Taking the Battle to Iran

More attacks can be expected as US/Saudi destabilisation plans unfold 

By Abdel Bari Atwan

When US President Donald Trump accuses Iran of being behind most if not all terrorist attacks in the world; Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Salman openly vows to take his battle with Iran into Iranian territory; and Israel threatens to continue attacking Iranian military targets to prevent the country from establishing missile bases in Syria; then Saturday’s bloody attack on a military parade in Ahvaz in which 29 people were killed comes as no surprise.   Indeed, such an incident could have been expected earlier, and more such attacks, even bloodier, can be expected in future. The region stands on the threshold of an unprecedented terrorist war waged by intelligence agencies that will be destructive to all parties concerned.

Trump is imposing a suffocating economic blockade on Iran which is set to peak in November when its most important component, the ban on oil exports, becomes operative. Its principal objective is to wear down and destabilize the Iranian regime with the aim of ultimately overthrowing it by military force. Experience has taught us that American wars in our region do not come out of the blue, but are the culmination of strategies that entail years of preparation.

Trump well knows that economic sanctions alone cannot topple regimes. Otherwise the North Korean and Cuban regimes would have fallen years ago, not to mention the Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Blockades that are not followed by military intervention tend to backfire. That is why planning began to create an ‘Arab Nato’ consisting of the six Gulf states plus Egypt, Jordan and Morocco in anticipation of such an intervention should it go ahead. Israel’s successive air and missile strikes inside Syria are one of its components.


Iran is a powerful state with a strategic project that it seeks to bolster with a national and regional military capacity. At its heart is a missile capability that can have a decisive effect on the ground and strip Western air superiority of its most potent weapon: the ability to terrorise and thereby impose early surrender on the other side.  Iran has gone from exporting the revolution to exporting missile capability and bolstering allied paramilitary groups, which have come to be seen as an ‘existential threat by most of its adversaries, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi heir apparent Muhammad Bin-Salman is Trump’s closest Arab ally and the mainstay of his strategy for undermining Iran’s security and stability from within. He would not have made the statements he did a year ago pledging to take the battle to the Iranian interior were he not aware of the US and Israel’s plan for changing the regime and its various stages. That was the first time in the history of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry that a Saudi official dared speak openly of intentions to foment rebellion among religious and ethnic minorities in Iran. Previously, Saudi rulers never publicly acknowledged or boasted about meddling in other countries’ affairs or waging war on them. What we have seen in Yemen we are set to witness in Iran.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – which was targeted and humiliated in the Ahvaz attack at a time when it and its direct and indirect allies have been achieving victories in Iraq, Syria and Yemen – was accordingly quick to accuse a Saudi-backed Arab separatist group of being behind the incident. It vowed to retaliate, a threat reiterated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rohani and other officials.

It was not by chance that Dr. Abdelkhaleq Abdallah, described as one of the closest aides of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Zayed, wrote a tweet justifying the attack on the military parade in Ahvaz and insisting it was not an incident of terrorism. This was not a slip of the tongue. It was said at the express direction of his country’s leaders and their Saudi counterparts. Otherwise, the tweet would have been immediately erased as a way of disowning it, and the writer would have been thrown in jail. But that did not happen.

To elaborate, military matters are not a subject that Arab, and especially Gulf, tweeters can discuss freely. Every word is carefully considered and dictated with the aim of sending a specific message to one party or other. Dr. Abdallah is an political scientist, not a military spokesman for him declare that “taking the battle to the Iranian interior is a declared option and it will increase in the coming period” as though it were merely his personal assessment.

That being the case, we can be sure that we are now facing a war waged by intelligence agencies targeting Iran from within. It is based on recruiting some of the country’s Arab, Sunni, Azeri and Baluch minorities (the latter live mostly in southeastern Iran by the Pakistani and Afghan borders and are represented by the hardline Sunni Jundallah organization) as was done in Afghanistan during the Soviet era, resulting in the collapse of the communist regime of Muhammad Najibullah.

It is perhaps premature to say that this plan stands much chance of succeeding. The regime of the Islamic Revolution in Iran bears no comparison to the former communist government in Afghanistan, even if the US spearheaded the campaigns against both, with Saudi Arabia playing a key part in providing financial, military and sectarian/ideological backing. The differences between the two cases are very big, and the times, too, have changed.

Iran has more experience of ‘spook wars’ than Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf allies (Kuwait, Qatar and Oman denounced the bloody attack on the military parade and describe it as terrorism). This experience has been enhanced ‘operationally’ through the direct involvement of Iranian intelligence offshoots in wars in three arenas – Syria, Iraq and Yemen – and especially against the Islamic State (IS) organisation, as well as indirectly in South Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Saudi intelligence expertise has only been tested in practice in two countries, Syria and Yemen, and the achievements in both cases have been modest, given the results so far.

Iran has faced foreign meddling, internal revolts and externally-backed separatist movements for the past thirty years. But its regime has never once been threatened with collapse. It has become stronger and more resilient, scoring one military achievement after another.


Trump wants to involve Saudi Arabia, along with its Gulf allies and some of the Arab Sunnis, in a proxy ‘terrorist’ war in Iran. As well as draining it financially this could jeopardise its own domestic security, at a time when it needs stability due to the bumpy transition it is going through under King Salman. While there are tools the kingdom can employ at the US’ behest to destabilise Iran, there are also other tools and means that Iran can employ. One need only take a glance at what has been achieved by Iran’s revolutionary, political and military arms in Iraq and Syria, and further away in Yemen, which has been able to withstand what is perhaps the longest assault ever waged on the country.

The problem in our estimation does not lie in whether the attack on the military parade in Ahvaz is described as terrorist or not. It lies in the consequences that could ensue. We have begun entering a period of involvement in a secret war of terrorist attacks and counter-attacks, at a time when other countries are resorting to dialogue to resolve their differences – witness the leaders of North and South Korea negotiating an end to a 70-year war that almost turned nuclear.

The US is playing with fire with the clandestine and economic wars whose fuse it has lit in the region at Israel’s instigation. The irony is that it is the fingers of Saudi Arabia and maybe some other countries that are most likely to be burned, and perhaps, who knows, even incinerated.

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