The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Monday threatened to destroy the United States and its Middle Eastern allies, accusing them during a televised speech of instigating violent protests that erupted earlier this month after the announcement of massive fuel price hikes.
Speaking to tens of thousands of people holding signs with anti-U.S. slogans in Tehran’s Revolution Square, Gen. Hossein Salami accused the U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel of fueling the deadly unrest.
“We have shown restraint. … We have shown patience towards the hostile moves of America, the Zionist regime (Israel) and Saudi Arabia against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “If you cross our red line, we will destroy you. We will not leave any move unanswered.”
The protests against a massive rise in fuel prices and a slash in government subsidies have further divided many Iranians and their religious regime. The country has seen an economic decline since the U.S. restored sanctions after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration.
Many have complained of the inability to obtain jobs, travel abroad and soaring food prices and the cost of living. Some Iranians have seen their once middle-class lifestyle reduced to day-to-day struggles to stay afloat.
At least 143 people have been killed since Nov. 15, according to Amnesty International. The human-rights group accused Iranian security forces of using firearms against unarmed protesters from rooftops and helicopters.
“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the treatment of unarmed protesters has been by the Iranian authorities and reveals their appalling assault on human life,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Some demonstrators have accused the government of torturing those who’ve been arrested and detained.
Iran has cut off internet access for several days to quell the unrest, making it difficult for groups to ascertain the extent of the violence on the ground. Authorities said banks and government offices have been set on fire and more than 1,000 people have been arrested.
During Monday’s rally, speakers called for capital punishment for rioters and further restrictions on social media. Some also criticized President Hassan Rouhani’s administration for the way the fuel hike was implemented.
He promised the hike would fund new subsidies for poor families.
Gasoline in Iran remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping 50 percent to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter. That’s 12 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. By comparison, a gallon of regular gas in the U.S. costs $2.59.