Mustafa Fahs

Iran… Rifts at the Border

The Iranians have refocused their narrative on the Kurdish opposition, accusing it of collaborating with Iran’s enemies and plotting against the Islamic regime. In fact, government media has accused the opposition in Iraqi Kurdistan of being implicated, by order of a foreign security apparatus, in the transport of equipment used in the Isfahan attack.

However, the position of Iranian state media, which almost amounts to official state confirmation, is that the drones that carried out the attacks against military facilities in the city of Isfahan on Saturday evening had been launched from inside Iran, not another country.

This would imply that the foreign security agencies involved in the attack have deeply infiltrated Iran, managing to achieve their aims with ease. On the one hand, this fact exposes how profoundly foreign intelligence has managed to penetrate Iran. On the other hand, it shows us how unsuccessful the Iranian security services have been in countering these efforts.

Going back to the accusation levied at the Kurds in opposition who have links to Iraqi Kurdistan, it gives the Iranian regime and its security services a way to save face, as it gives them a way out of retaliating directly against the actual perpetrators of the attack. Accusing the Kurdish opposition of using Iraqi lands (Iraqi Kurdistan) also allows Iran to avoid accusing any other neighboring country (besides Iraq) of colluding against it, which would come at a high political, economic and security cost.

That is why Kurds in Iran and Iraq were chosen. In fact, they have made similar accusations of Erbil in the past, claiming that international and regional intelligence services have bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, from which they launch their operations against Iran. Despite the Iranian Kurdish opposition parties denying any connection to the attack, the headquarters of these parties in the mountainous border region may be subjected to Iranian missile attacks. This accusation will exacerbate the crisis between Iran and the local (autonomous) governments in Erbil, and the former may prompt the Baghdad government to take new measures against Erbil.

On the other side of the fractious border, a few hours before Isfahan was struck, the embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Tehran was subjected to an armed attack, which left a security official at the embassy dead and two others wounded. For his part, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed that a personal dispute had been behind the attack. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called it a terrorist act, and Baku decided to close its embassy in Tehran. Azerbaijan’s diplomatic exit coincided with security measures begun by Baku against what it called Iranian drug lords.

Azerbaijan also claims to have clamped down on espionage networks, which will complicate matters between the two countries further. Baku accuses Tehran of standing with Yerevan in the (Nagorno-Karabakh) crisis, as well as seeking to undermine the stability of the political system in Azerbaijan by supporting ideological groups. The Azerbaijanis fear that Tehran intends to regain control of the international route that connects the Caucasus countries with Central Asia, which in turn connects Tehran to Europe through the Naqshchihan region, which Baku now controls. Meanwhile, Iran accuses Baku of cooperating with Tel Aviv on security matters and supporting the Azeri national movement inside Iran.

Every political regime in Tehran has made a habit of making an example of the Kurds, whom it takes advantage of to deter domestic and foreign actors. Meanwhile, heightened tensions at the border are creating a crisis between the regime and the Azeri population. This crisis will have domestic repercussions that will open the door to foreign interference. The regime, which knows who is behind the Isfahan attack and other dangerous attacks, has not taken any military action against the perpetrator, maintaining that it has the right to retaliate for years now instead.

Moreover, because of the domestic strife in the country, Iran did not dare to support Armenia in its recent war with Azerbaijan. The regime is aware of the fact that the Azeris in Iran are capable of undermining the stability of the political system because of the prominent role that they have played in managing the state for centuries now. It also knows that the Kurdish political opposition, which the international community sympathizes with, is the most organized and the most influential of its domestic rivals.

Why, then, is it ignoring these threats and creating friction on its border?