Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 26 August 2019

Once again Iranian destabilisation is laid bare

Baseless accusations after attack in Ahvaz and bombing of eastern Syria are straight from Iranian playbook

Missiles being launched from Iran into eastern Syria in retaliation for the attack in Ahvaz. EPA
Missiles being launched from Iran into eastern Syria in retaliation for the attack in Ahvaz. EPA

It is an uncomfortable reality of modern statecraft that attacks are so quickly followed by violent retaliation. Following a deadly ambush on a military parade in the south-western Iranian province of Khuzestan last month, the Iranians were feverish in their hunt for someone to blame.

Clearly a muted response to an attack that killed at least 24 people and wounded more than 60 was unlikely, but as these pages argued at the time, the regime in Tehran must shoulder some responsibility.

On Monday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired ballistic missiles into south-eastern Syria, with the stated aim of exacting revenge on those they believed responsible. Much bravado accompanied the launches, with a state TV reporter declaring: “In a few minutes, the world of arrogance – especially America, the Zionist regime and the Al Saud – will hear the sound of Iran’s repeated blows.”

It follows many baseless accusations levelled by the regime. Tehran first blamed the US and an unnamed Gulf state, then summoned diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain, countries they accused of hosting “terrorist group members”.

Aside from stoking public anger, blaming foreign powers achieves little in times of strife – and least of all when many of the answers lie at home. Arab separatism has a long history in Khuzestan, which contributes the majority of Iran’s oil wealth but has long been starved of services and revenue. Of course, terrorism can never be condoned, but in Ahvaz the factors that have contributed to it are clear.

Why elements in the eastern Syrian city of Abu Kamal – which is held by Iran-aligned pro-Assad forces – were targeted is unclear. But there is a deeper point. After eight years of war in Syria, inroads are finally being made at the UN, where diplomats are pushing for a political solution.

The world is under no illusion that such an opportunity cannot be wasted – and yet Tehran has chosen precisely this moment to bomb Syria. Their intention is to send a message to the US that they have ballistic missiles and no reservations about using them.

The rush to blame others for the Ahvaz attack in the face of nationwide anti-government protests is straight from the regime’s playbook. So too is the decision to attack eastern Syria just as the world unites to end its war. Both acts reaffirm the consensus in this region: that Iran is a destabilising influence in the Middle East.

Updated: October 1, 2018 06:39 PM