This month saw two events related to the Iranian “prestige”. On September 8, Iranian missiles rained down on the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Koysinjaq, southeast of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. The IRGC claimed responsibility for the rocket attack and distributed videos showing how it hit the target at a meeting of the leadership of the opposition Kurdish party.
It was clear that claiming responsibility and disseminating images of the strike constituted an explicit message from Iran to its enemies in the region that its missiles were able to cross the border separating maps and also capable of hitting definite targets. This power display came at a time when Iranian positions in Syria were under constant attack by Israel, while Iran could not respond through the Syrian territory because of Russia’s tight controls there.
On September 22, Iran was stricken by an incident also related to its “prestige”, but this time on its own territory. Armed men surprised the IRGC and the Iranian army by attacking a podium for senior officials during a military parade in Ahwaz, killing and injuring dozens of IRGC and army members.
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If the first incident provided evidence, from Tehran’s view point, that the Guards were capable of reaching enemies, the second incident gave proof that Iran’s security was vulnerable. Moreover, if the attack against the KDP headquarters in Koysinjaq revealed that Khomeini’s Iran could not solve its chronic problem with its Kurds, the Ahwaz incident also showed that Iran’s problem with the Arabs of Ahwaz continues and worsens.
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.
Forty years ago, the Iranian revolution tried to say, upon its victory, that a new era in the Middle East had begun, and that the uprising that was born outside the world of the two camps that existed at that time had sufficient solutions for the suffering of the “vulnerable peoples.”
There are those who believe that the Ahwaz attack will give President Hassan Rouhani the opportunity to speak in New York about “terrorism” that targets his countryGhassan Charbel
Resorting to memory
Resorting to memory is helpful sometimes. A few days after the revolution, Khomeini received a high Kurdish delegation from Iraq’s Kurds, who came to congratulate the new regime and explore the stances. The delegation discussed the grievances of the Kurds, who are subjected to attempts to uproot them and obliterate their identity, culture and aspirations.
Khomeini’s response was that these injustices against the Kurds of Iran would no longer exist “because the revolution is Islamic, belongs to all and does not differentiate between Muslims.” Forty years later, the attack on Koysinjaq came to remind that the situation of Iran’s Kurds has not changed.
Iran accused separatists from Ahwaz of carrying out the attack. It said they had received support from two Gulf States, and that their move “is part of an American-Israeli conspiracy to destabilize Iran.” The country promised a quick and decisive response.
There are those who believe that the Ahwaz attack will give President Hassan Rouhani the opportunity to speak in New York about “terrorism” that targets his country. But it is certain that the rising Iranian tension is also linked to other dates.
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It is obvious that President Donald Trump will employ his presence at the UN General Assembly and the Security Council to launch a broad campaign on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, missile arsenal and destabilization policy in the region. This date gains more importance as it comes weeks ahead of Trump’s deadline for the second round of sanctions against Iran - oil sanctions that he said would be the toughest in history.
There is no doubt that Iran’s recent behavior bears the hallmarks of the loss that resulted from America’s exit from the nuclear deal and Washington’s insistence that the missile arsenal and regional behavior be part of any future agreement with Iran.
Dreams of taking advantage of the fruits of the nuclear deal to fund the large-scale attack in the region have ended. The past weeks have shown that the European stance, which is committed to the nuclear agreement, is by no means a reasonable or acceptable cushion for Iranian concerns.
Taking into consideration the drop of the Iranian currency, the recent protests in different parts of the country and the disclosure of Iran’s crises with its Kurdish, Arab, Baloch and Turkmen citizens, we can understand the current tension.
As the Soviet citizens once complained about the deterioration of their situation, while their country was pumping billions into the veins of the Castro regime, Iranians will complain about the deterioration of their situation and the spending of their country’s wealth in regional adventures.
It is clear that we are on the threshold of a more heated chapter in Iran’s relations with the region and with the United States. Iran behaves as if it has lost the “deal of the century” when it lost the US signature on the nuclear deal. Then it discovers that the Middle East works like communicating vessels…
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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.
Most likely, Iran was harassing the “Great Satan” to force it to be its biggest partner in the region. Back to the recent past: One day, former Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said important words to the late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. He said: “Tell your friend, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, what the Americans want from us?
We supported the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein. We supported the Governing Council and the election of the President of the Republic. We supported this new situation that the Americans have established in Iraq. There is nothing the Americans did and we did not support. Tell your friend what they want from us more.”
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan’s Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.