by Raffaele Crocco
As is often the case, the real devastation came with the second explosion. After the first blast, which had already caused loss of life and destruction, help arrived promptly. But the second bomb, in a well-rehearsed terrorist tactic, struck at that very moment.
The problem is that the real carnage in the Middle East could now begin. The attack, which killed more than a hundred people in Iran and wounded at least 150 others as they paid tribute to General Qasem Soleimani, really does threaten to overwhelm everything and everyone. The General was killed by the US in Iraq four years ago. Now the United States, along with Israel, is being mentioned as possibly responsible for the massacre on 3 January 2023.
Is it possible that Washington and Tel Aviv are behind the two bombs at the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Kerman? Rationally, it seems unlikely. It is true that both countries have been locked in a bitter confrontation with Iran for years, but such an action is neither in their style nor in their interests, even though Israel, as we know, regards Tehran as a mortal enemy.
Hezbollah’s pressure in the north, on the border with Lebanon, is a thorn in Tel Aviv’s side. The Shiite politico-military organisation is a staunch ally of Tehran and collaborates with Hamas in Gaza, despite theoretical religious differences. Just a few days ago, an attack – claimed by Israel – in Hezbollah-controlled areas on the outskirts of Beirut killed Hamas’s number two, Saleh el-Arouri. A snub that the Shiite organisation will not leave unpunished. Iran also openly supports the Palestinian cause.
The real dispute between the two regional powers is over control of the territory and its resources, but Israel has so far only attacked Iran in its military bases in Syria or Lebanon, without targeting Iranian civilians. The same goes for the United States, which has so far avoided direct confrontation with Iran. When they have struck – as in the case of General Soleimani – it has always been outside the Country.
But it is not all. In the Red Sea, Yemen’s Houthis are attacking European and US ships in retaliation for what is happening in Gaza and for years of war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Ryad had weapons and support from the United States and Europe in the war against the Houthis, Shiites and allies of Tehran, who had overthrown a Sunni government in Sanaa. The result was 20,000 civilians dead under the bombs and 21 million people in a humanitarian crisis.
A military coalition, including Italy, has been set up to stop the Houthi piracy. The mission is called ‘Prosperity Guardian’ and aims to free trade and transit in the Red Sea. In reality, this is just another hotbed of war in what has become a dangerous chessboard.
In the coming hours it will be crucial to understand how Tehran, which is certainly a point of reference for Hezbollah and the Houthis, intends to react. The Kerman attack could have many other matrices. For years, Tehran has had to reckon with many internal adversaries, from ISIS to the separatists in Baluchistan to the Arab separatists in the south. These are formidable opponents, but they are officially ignored by the leadership of the Islamic Republic, which does not want to show any internal weakness. Hence the decision to blame the United States and Israel.
The escalation in the region is worrying everyone. Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately planned a trip to the region, focusing on Ankara, in order to find a strong ally in any mediation. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s diplomatic representative, also made a move, calling on the international community to find a solution to the ongoing clashes in Gaza in particular. “The two sides will never reach an agreement and, as we see, without a solution the whole Middle East will go up in flames.”
To learn more, read our Iran conflict factsheet
On the cover photo, funeral of Qassem Suleimani assassinated by American drones (Tehran, Jan 7, 2020) ©saeediex/Shutterstock.com