The Meaning of the Tehran Attacks

The Meaning of the Tehran Attacks
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On June 7th Iran became the target of major attacks. More than forty people were injured while 17 people lost their lives during simultaneous attacks targeting the Consultative Assembly in the south of the capital and the grave of Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. In many aspects, the attacks whose responsibility was claimed by ISIS deserve scrutiny as the first major action of the organization in Iran.

First of all, due to factors such as the course of events and the choice of the targets, the incident was initially thought to be planned by the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) which opposes the regime. Both the symbolic significance of the selected targets and the statements regarding that one of the female attackers committed suicide using cyanide which is included in the standard attack procedure of MEK and functions as some sort of signature for the organization had caused some confusion. One of the reasons why the claim about ISIS is not credible is the fact that the organization whose views of Iran and the Shi’a are clear, chose a well-protected political target and giving a political message rather than creating fear by targeting places with easy access such as a metro, school, hospital, etc., where the number of losses could be much higher, and therefore, could provide heightened sensation and propaganda for the organization.

The September 11 of Iran

The labelling of the attacks as “The September 11 of Iran” is undoubtedly more related to the shock created in public opinion by the fact that the country was hit inside its borders which Tehran has not experienced in the past 23 years than the casualties of or exposure to the attacks. As the famous academic of Iran, Sadegh Zibakalam underlines, the most significant “tower” that was destroyed is the image of “stable island in the restless ocean” recently constructed by Iran. For years Iran has put forward a rhetoric of security and claimed that its aggressive and intrusive behavior in the region were, in fact, providing the internal security of the country.  Arranging such an effortless attack on a prominent and extremely protected target, and the failure of suppressing the action for hours showed how unprepared Iran was against these kinds of attacks as well as rendering the rhetoric of security ineffective.

The main message of the attack is that Iran’s “impunity” armament during the Obama period is now withdrawn. As is known, the Obama administration had taken Iran into the agenda only with its nuclear activities and had come to ignore the devastating activities of Tehran in the region. The fact that it was stated in the international campaign run about Michael D’Andrea– nicknamed “Ayatollah Mike,” who was appointed to the head of the CIA Iran Operations Unit a short time before the event– that operations against Iran would start and Trump’s statement that “those who support terrorism themselves become victims of it one day,” can foreshadow a much more different era for Iran.

The incident is also closely related to Saudi Arabia. It is no secret that Riyadh sees Tehran as the most significant enemy in the region. As a matter of fact, the placement of Iran in the target board at the Riyadh Summit, organized with Trump’s participation, showed a new stage in relations between the two countries in which the tension has not diminished since Sheikh Nimr was executed in January 2016. The Minister of Defense Mohammad bin Salman's statement that “war will be pulled into Iran now” and similar statements by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir that Iran should be reprimanded, caused the Iranian thoughts that Saudi Arabia was behind the events to intensify. Although the name of Riyadh was not mentioned directly in the declaration of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), published after the incident, Saudi Arabia was pointed at implicitly, with the words that “the event took place after the meeting of one of the reactionary Arab leaders in the region with the US President.” Some IRGC commanders went further and held Saudi Arabia responsible for the action, and vowed revenge. However, one day after the incident, the Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi's statement that “there is no clear evidence yet that Saudi Arabia is behind the incident” may be due to the difference of opinion about the reaction to Riyadh in the state. In fact, the statement of the Vice-President of the Assembly Ali Motahari that “this event was planned by Israel and the aim was to bring out a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, we must not fall for it” reveals the opinion of the pro-caution wing in Iran.

The Timing of the Attack

The fact that the Tehran attacks took place immediately after the crisis between Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar can be considered as a reflection of the effects of the Trump administration's Riyadh trip, on different countries. The Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Javad Zarif’s visit to Ankara a few hours after the attack on Tehran was probably aimed at sharing with Turkey the summarized opinions of Iran about the new turn and possibly bringing Turkey closer to itself through an anti-Saudi Arabia position. However, at this point, it can be predicted that at least in the short run Turkey will not give up from the clear but cold-blooded discourse expressed by President Erdogan regarding the crisis in the Gulf, and the only option is to wait to see how the events will unfold.

This article was first published in ‘‘Sabah” on 12 June 2017.