DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Within 24 hours, Iran launched missile and drone attacks on targets in three countries — Iraq, Syria and Pakistan — and took the extraordinary step of claiming responsibility for the attacks, prompting outrage from his neighbors.
The developments have heightened concerns about the possibility of a wider conflict in the Middle East as the Israel-Hamas war and daily Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip pass the 100-day mark.
Baghdad recalled its ambassador to Iran after Monday night’s attack in the northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region that killed four civilians and wounded at least six. Tehran said the attack targeted an Israeli spy center near the US consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masour Barzani rejected Iran’s claim, calling the attack a “crime against the Kurdish people”.
Iraq’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, called the attacks a “violation of international law” and said it would file a complaint with the UN Security Council. France’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Iran was “contributing to the escalation of regional tensions — and it must stop.”
Speaking to CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian defended his country’s actions.
The strikes by Iranian forces were “in accordance with the fight against terrorism and legitimate self-defense,” the minister said, adding: “We have no reservations when it comes to safeguarding our national interest with any other country.”
Tehran also struck what it said were Islamic State targets in northern Syria alongside its strikes in Iraq. It then targeted the headquarters of a Sunni militant group in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province near the border with Iran.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Tuesday it “strongly condemns the unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran,” which it said killed two children and injured three others. He added that “it is even more disturbing that this illegal act took place despite the existence of multiple channels of communication between Pakistan and Iran.”
Iran unveils its first supersonic ballistic missile ‘Fattah’ (Conqueror) at an event attended by President Ebrahim Raisi and other government officials in Tehran, Iran on June 06, 2023.
Sepah News | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
While the attacks in Syria and Pakistan were unrelated to Israel — Tehran said the attacks targeted anti-Iranian terrorist groups — they signal bolder direct action by Iran, which funds and supplies forces opposed to Israel, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and Houthis in Yemen.
“This shows that Iran will not stop now targeting such groups on its eastern border and will use missiles and drones,” said Umar Karim, a fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. he said Middle East news agency Al-Monitor, referring to the Pakistan strikes.
The boldness of the attacks, he said, suggests that “Iran can be expected to go against these militant groups … in the future.”
Yemen’s Houthi militia group – which is backed by Iran – has in recent weeks launched dozens of attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea in protest against what Israel says is genocide against the people of the Gaza Strip.
According to Palestinian health authorities, more than 24,000 people in the besieged enclave have been killed by Israeli shelling since October 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 people in a terror attack in southern Israel. Mass starvation and disease in the Gaza Strip now pose as great a threat to life as daily Israeli bombardment. warn international aid organizations.
In response to the Red Sea attacks, the US and UK governments last week began launching missile strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen. While the US has hit Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq since the start of the war in Gaza, the missile strikes marked the first US attack on the Yemeni group. Iran’s foreign minister told CNBC on Tuesday that the Houthis “do not receive orders or instructions from us.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stressed the need for negotiations towards a Palestinian state once the war ends, arguing that it would not only improve the chances for peace in the region but also weaken Iran.
“When you combine the integration in the region, the normalization of Israel’s relations with every country, the security guarantees and commitments, a Palestinian state … you have created a whole new region. And then Israel’s biggest challenge, the biggest problem, for us as well — Iran — is isolated,” Blinken told CNBC on Tuesday in Davos.
“It responds to this problem very powerfully as well. Now, Israel, right now, of course, is focused on Gaza. He is focused on October 7,” he said. “But when this is over, they have to make fundamental decisions about their future. These are difficult decisions.”
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