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Do not Ride the Bomb

A review of power in Syria will not protect the Iranian regime

Monday 29 October 2018, by Ali BAKEER

On October 1st, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard announced that it had fired medium-range ballistic missiles from inside Iranian territory at dawn towards the area of Albuqamal in eastern Syria, justifying the strike as a reply to the attack in Ahvaz (اهواز), capital city of Khuzestan province. The terrorist attack had targeted a military parade in memory of the Iran-Iraq war, causing the death of 25 persons and wounding 70 others. Victims were among the Revolutionary Guard as well as civilians present at the scene.

Some reports said the victims included the personal facilities commander of the Revolutionary Guards in the Khuzestan region, as well as a Revolutionary Guard colonel and military personnel who were said to have fought on Syrian and Iraqi fronts.

Although some attributed the attack to the separatist Al-Ahwaz (الأحواز) organization, carried out by a sympathetic group who published videos of the supposed perpetrators, but no further details on how the attack was carried out was given, neither whether the attackers came to Iran from neighbouring countries or from within Iran itself.

The intricate Iranian retaliation reflected the position of Tehran, which seemed confused, hinting the perplexity to identify the instigators. Some officials have even denied that groups hostile to the regime carried out the attack. On the contrary, most of them accused specific countries of being behind the attack, including the United States, Israel and some Gulf states.

Move the battle out of Iran

The missile attack by Revolutionary Guards against areas of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria showed that the leaders in Tehran had finally agreed to punish an alleged sympathizer organization of Ahvaz terrorists, without providing any supporting evidence. This orientation is important because the choice of the Iranian regime could be based on political and propaganda calculations rather than security considerations.

Traditionally, the Iranian regime has been trying to move its internal conflicts abroad. For years, it has been argued that fighting in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Yemen is ultimately aimed at protecting the Iranian regime, state, and citizens from external aggressions. In this sense, the Iranian regime has no interest to assert that the Ahvaz event was just an isolated operation even if it was later proved to be so, because that means that the regime has failed abroad and that the Iranian people will eventually have to bear the cost of its foreign adventures.

The multifaceted adoption of this response reflects the Iranian regime’s position, which seems confused and uncertain as to the identification of sponsors. Some officials denied that Iranian groups hostile to the regime perpetrated the assault, while most of them accused other countries of being at the origin of the attack, including the United States, Israel and some Gulf States.

Power review

However, Iran’s recent display of its military capabilities has failed to impress the world. In August, a few days after the unveiling of the Iranian-made Kowsar fighter, an aircraft crashed in Khuzestan province killing its pilot. The military exercise, held last September to simulate the closure of the Strait of Hormuz and prevent Gulf oil from flowing into world markets, ended with the mockery of a large number of international military observers who saw the participation of obsolete equipment and modest military capabilities.

Nevertheless, as President Hassan Rohani said, ballistic missiles remain one of the most powerful weapons in Iran’s military arsenal. Although Tehran has repeatedly stated that this arsenal is intended only for defensive purposes, the targeting of sites in Iraq and Syria has recently discredited this claim, thus validating growing fears that they poses a threat to a large number of countries in the region that could see their vital and strategic sites become the target of missile attacks.

Yet, many experts doubt the accuracy of Iranian missiles, particularly in view of the strikes launched by the Revolutionary Guards in Syria last year and against targets in the Kurdistan region of Iraq about a month ago. On this subject, Washington Institute published a report in which it pointed out that the Iranian missiles, with which the Revolutionary Guards claim to have hit ISIS’s targets at Deir ez-Zor last year, had in fact failed to achieve any of its objectives, adding that 7 missiles had crashed in the Iraqi desert, while three others missed their targets and one or two were only 50 to 150 metres from their mark.

With regard to the missile attack perpetrated by the Revolutionary Guards with seven missiles from the Mahdi base in Urmia and ten others from the Seyed al-Shohada base in Azarshahr against targets in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Iran reported that the success rate of the operation was only about 10%.

On the basis of internal policy calculations, it is likely that the revision of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military strategy will address the regime’s problems by limiting the damage caused by the recent attack in Ahvaz. But many argue that such a revision would only protect the regime if its objective is to prepare for conflict, a real war whose effects will extend beyond the region. ■

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