ISIL strikes Iran
On Tuesday ISIL unleashed coordinated attacks on Tehran, striking the parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini.1 The attacks involved multiple gunmen and suicide bombers and killed at least 13 people and wounded 43.
Such an attack, should come as little surprise, as it coincides with ISIL’s Ramadan offensive2–which has already struck Baghdad, London, Manilla and Melborne3–and ISIL has been viciously battling against Iran and its Shiite proxies in Iraq and Syria. In the past year, Iranian authorities have disrupted and arrested at least two ISIL cells, one which was planning to strike Ashura commemorations and the other during last year’s Ramadan.4
What took ISIL so long to strike Iran?
However, it is noteworthy that yesterday’s ISIL attack in Tehran was the first time the organization successful struck Iran. The other nation which has also largely avoided ISIL’s violence has been Israel has has led many to speculate on the relationship between Israel and ISIL.5
While it is clear that ISIL and Iran are bitter enemies, one still wonders what has taken ISIL so long in striking on Iranian soil, especially when they have already struck numerous Western European countries, Russia and the US? According to the pro-Iranian Lebanese daily Alwaght, Iran has been able to effectively thwart ISIL due to border controls, which include a 40 kilometer ISIL no go zone extending into Iraq, effective security and intelligence forces and the fact that ISIL does not have.6
While Iran is diligent in their efforts to counter ISIL, which until now have been largely successful, Hussam Naji, a former ISIL mufti who is now under the custody of Iraqi authorities, has a different take. During an interview he had the following interchange on the topic of ISIL and Iran:7
Interviewer: “You people accuse the Shi’ites of heresy, and you have carried out attacks that killed hundreds of innocent Sunnis and Shi’ites. You have carried out attacks throughout the Middle East. But we have never heard from you a fatwa regarding Iran.”
Hussam Naji: “The Islamic State… Let me tell you something.. When I was in Fallujah, I learned from the leaders there and elsewhere that they do not want to have many front.”
Interviewer: “All the countries in the world except Iran?!”
Hussam Naji: “The Governor of Fallujah at the time was Haji Islam Abu Omar, [he] tried to avoid provoking multiple enemies against him.”
Ayatollah Khamenei responded to the attacks with defiance, stating, “The Iranian nation is moving forward. These fireworks that happened today will have no impact on the people’s resolve. They are too weak to affect the will of the Iranian nation and that of the officials.”8 President Hassan Rouhani said, “The Iranian nation … will prove once again that it will crush any plot or scheme by ill-wishers through unity and solidarity and its powerful security structure.”9
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made a veiled accusation that the Saudis were involved in the attack tweeting “terror-sponsoring despots threaten to bring the fight to our homeland. Proxies attack what their masters despise most: the seat of democracy [Iran].” The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) were much more direct in their accusations “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the U.S. president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists. The fact that Islamic State has claimed responsibility proves that they were involved in the brutal attack.”10
IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Salami gave an ominous warning, “We will remain steadfast in fighting terrorists and we will surely take revenge on terrorists, their affiliates and their supporters for the blood of the martyrs of today’s two terrorist attacks.”11
Effects of the attack
While one could dismiss the Tehran attack as just another one of many such attacks by ISIL, it is very possible that it could have significant consequences. Salami has vowed revenge on the “terrorists” and “their supporters.” With the IRGC already implicating the US and Saudi Arabia in the attack, meaning they could be considered terrorist supporters, there is the possibility that Iran may take military action, probably through their proxies, most likely against the Saudis, but also the US.
Ultimately what we are seeing here is another escalation in the ongoing conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. The Saudis, emboldened by their $350 billion arms deal with the US and realizing that Iran is their greatest enemy,* are starting to take firm action against their Shiite nemesis. Saudi’s and their Arab allies unprecedented sanctions and embargo against Qatar can most likely be explained as a move against Iran. One has to wonder whether the Tehran attack is another such move, in which the Saudis have made use of ISIL to strike their enemy.**
Even if Saudi Arabia had nothing directly to do with the Tehran attack, Iran still believes otherwise. As such expect Iranian retaliation against Saudi Arabia. Maybe the Houthis will launch some missiles into Saudi Arabia, possibly targeting Mecca. Or maybe the Iranians will stir up the restive Shiite population in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Regardless of what exactly will transpire, Iran and Saudi Arabia are building towards outright conflict and ISIL or even Qatar may be the spark that sets it off.
References and Notes
 Israeli minister prefers ISIL over Iran , Is ISIL in Cahoots with Israel? , Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon says ISIL apologized to Israel for a cross border attack , According to Moshe Yaalon Israel’s military policy successful at deterring ISIL: Why is Israel going easy on ISIL?
[*] As Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud said “We know that we are a primary goal of the Iranian regime. Reaching the Kaaba is a main goal of the Iranian regime. But we will not wait for the war to be waged on Saudi Soil. We will make sure that the war is waged in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.” https://www.memri.org/tv/deputy-crown-prince-al-saud-war-iran-saudi-arabia-no-direct-dialogue , https://www.memri.org/tv/deputy-crown-prince-al-saud-war-iran-saudi-arabia-no-direct-dialogue/transcript
[**] If one has trouble believing that Saudi Arabia would utilize ISIL against Iran, then they need acquaint themselves with the Podesta e-mails. In an e-mail sent on August 17, 2014 from Hillary Clinton to Podesta, she wrote “[Qatar and Saudi Arabia] are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-10-11/hillary-confirms-saudi-arabia-qatar-are-funding-isis-leaked-email , https://wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/23225#efmAGIAHu