Almost since beginning of the millennium, Iran continues to be an island of calm amid instability and violence. Afghanistan, its neighbor for the east, descended into chaos pursuing the American-led invasion of 2001; Iraq, across its western border, suffered exactly the same fate after 2003. Eight years later, this year, Syria erupted into civil war.
Although Shiite Iran continues to be mixed up in the conflicts that have ensued in all three of these neighbors, sending men, money and arms to advance combating Sunni chauvinists and their sponsors in the Gulf, its own territory has stayed remarkably untouched.
Iran has become a functioning nation state in which the central authorities have enjoyed a monopoly of force and individuals beyond uniform are already overwhelmingly unarmed. Last year, on a trip to Europe, the country’s reform-minded president, Hassan Rouhani, boasted that Iran was “the safest, essentially the most stable country” inside the Middle East.
In the scene of many Iranians, wherever they climb onto the country’s reformist-conservative axis, any deficiency of political or social freedom within the Islamic Republic can be a price worth investing in a secure state, and they’ve dreaded the day when, in the event it security would come for an end.
It is possible that June 7 was on that day, when the ordinary business of an Tehran morning was broken by suicide attacks along with the indisputable fact that the Islamic Republic was exempt from sectarian murder was revealed to become false.
About 10:30 a.m., present day, sloping Parliament building, synonymous with the democratic element inside Islamic Republic’s complicated power structure, combined with more traditionally conceived mausoleum of the regime’s clerical founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were the object of coordinated assaults by gunmen and suicide bombers.
At least 17 people were killed within the terrorist attacks, with the six assailants, one of them female; greater than 40 people were injured. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attacks, and Iranian social websites were flooded with expressions of grief and worry, denunciations with the attackers’ barbarism, and howls of defiance: the mood music of some other pitiless jihadi attack.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard quickly, however with deliberate vagueness, incriminated Saudi Arabia as well as the United States. It was fodder for conspiracy-minded Iranians who feel that Islamic State will be the joint creation of its main Sunni adversary and it is main Western adversary. In the days to come, however, after the blood has become wiped off the walls as well as the dead are actually honored, more sober attention will turn on the security lapses that permitted squads of suicide bombers to enter two of the country’s most iconic buildings.
Ever considering that the Islamic State declared its caliphate in 2014, Iran’s military have prided themselves on remarkable ability to stop the jihadis from entering Iran; indeed, commanders used to speak of a “red line” about 25 miles into Iraqi territory, which Iran would on no account allow Islamic State cross.
But as early as mid-2014, reports were spreading, denied by Iran, of Islamic State militants crossing the Iraqi border, while 2 yrs later the commander of Iran’s land forces admitted that the Islamic State had drawn recruits from among Iranian Sunnis. (About 9 percent of Iran’s population of 79 million is thought to become Sunni, many of them members from the Kurdish and Baluchi minorities.)
In February Iran’s chief prosecutor announced the arrest of Islamic State operatives “inside vicinity of Tehran”; that they had been planning “mischief” to coincide using a ceremony to commemorate the 1979 revolution.
A warning of unprecedented publicness came per month later, when Islamic State operatives in eastern Iraq posted videos in Persian on the social networking networks. In this video an Islamic State militant vowed, “We will invade Iran and return it to Sunni control,” and Shiite militiamen, thought being Iraqis, were executed.
The Islamic State video singled out Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for abuse and excoriated his regime due to the relatively lenient attitude toward the greater than 8,000 Jews who live within its borders. “Iran shouted slogans against America and Israel,” a narrator asserted, “in order to deceive the Sunnis, whilst the Jews of Iran live in security underneath the protection with the Iranian state.”
That Islamic State should criticize the Islamic Republic to be too nice to its Jews points too a whole lot other than sectarian identity separates the two. This distinction clearly eluded President Trump when he gave the impression to lump Iran along with the Sunni jihadis together as part of the same “evil” inside a speech to Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia on May 21. And it seems to elude many others inside West.
The ideology from the Islamic State has more in common with that with the more radical portions of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi religious establishment, including their shared disparagement of Shiites as apostates who deserve death.
In Iran, by contrast, the discourse may be more tolerant. While Iranian Shiites are taught that their version of Islamic history and practice is the correct one and even though Sunnis are routinely discriminated against, nowhere have I heard ordinary Sunnis referred to as anything apart from Muslims. Being a Sunni in Iran is probably not comfortable, however it is not life-threatening.
More than a statement of sectarian rigidity, the Revolutionary Guard’s statement implicating Saudi Arabia in Wednesday’s attacks should be seen inside context of ever-worsening strategic tensions between Tehran and Riyadh.
For it’s attachment to its coreligionists, Iran has a pragmatic attitude to foreign relations, as demonstrated by its decision to supply food towards the tiny Sunni monarchy of Qatar, after Saudi Arabia, and many other Gulf states, cut ties with all the Qataris as a punishment for cordial relations with all the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s leaders and media gleefully anticipate the destruction of the Islamic State in the strongholds of Iraq and Syria, as though this will likely end the issue of jihadi violence. It will not. Even if it is annihilated and the organization dissolves, or even more likely mutates, its chance to inspire and commit atrocities remains formidable. The Middle East will not be wiped clean of the poisonous anti-Shiite sentiment that the Islamic State has disseminated, and which will test the Islamic Republic for years ahead.
The fear now is if Iran is increasingly exposed to jihadi attacks, attitudes toward Sunnis, specifically the country’s Sunni minority, will harden. “If we don’t slap the enemy” outside our borders, Iran’s public prosecutor told the public in March, “he’ll come to your door.” And what if he’s perceived to get already inside?
The attacks on Tehran will likely bear down on Iran both domestically and externally. Reformists have previously criticized Iran’s support to the secular tyrant in Syria; those criticisms may grow in volume.
Is Iran, whose military involvements throughout the region have brought it into conflict while using Islamic State whilst ratcheting up tensions with Saudi Arabia as well as fellow-Sunni clients, overreaching itself?
Add to this President Trump’s recent expressions of hostility, and it can be clear that the world outside Iran, problematic and treacherous place indeed, has landed within the middle of Tehran.