Deciphering the Ahvaz terror attack

   Release date: 2018-09-27     Hits: 444    Comment: 0    
Note: Iranian soldiers take shelter during a terror attack in a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran, Sept. 22, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]
Iranian soldiers take shelter during a terror attack in a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran, Sept. 22, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]


The terrible attack at a military parade in Iran's south-western city of Ahvaz has thrown up new challenges for regional peace and security. There are telltale signs that the incident is not an isolated one but a part of a dangerous Middle Eastern version of Great Games *. 

Two groups claimed responsibility for the attacks – the Ahvaz National Resistance and the Islamic State (IS) group. The former is a local Arab outfit allegedly supported by the countries that want to curtail Iran's influence. It has grievances against the central government, which it believes is being exploited.

The claim by the Islamic State is more of a formality, as these days the group seeks ownership of almost every attack anywhere in the world. It is part of their efforts to boost the morale of its core supporters in the face of unprecedented reversals in its fortunes during the short span of the past year. 

Reaction from Tehran shows that the regime is inclined to believe that the Ahvaz National Resistance is behind the mayhem. It also fits into the latest power struggle in the region characterized by the periodic war of words between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

President Hassan Rouhani and his officials pointed the finger at the United States and its regional allies. The U.S. swiftly denied any involvement, and Ambassador Nikki Haley in reaction urged the regime to "look in the mirror."

The exact identity of the "masterminds" of the attack remains a mystery, as terrorism has morphed into a deadly clandestine phenomenon, being widely used by different actors to achieve political and strategic objectives. It needs a new definition and a new terminology because most terrorist attacks can no longer be defined by the classical category of the term.

Unfortunately, the victims and perpetrators of terror strikes are often ordinary people who die for something they hardly have any deeper understanding of. They also have nothing to do with the dirty games that aim to create internal instability within countries to spread chaos and anarchy. 

The perpetrators of such policies usually try to bring down the government or force it to change its behavior. The long-term objective is to topple the government, as was the case in Libya.

The situation in the Middle East is quite fluid due to overlapping interests and conflicts. The tension between Iran and its regional rivals is just one part of the wider conundrum. The biggest stakeholder is the U.S. which is also the chief architect of the current security system in the region. 

After the U.S. canceled the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed new sanctions, there was a feeling in the U.S. policymakers that economic hardships of common Iranians will increasing, prompting street protests and demand of political change. So far, not much has happened on this count, but those pulling the strings are still hopeful that eventually it will happen. 

That is why every protest and terrorist attack puts the Iranian government back in the spotlight, which is struggling to ease the economic pressure. Strategically, Iran has overstretched itself due to involvement in regional wars and the country's concurrent fear of international isolation only adds to its worries.

The Iranian diaspora in Europe and North America is also an important factor. Reports from the Netherlands and America show that some Iranians living abroad are getting active against the current Iranian government. This was the reason that Iran summoned diplomats from the U.K., the Netherlands, and Denmark on Saturday after accusing their countries of sheltering groups hostile to the government of Iran. 

At the regional level, Iran was unhappy with the tweet of an adviser to the UAE crown prince who said the Ahvaz incident was not a terrorist attack and talked about moving the battle deeper inside Iran. Tehran protested with a UAE envoy in response to the "biased statements."

The more serious issue concerns how to handle the local ethnic groups in Iran like the Arabs in Khuzestan province, Kurds in Kurdish areas and Balochs in Sistan-Baluchestan province. It is difficult to gauge the level of their anxieties as even a minor sense of alienation creates vulnerability.

Ahvaz is the second biggest incident of terrorism in Iran after the attack on parliament last year. Future attacks cannot be ruled out. Every incident will spread fear and increase frustration. Iran's leaders should be more sagacious in how they deal with terrorist attacks and threats.

*The great game policy refers to the struggle between Russia and imperial Britain to increase influence in Central Asia. Its middle eastern version is struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia on one hand and America and Russia on the other hand to increase their influence in the middle east.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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