance, but the words are not themselves unusual. What is telling is the mobilization of cadres to sack the Saudi embassy.
It suggests that Iran is still in a post-revolutionary stage, or the Iranian religious establishment is eager to insure that it remains so. Mob violence is a useful exercise, particularly when it exercises the synchronous emotional outburst characteristic of Shiite culture.
In the post revolutionary stage, as in France when Napoleon seized power, there remains the potential to raise a large army, with potential for aggression. The Iranian religious establishment is not homogeneous. There are doubtless some who wish to exercise this potential before Iran’s society has evolved beyond it. An obvious, almost-soft target is Yemen.
An ayatollah to watch is Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, whose views are so extreme as to be horrible by Western standards. He is not generally popular, but the labyrinthine power structure facilitates powerful, albeit indirect, projection. His position would be enhanced by violent conflict.