Iran’s blame game deflects attention from regime’s support of terror

Iran’s blame game deflects attention from regime’s support of terror

Iran’s state-owned Persian news outlets have this week dedicated significant coverage to the attack that occurred during a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz on Saturday. Gunmen opened fire, killing at least 25 people and wounding 55 more. The military parade was being carried out by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite Quds Force.

The attack casts doubts on the Iranian leaders’ claim that it is the safest country in the region. Last year, a pair of attacks shocked the capital of Tehran, where at least 12 people were killed at the Iranian Parliament and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, which is one of Iran’s most sacred places.

Iranian leaders have long been attempting to project Iran as the safest and most secure country in the Middle East in order to further rally and galvanize domestic and international support, as well as increase the popularity of the IRGC, which safeguards the nation.

An important issue to address is the Iranian leaders’ reaction to this development. In such scenarios, the theocratic establishment resorts to various tactics. First of all, instead of examining the underlying causes of the attack, it plays the blame card.

For example, immediately after the attack and without providing any evidence or proof, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei accused other countries in the region, particularly the Gulf Arab states. He said in a statement on his website: “This crime is a continuation of the plots of the regional states that are puppets of the United States, and their goal is to create insecurity in our dear country.”

The message was the same across the Iranian regime’s political spectrum. Even the so-called moderate politicians of Iran joined the hardliners in pointing fingers at other nations. For instance, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif blamed other countries in the region and their “US masters.”

Such a tactical game played masterfully by the Iranian regime will only escalate tension in the region, and increase distrust among nations.

The attack casts doubts on the Iranian leaders’ claim that it is the safest country in the region

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

It should be noted that the reason behind this strategy is to deflect attention from the regime’s support for terrorist and militia groups across the region. Iran has been providing military, financial, intelligence and advisory assistance to various Shiite militia groups in countries including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The Islamic Republic has also sheltered terrorist leaders from extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, according to several intelligence reports.

Iran’s sectarian agenda of supporting Bashar Assad and Shiite militia groups across the region has intensified regional sectarianism and empowered extremist groups such as Daesh to recruit more fighters. In a recent survey on global terrorism, the Islamic Republic was again ranked as the top state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

Iranian leaders will more than likely attempt to buttress their unfounded arguments that extremist groups are Tehran’s rivals, or that Iran is fighting extremism and terrorism in the region. This is to assist the hardliners in further justifying the deployment of more forces and intensifying their involvement in the region.

By blaming other nations for the attack, Iranian leaders are also attempting to deflect media attention away from the dire situation of the people in Ahvaz, which is the capital of Khuzestan Province. The IRGC parade, which was intended to show Iran’s military strength, was conducted in one of the country’s most neglected cities.

While the Iranian people have been struggling politically and economically, the citizens of Ahvaz in particular have been encountering extreme difficulties for various reasons. In spite of the fact that Ahvaz is rich in natural resources, the indigenous Arab residents of Khuzestan are plagued with severe socioeconomic deprivation, suffer from one of the highest rates of poverty in Iran, and have a high level of water and air pollution. The nearby oil facilities surround and suffocate the city by releasing toxic materials and pollutants into the air. In fact, Ahvaz was in 2015 ranked the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization. The failures of the Iranian regime mean that Ahvaz’s residents are facing such difficulties and poverty while they are living in one of the most oil-rich cities of the Islamic Republic.

Finally, Iran should be cognizant of the fact that its policy of supporting terror groups can have unintended consequences. In the next phase, the IRGC will most likely attempt to impose fear in the country, capitalize on rally round the flag syndrome, justify its military engagements in the region, galvanize more public support for involvements in other regional countries, increase the military budget, and tighten domestic control through heightened securitization by police and intelligence forces.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh
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