Two explosions in Iran left at least 103 dead and more than 200 injured on Wednesday January 3 in the province of Kerman, Iran, near the tomb of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Iran celebrated the memory of the general killed in January 2020 in Baghdad in an American drone attack.
This deadly double attack takes place in a context of escalating tensions in a Middle East marked by the war which has pitted Israel against Hamas for almost three months. Saleh Al-Arouri, Hamas number two, was killed on January 2 in Beirut by a strike attributed to Israel, a week after the death of Seyed Razi Mousavi, an Iranian general whose death is also attributed to the Hebrew state. Although the identity of the perpetrators of the explosions in Iran is still unknown, several Iranian officials are already accusing Israel, raising fears of an escalation of the conflict.
A specialist in Iran, Thierry Coville is a researcher at IRIS.
LE FIGARO. - Iran is mourned by a deadly double explosion in Kerman, a province in the south of the country. What are the circumstances of the attack?
Thierry COVILLE. - The attack hit the crowd gathering on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. The head of the Quds Force, the external branch of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for Iran's regional and security policy, was shot down by an American drone in 2020. He was a nationalist and political symbol of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and a very influential figure in the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei. He was also a national hero for part of the country: Soleimani was seen by the population as a real bulwark against Daesh. The general had in fact orchestrated the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Committing an attack on the occasion of such a celebration is fraught with meaning.
Who could be behind the attack?
We must remain cautious about the identity of the authors. However, there are several similarities between this attack and Daesh's operational techniques: notably the deadly attack on a Shiite sanctuary in southern Iran in October 2022, which the Islamic State had claimed responsibility for. At first glance, the attack that hit Iran yesterday targeted the civilian population rather than political leaders. In addition, Iran is an Islamic republic that is 90% Shiite, a branch of Islam against which Daesh, of Sunni inspiration, maintains real hatred: Daesh considers Shiites to be heretics.
However, Iranian officials close to President Raïssi are already pointing out the responsibility of the Hebrew state in this double attack...
The only thing that we can say at this stage is that this attack actually takes place in the context of the death of Saleh Al-Arouri, number two in Hamas and very close to Iran, by a strike attributed to Israel. In Syria, a strike from the Jewish state also killed Seyed Razi Mousavi, a high-ranking Iranian general, on December 25. Tensions, already explosive in the region, are escalating further.
Could this attack lead to an escalation of the conflict?
Iran is racked by internal tensions. Ayatollah Khamenei, who also condemned the attack, plays a balancing role between the different radical groups in Iran. The latter have been whispering in the president's ear since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas that Iran should get more involved. In their eyes, this type of deadly attack would originate from the lack of aggressiveness of the Islamic Republic towards Israel. However, if the leader of the Revolution and the Iranian government are well aware of the extreme tension of the regional context, they do not want an open war with Israel and the United States: they would have nothing to gain from it. . With this in mind, the Iranian government will not change its course of action.
Also read: Hezbollah measures the pressure on the Israeli border
The axis of resistance against Israel, coordinated by Iran, continues: as evidenced by the attacks on American bases in Iraq and Syria by factions close to the Iranian regime, the tensions between Hezbollah, supported by Iran, and the Israeli army, or the attacks of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran is increasing the pressure, telling the United States that if the war does not stop, the conflict could take on a regional dimension; but the Islamic Republic seeks to avoid direct conflict. In this, it is close to the attitude of Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the powerful Shiite militia, supported by Iran, strongly condemned the death of Saleh al-Arouri killed by a strike attributed to the Hebrew state on January 2, but did not announce any major changes in its wait-and-see strategy towards Israel.