Attack at Military Parade Highlights Iran’s Fragility

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

September 27, 2018

Last Saturday armed gunmen opened fire in the Iranian city of Ahvaz at a military parade marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the Iran-Iraq war. While there are contradicting claims of responsibility, the Iranian authorities have been quick to point the finger at the United States and Saudi Arabia, accusing them of supporting anti-Iranian militants. Many have commented, however, that the attack highlights Iran’s internal strife, urging the government in Tehran to look inward.

Following the attack, Iran’s president released a statement to Press TV declaring Iran’s willingness to “confront U.S., [and] ‘small mercenary states’…. Americans want Iran to have no security. They want to create chaos and turmoil and set the conditions so that they can return to the country one day and take charge as they did in the old days, but none of these is possible,’ the president said…. Rouhani described the Saturday attack, especially in a city which ‘valiantly withstood eight years’ of attacks by Saddam’s forces, a ‘big crime’ which will not go unpunished. ‘Iran’s answer to these crimes will be within the framework of law and the country’s national interests,’ he said as he paid tribute to the residents of Ahvaz.”

According to Tehran News, Iran’s secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani directed a similarly strongly worded attack against the United States and its regional allies, characterizing Saturday’s attacks as part of a broader campaign “endangering the entire Middle East and causing the region to face a crisis. ‘The danger of terrorism and its roots, especially Takfiri ideology which is being promoted, have caused crisis in the region and impeded the Islamic countries’ progress,’ he said during a meeting with Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister Ramil Usubov in Tehran. Shamkhani also criticized the U.S. and the Zionist regime of Israel’s divisive policies in the region. ‘It is essential to be vigilant and increase interaction and constructive dialogues to foil destructive efforts being made by ill-wishers to cause division among regional countries,’ the top security official noted.”

Outside of Iran, many regional observers believe the attacks are the natural outcome of a risky and confrontational policy pursued by the Iranian regime, which now, according to Asharq Alawsat’s Ghassan Charbel, needs to learn to deal with those consequences: “It is evident that the Iranian authorities’ anger mounts not only because of the security breach of a place that is supposed to be highly fortified, but also because this incident revealed the persistent problem of ethnic and sectarian minorities, despite Tehran’s attempt to present itself as guarantor of the safety of minorities in some parts of the region…. Iran behaves as if it has lost the ‘deal of the century’ when it lost the U.S. signature on the nuclear deal. Then it discovers that the Middle East works like communicating vessels. That those who export strife, will surely import it one day… And that those who contribute to the dismantling of maps of others, may push their own map to a similar fate. Iran thought it was a skilled surgeon in a sick area, and now it discovers that the ‘doctor’ is also ill.”

In an op-ed for Al Arabiya, Hossein Abedini draws attention to two recent such Iranian destabilizing actions, which the author argues are a result of the regime’s attempts to weaken its opposition, wherever it may be: “The Mullahs believe the only solution to stopping their overthrow is to strike blows to the organized alternative to its reign and focuses on terrorism and propaganda to do so. For decades, Europe has taken the policy of appeasement in relations with Iran, and the regime intends to use this relationship as an advantage to operate across Europe. Resorting to tactics of terrorism, means that a policy of appeasement and continued diplomatic relations by European governments with Iran is illegitimate and a safety concern for innocent European citizens. Silence to the fact that Iran has plotted attacks in Europe, is tantamount to giving the green flag to the regime in Tehran to continue such terrible activities.”

The Khaleej Times editorial also points the finger to Iran’s own actions as the main reason for the blowback, while drawing attention to Iran’s inability to stem domestic instability by failing to implement much needed economic reforms: “The hawkish tone adopted by the Iranian regime is shocking and even suggestive of the narrative the Rouhani government wants to build and cash on. Come to think of it, Iran has been caught in the mess of its own doings. For years, the regime has been concentrating its energies and resources on fighting proxy wars and covertly meddling in the domestic affairs of regional countries. Once flourishing nations, Syria and Yemen have descended into chaos, Lebanon is crumbling under the pressure of refugees, and Iran largely shares blame for it all. The Iranian regime has a warped understanding of how influence can be exerted regionally, and now its foreign policy is caught in a self-defeating spiral. Despite striking a nuclear deal with the West in 2015, the government failed to introduce reforms it badly needs and make progress.”

Finally, the theme of failed domestic reforms is also the subject of a recent Gulf News editorial, which suggests that the terrorism/Arab threat argument is just a cover-up: “Iran seems to suffer from paranoia. Whenever there is internal strife, Tehran is swift to pin the blame on the countries in the region and the West. So it came as no surprise when Iran launched into a diatribe against the Gulf states following the unfortunate attack on an annual military parade in Ahvaz, southwest Iran…. And it doesn’t help. Many of Iran’s problems lie within the country. But Tehran steadfastly refuses to acknowledge it, let alone address it. If Iran is serious about tackling its internal issues, it has to realize that the problem is not exported from abroad. When the strife is home-grown, spawned by a moribund economy, it is a wake-up call for the leadership.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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