HomeGlobal Defence UpdatesIran's Pakistan attack amid joint drills raises eyebrows

Iran’s Pakistan attack amid joint drills raises eyebrows

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As the helpless world watched flattening and gutting of Palestinian lives and properties by Israel backed by the US, Iran sprung a surprise by launching missile and drone attacks in its neighbourhood. The Iranian strikes against, what it claimed to be, a “Mossad-affiliated spy base” in Erbil (Iraq) and a “terrorist-affiliated” headquarter in Idlib (Syria) were followed by similar attacks against “terrorists” of Jaish al Adl in Balochistan (Pakistan) on January 16-17. Out of the three attacks, the most unexpected and baffling was that on the soil of Pakistan that killed two children.

The attack was neither preceded by any effort by the Iranian side to resolve the issue diplomatically nor any acrimonious exchange of statements between the two countries. In fact, the last significant attack by Jaish al Adl, an Iranian separatist group having presence in Pakistan, took place on a police station in Sistan-o-Baluchistan killing 11 policemen a month before the missile attacks. So, it can’t possibly be the trigger for retaliation.

What adds to further confusion is the fact that only a few hours before the missile attacks, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met Anwaar ul haq Kakar, caretaker prime minister of Pakistan, on the sidelines of Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland. Besides, only a day earlier, Iranian and Pakistani navies had conducted a joint naval exercise by deploying missile launchers and warships in the strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

That is why the Iranian foreign minister downplayed the attacks by claiming that Iran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan and had only targeted Iranian terrorists based on the Pakistani side. Similarly, while launching retaliatory attacks on the Iranian province of Sistan-o-Baluchistan the next day, Pakistan Foreign Office echoed the sentiments of the Iranian foreign minister by assuring that Pakistan fully respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Like Iran, Pakistan also claimed to have carried out the attacks in the interests of its own security and national interests by targeting Pakistani Baloch separatists but instead killed nine civilians.

The reality is that Iranian leadership has been facing domestic pressure to act against Israel for the ongoing death and destruction in Gaza. The assassination of Sayyed Razi Mousvi, an advisor in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), in an Israeli airstrike in Damascus (Syria) on December 25 last year further added to public anger against Israel. But Iran can’t even think of attacking Israeli or the US interests.

What seems to have firmed up the mind of Iranian leadership to launch attacks was perhaps the twin bombings at Kerman causing the death of more than 90 people on January 3. The attacks were claimed by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), a group based in Afghanistan. The people had gathered at Kerman to observe the fourth death anniversary of Qassem Soleimani, a senior IRG commander, who was killed by the US in a missile attack. By bombing the gathering, IS was trying to convey a message to Iranian authorities that those fighting the group would not be spared. Soleimani was responsible for targeting the IS in Iraq as well as Syria.Iranian investigations have also confirmed that one of the bombers was a Tajik national, who had received training for bomb making at an ISKP camp in Badakshan province in Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan. However, it was out of the question for Iran to attack Afghanistan because the Taliban there were already targeting ISKP facilities. Besides, Iran didn’t want to open any new confrontation in the region to degrade its capabilities in blunting the possible Israel-US provocations.The reality is that the Israel-US axis is finding it difficult to end the war quickly against the Hamas and declare victory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not mind prolonging the conflict and further expanding it so that the US is forced to intervene and bail him out. However, time is running out for the US President Joe Biden, who is fast losing democratic vote.

The Israel-US axis had factored in the possible disruption of Israel’s war against Hamas from the north by Hizbollah of Lebanon but had completely underestimated the damage potential of Houthi rebels of Yemen. Houthis have not only disrupted the movement of ships through the Red Sea but have successfully hit a few ships through missile and drone attacks.

Frustrated with their failure to show the results to the world in terms of release of hostages and degrading the Hamas capabilities, the US and Israel would like the world to believe that without taking on Iran they will not be able to succeed. They are already trying to propagate that the Hamas, Hizbollah and Houthis are all Iran’s proxies.

That may take the war close to Iran, who must be apprehensive of the possible widening of the conflict. Iran, therefore, needed to show its prowess by precisely targeting the locations to scare away US and Israel.

So, were the attacks scripted to facilitate Iranian leadership in firing those warning shots against any possible misadventure by Israel-US axis in attacking Iranian interests as also to convey to the people of Iran that the government was strong enough to retaliate against elements inimical to Iran’s interests?

That would not have been possible without some prior understanding with the Pakistan army. It is difficult to make any guesses at this stage, but it must be remembered that both Iran and Pakistan remain on the same page on the Palestine issue.

The author is a former IB officer who served in Pakistan

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