Regional tension ‘to intensify’ while Iran vows revenge after terror attack

Yang Sheng January 4, 2024 —

‘Relations among regional powers to be more fragile’ as more players are involved.

China expressed condolences to Iran on Thursday over the terrorist attack that killed more than 100 in Kerman, a southeastern city in the country, strongly condemning the attack while voicing support for Iran’s efforts in safeguarding its national security and stability.

Chinese analysts said that the forces behind this attack remain unclear at the moment, but considering the intention and capability, as well as its form, the attack could have been conducted by forces with an anti-government stance within Iran and those with extreme hostility against the country in the region that have a mature capability and technical conditions to launch twin bomb attacks.

According to Iranian official media on Wednesday, two explosions near the burial site of Iran’s slain general Qassem Soleimani killed at least 103 people and wounded 141 others. The blasts occurred as many people gathered at the cemetery in Kerman to mark the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s death in a US drone strike.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday sent a message of condolences to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi over the serious terror attacks in the country, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a routine press conference on Thursday that China is deeply shocked by the serious terrorist attack and heavy casualties in Iran. “We express deep condolences to the victims and sincere sympathy to the injured and the bereaved families. China opposes all forms of terrorism, strongly condemns terrorist attacks and firmly supports Iran’s efforts to safeguard national security and stability,” Wang noted.

Condemnations from around the world

Supreme Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued a message on the martyrdom of dozens of people in the terrorist attack, warning the “criminals” of punishment and a hard response over the tragedy they caused, the IRNA reported.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the enemies may believe they can achieve their illegitimate goals through terrorism, but the Iranian nation has proven that such crimes will not disrupt their “unity, security, and strategy.” Raisi made the remarks on Wednesday night as he received a phone call from his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After the blasts, in addition to China, many countries around the world, including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many Islamic countries, as well as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed their condemnation of the attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned terrorism in all its forms and offered his condolences to the Iranian leadership over the terrorist attack in Kerman, TASS reported on Wednesday.

Guterres on Wednesday strongly condemned the attack, a UN spokeswoman said on Wednesday. “The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the bereaved families and the people and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He wishes the injured a speedy recovery,” said Florencia Soto Niño, UN Associate Spokesperson, speaking to journalists at the regular noon briefing in New York.

The EU and France also condemned the bombings. EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote on X that he had a telephone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, during which he expressed condolences to Abdollahian for the bomb attack in Kerman.

As of press time, no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Chinese analysts said that the attacks came after a series of incidents, including a Houthi attack against Israel-linked ships in the Red Sea, and the airstrike against Hamas senior officials in Beirut. They said that no matter who is behind this bombing, the regional tension with the ongoing Gaza conflict at its core will worsen, as more major powers will be forced to become involved.

Wang Jin, a professor and Middle East studies expert at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Thursday that “the Palestine-Israel conflict is showing a trend of escalation, and more and more forces have become involved, and the attack in Iran will make relations between different major powers in the region increasingly sensitive and fragile.”

Who did it?

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told a regular news briefing on Wednesday that the US was not involved in any way in the explosions and has no reason to believe Israel was.

“Washington says USA and Israel had no role in the terrorist attack in Kerman, Iran. Really? A fox smells its own lair first.  Make no mistake. The responsibility for this crime lies with the US and Zionist regimes and terrorism is just a tool,” Mohammad Jamshidi, deputy chief of Staff for Political Affairs to Iranian President, said on his X account.

In a statement on Wednesday night, Hamas said that any terrorist act targeting civilians and seeking to disrupt the security and stability of the Islamic Republic of Iran “serves the sinister plans of the Zionist enemy,” the IRNA reported.

“It’s not a secret that Israel and the US have always targeted Iranian scientists and senior officials and military commanders and have conducted many attacks within Iran and other places in the Middle East, so it’s possible that Israel is connected with the bombings as it needs to retaliate against Iran over issues like the Houthi attacks against its ships in the Red Sea,” Ma Xiaolin, dean of the Institute for Studies on the Mediterranean Rim at Zhejiang International Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

However, Israel normally targets high-value figures related to Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the US normally targets the senior leaders of Iran’s military force, and the attack against civilians will bring no benefits but only risks and a negative impact on Israel and the US, Wang said, adding that the bombing is unlikely to have been conducted by the Netanyahu administration and Washington.

The attack serves the goal of forcing Iran to get involved in the current conflict and to keep the US involved in the ongoing crisis in the region, so it’s possible that the bombing was conducted by anti-government forces within Iran cooperating with anti-Iran forces outside the country connected with Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, said a Shanghai-based expert on international security who asked for anonymity.

“Some of these forces don’t want to see the US walk away from the mess, so they want to push Iran to get involved more directly, so that they might have the chance to hype up the conflict between Iran and the US, or to use the US’ strength to weaken Iran. This scenario serves their interests,” he noted.

Wen Shaobiao, an expert from the Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday that “after the attack, Iran might mobilize its proxies and allies in the region, such as Hezbollah, Houthis and other armed groups in Iraq to attack Israel, while the US military base in Syria will also be targeted, and the Red Sea crisis might be further intensified.”

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