The men who carried out Saturday’s attack on the parade in Ahvaz, in Iran’s southwestern province of Khuzestan, were well trained. Four of them killed 25 people and wounded 70 others before they were shot dead. The question is whether they were trained by Islamic State or by the backers of the low-profile Ahvaz National Resistance, which also claimed credit for the attack.
Islamic State is an independent, ultra-extremist Sunni Muslim movement that kills Shiites (most Iranians are Shiite) on principle, so there are no big political implications if it were IS that planned the attack.
If it was the Ahvaz National Resistance, however, then these were the opening shots in the fourth Gulf War, because the ANR is backed by Saudi Arabia and its smaller Arab allies like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Iran is convinced it was the latter. “It is absolutely clear to us who committed this crime . . . and to whom they are linked,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “The small (Arab) puppet countries in the region are backed by America, and the U.S. is provoking them and giving them the necessary capabilities.”
There is reason to suspect this is true. The Arab countries of the Gulf are smaller and weaker than Iran, and have talked themselves into the paranoid conviction that Iran intends to destroy them, perhaps even to replace Sunni with Shia Islam. They talk of war with Iran as inevitable, and dream of drawing America into such a war to even up the odds.
President Donald Trump also is paranoid about Iran, and openly talks about overthrowing the Iranian regime. Indeed, his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, boasted on Saturday that U.S. sanctions are hurting Iran: “I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them. It could be in a few days, months, a couple of years. But it’s going to happen.”
But first there has to be a spark, some Iranian action that gives both Trump and the Arab Gulf states a pretext for attacking Iran, for they both think in terms of attacking Iran first, not of defending against a (highly improbable) Iranian attack.