It is still unclear who is responsible for the double bombing of a crowd in the south-eastern Iranian city of Kerman but whoever is behind the outrage is clearly willing to risk igniting a regional war.
In Washington, officials have been pointing towards the possible role of Islamic State or some affiliated Sunni extremist group, and away from the partnership of Israel and the secular Iranian rebel group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), who have reportedly been behind previous attacks deep inside Iran.
Those earlier attacks have mostly been targeted assassinations, often on scientists, or acts of sabotage. Wednesday’s bombing in Kerman does not fit the pattern, US and UK officials argue. It was aimed at mourners marking the fourth anniversary of the US drone killing of Qassem Suleimani, a commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and arch-foe of Israel and US – but the attack was a horrifically blunt instrument, leaving scores of civilians among the dead, so it would be a remarkable departure for MeK and the Mossad.
Outwardly at least, Iran’s leadership displayed no doubts over the perpetrators on Wednesday. The president, Ebrahim Raisi, flatly accused Israel, warning that it would pay “a regrettable price”. It will be impossible for the Tehran regime not to respond in some manner for the worst terrorist attack since the founding of Iran, but Raisi provided some wriggle room, and notably did not commit to immediate act of revenge, but rather one “at the right time and place”.
The conventional wisdom in Washington and Tel Aviv has been that Iran did not want a conflict with Israel and its western backers – at least not now. Its regional partners, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Houthi forces in Yemen, caused pain to Israel in solidarity with the suffering in Gaza, but Hezbollah’s cross-border rocket salvoes and the Houthi harassment of shipping have been calibrated, aimed below the threshold required to ignite an all-out regional war.
However, calibration is a delicate matter, especially when performed with high explosives. The risk of miscalculation started high and has kept rising. [Continue reading…]