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Calls For Revenge On Riyadh And Odd Unity In Aftermath Of Attack On Parade

This picture taken on September 22, 2018 in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz shows soldiers either taking cover or injured as armed attack unfolds.
This picture taken on September 22, 2018 in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz shows soldiers either taking cover or injured as armed attack unfolds.

Tehran's leading hard-line daily Kayhan, in the largest banner headline of its front-page on Sunday September 23, promised revenge on Saudi Arabia for Saturday's deadly attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Southwestern Iran.

The article said that "the people expect officials to give a hard slap to Riyadh in the face to avenge the blood spilled in Ahvaz."

At the same time, the chief of staff of Iranian armed forces, Mohammad Hossein Bagheri directly blamed Saudi Arabia and threatened that if Riyadh does not apologize and "correct its behavior", Iran's armed forces reserve the right to a "crushing blow" anywhere and at any time they see fit.

Meanwhile, an editorial by the daily's editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened American, Israeli, Saudi, and UAE's military and security officials with retaliation.

"Why should their military and security officials anywhere in the world and in any disguise be immune to the fire of revenge when they do not recognize attacks on military personnel, women and children as terrorist operations?" the Kayhan asked, adding "they should fear even their own shadows as Islamic Iran's selfless supporters are present everywhere."

In the same editorial, Kayhan refers to a tweet by Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who according to Kayhan is the political adviser of UAE's crown prince, in which he allegedly said the attack was not a "terrorist" action.

Hundreds of Iranians lashed out at him for the comment and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, called him "ignorant," adding that "a hard regret is awaiting him."

Abdulla claimed in a later tweet that Rezai has threatened him to death.

Kayhan, linked Al- Ahvaziah, the separatist group that has claimed responsibility for the attack to several countries including Saudi Arabia and Israel, alleging that the group's members have recently visited Tel Aviv and Riyadh as well as several European countries.

In another development, Iranian foreign ministry summoned chief diplomats from several European countries, protesting the separatist group's presence in those countries.

Even during the monarch Iran since mid-1950s Iran always claimed that separatist groups in Khouzestan were linked to Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser until his death in 1970. During the 1970s and 1980s Iran accused Iraq under Saddam Hussain of funding and harboring ethnic Arab insurgents.

Baghdad’s support for ethnic Arab separatists in Iran became more elaborate while Iran and Iraq were engaged in their 8-year war in the 1980s. At the time, Iran was harboring Iraqi insurgents who were members of the Supreme Assembly of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI).

In recent years, as hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabi grew, both countries accused each other of supporting ethnic-religious dissidents in the Shi'ite-populated Saudi province of Qatif and the Iranian province of Khouzestan where ethnic Arabs live alongside other groups. In their initial reactions after Saturday's attack Iranian leaders pointed fingers at Saudi Arabia without naming the country.

The War on the Media Front

Both Kayhan and IRGC-linked newspaper Javan have harshly criticized a number of foreign media outlets for not characterizing Saturday's attack as "terrorism".

Meanwhile, Iran's ambassador to London, Hamid Baeidinejad, said on his social media pages that he would file a complaint with UK's media watchdog Office of Communications (Ofcom), against Iran International, a TV channel based in London for interviewing the Al – Ahvaziah separatist group's spokesperson.

Baeidinejad called the channel's behavior "shameless" and accused it of "promoting terrorism and violence." The channel cited the ambassador's charges on its Twitter page, but said they interviewed the spokesman only after Iranian media first linked the attack to the group. Baeidinejad replied that he was not convinced and would take the case to Ofcom.

In the meantime, Iranian social media has been bubbling with nationalist sentiments as well as accusations and verbal abuse against media and political figures who failed to condemn the attack or did not characterize it as an act of "terror".

One of the victims of such abusive reaction was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was widely criticized for condemning the attack too late, "after 16 hours," some critics noted.

A Blessing in Disguise and Virtual Alliances

As Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani is on his way to New York to take part in the UN General Assembly meeting, the attack and the political dynamics surrounding it, may have strengthened his position during his upcoming meetings with world leaders who would have been in a better position to criticize Iran for its regional activities and missile program if Saturday's attack had not taken place.

He is now going to New York with a case that portrays him as a victim rather than a sponsor of terrorism, and with a stronger justification for Tehran's missile program as a means of preventing or averting such attacks.

The attack also seems to have united foreign-based Iranian opposition groups mainly the advocates of secular democracy such as Prince Reza Pahlavi, the newly founded Revival network and the Constitutionalists to speak in one voice with the Islamic regime in condemning the attack, regardless of their difference with the regime in other areas.

Such an odd alliance is not unprecedented though. During recent years, national solidarity and patriotic sentiments often forged virtual alliances between the regime and opposition forces based abroad every time the Persian Gulf's "Persian" identity was challenged by littoral Arab states such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.