Bombing in Tehran
The aftermath of an ISIS-orchestrated bombing in Tehran has opened up tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran but also has threatened to throw US-Iran relations into further jeopardy.
n June 7, six individuals carried out coordinated attacks across Tehran at sites such as the Iranian parliament and the tomb of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that have special significance to the people of Iran. After Iranian security forces killed five of the individuals involved and the sixth detonated a suicide vest, the Iranian people have started to search for the reason behind the attack that left 17 dead and 52 wounded.
Recently, new information has emerged that has indicated that the persons behind the attack were people who had lived in Iran before being recruited by ISIS. The nationalities of the attackers are much harder to determine as Iranian authorities would not comment on the origins of one of the attackers, a woman, and some Iranian authorities, such as Reza Seifollahi, the deputy chief of the Supreme National Security Council, have admitted that the men were from Iran. In addition, testimonials from several eyewitnesses seem to have indicated that the attackers spoke Arabic with an Iranian accent. This linguistic difference has served to separate them from Iranians, who speak Farsi or other Persian languages. Other Iranian sources have denied this information.
Furthermore, the evidence seems to indicate that the individuals responsible had left Iran at one point to fight for ISIS in Syria and in Iraq before returning to Iran. On their return, they appeared to be under the leadership of someone with the name Abu Aisha who had pledged to attack holy sites in Iran.
Such an intention is very important as even though Iran is predominantly Shiite, there is a sizable Sunni population in the Iraq-Iran border area. It is not surprising that ISIS would have attempted to draw some of them into their group, especially after ISIS released a video in March appealing for Iranian Sunnis to rise up against the Shiites.
Iran is no stranger to terrorist attacks as the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan as well as Khuzestan have had many terrorist attacks from Sunni extremists over the years. However, the recent attacks have interrupted a period in which Iranian intelligence proved to be very adept at stopping these attacks from occurring.
The recent attack has ended a feeling of domestic security that the counter-terrorist successes had engendered as the coordinated and well-planned attacks had clearly caught Iran unprepared. In addition, the violence has weakened the Iranian government’s ability to project an image of internal stability in a conflict prone region of the world.
Meanwhile, the attacks have served to continue to inflame Iran and Saudi tensions beyond a mere regional rivalry for control of the Persian Gulf region and a religious conflict over whose version of Islam is the correct one. For instance, some Iranian officials have chosen to blame Wahhabism, a sect of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, for the attacks.
This has been something which Saudi Arabia has vigorously denied in the past and has done so again. Furthermore, Iran and its ally Syria have used the ongoing Syrian civil war to depict the conflict as one against the West and the Gulf States as they, in the eyes of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Iranian government, sponsor these terrorist groups.
While the attack has enabled Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite Iraqi government to grow closer together, the attack has also worsened tensions between the US and Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal. For example, President Trump’s lionization of and his decision to continue arms sales to the Saudis has served to anger the Iranians and has, in part, led to the diplomatic isolation of the Iran-friendly nation of Qatar. At the same time as the attack, the Trump administration belatedly offered its condolences to the Iranian government but also added that Iran had finally fallen “victim to the evil they promote.”
This statement, parallel to that of the Revolutionary Guard’s accusing the United States of sponsoring the attack underscores the fact that the United States is continuing to view Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism around the world. Although the US was able to reach an agreement with Iran in the recent past, it appears that such an agreement will be unlikely to repeat itself in the foreseeable future.