An Arab separatist group quickly took credit for the attack, and Iranian government authorities seem to generally accept this. The Islamic State also attempted to claim responsibility, but this effort did not appear credible in light of apparent differences between the images released by the group and the images of the gunmen who were killed during the attack.
Nevertheless, the dual claims of responsibility contributed to what Voice of America News described on Monday as “mounting confusion” about the attack and the circumstances surrounding it.
Yet this has not stopped Iranian officials from seizing upon the attack as an opportunity to levy political attacks against the United States and other Western nations, alleging without evidence that they had financed, armed, and trained members of this and other terrorist groups, and that Iran’s regional adversaries were “mercenary states” in the employ of the US.
As reported by the Washington Post, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani cryptically declared of the terrorists that it is clear “where they’re linked.” UPI adds that in his last speech at home before departing for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Rouhani said that the US has “showed the world their bullying nature.”
He went on to assert that the US intends to “create chaos and turmoil and set the conditions so that they can return to the country one day and take charge as they did in the old days.”
For its part, the US has responded to the terrorist incident and subsequent Iranian rhetoric by suggesting that the Islamic Republic reexamine its own policies and security situation, including its long track record of discrimination against minorities and its general climate of repression. These characteristics of the theocratic regime have helped to fuel countless peaceful protests over the past several months, as well as allegedly contributing to the terrorist attack in Saturday.
Ahvaz has also been the site of repeated demonstrations for Arab rights, but reporting on those demonstrations has consistently indicated that Iranian authorities failed to address the given concerns or make any meaningful response to the unrest, apart from disrupting demonstrations and arresting protesters.
Business Insider reported on Monday that Nikki Haley had called attention to the full range of Iranian protests in responding to Rouhani’s remarks about supposed American culpability. “He can blame us all he wants,” she said on CNN’s State of the Union, “but the thing he’s got to do is look in the mirror.”
The same report indicates that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took aim at his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, after the latter joined in blaming “foreign powers” for the attack by homegrown Iranian terrorists.
After referring on Twitter to regional adversaries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and to their “US masters,” Zarif warned that Iran would “respond swiftly and decisively.” He did not elaborate, but the commentary was sufficient to prompt Pompeo to accuse Zarif of focusing on “causing insecurity around the world” instead of “keeping his own people secure.”
The Iranian Foreign Minister’s response to Saturday’s attack was arguably not the most threatening message to foreign powers. In a speech at a funeral held on Monday for victims of the attack, the acting head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami, pointed to a “triangle of enemies” consisting of the US, Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and Israel. This is the same “triangle” that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed for domestic unrest in the wake of the overwhelmingly peaceful mass uprising that began at the final days of 2017 and continued through much of January.
“You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions,” Salami said in reference to this supposed foreign axis of Iran’s enemies, according to the Associated Press. “We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge.”
Other Iranian officials led attendees at Monday’s funeral in chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel” as the mourning ceremony took on an unmistakably political tone.
But as a separate AP report noted, Iranian officials did not limit their outwardly-directed wrath to the points of the “triangle”.
In the immediate aftermath of the terror attack, diplomats from Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands were all summoned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry to face questions over their supposed harboring of members of the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attack.
For opponents of the Iranian regime, such summons are sure to reflect a clear double-standard. The Netherlands was the location of an incident last year in which an Arab-Iranian opposition figure was allegedly assassinated by one or more Iranian operatives. This was arguably a precursor to a broader upsurge in Iranian terrorist plots directed at opposition figures in the West.
Chief among these plots were the planned bombing in March of an Iranian exile compound in Albania and similar plot for the Iran Freedom rally just outside Paris on June 30. The targets of both thwarted attacks were the pro-democracy People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran and its parent coalition the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Additionally, at least one British citizen is currently being held captive in the Islamic Republic on the assumption that her past affiliation with a British media outlet makes her an advocate for the “soft overthrow” of Iran’s clerical regime.
This, together with the similar hostage-taking of several American nationals, is indicative of a clear commitment to lashing out at Western powers and levying dubious charges against them since long before Saturday’s attack.
The funeral chants of “death to America” suggest that the aftermath of the attack is laying the groundwork for further growth of these kinds of tensions. At the same time, Voice of America suggests that the attack may also be used to justify the further expansion of Iran’s roles in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, with the supposed mission of countering US-aided separatists groups on Iran’s border.
Among the Iranian leadership, there may still be some hope for broader Muslim alignment in opposition to Western interests, particularly in the wake of a politically useful incident like Saturday’s mass shooting. This may explain why the rhetoric against regional countries has apparently been muted in comparison with that which is directed against the West.
Although an envoy from the UAE was summoned over allegedly “biased” remarks in response to the attack, Reuters reported on Monday that Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, had issued a statement expressing interest in constructive dialogue between Iran and its neighbors.
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime can be said to be pursuing less dialogue but more political homogeneity at home. The Washington Post accordingly pointed to the potential domestic effects of the government’s response to Saturday’s attack.
While the political differences have already shrunk between IRGC-backed “hardliners” and the pragmatic faction associated with President Rouhani, public reactions to the attack could serve to further bolster across-the-board support for the IRGC, the organization that was at the heart of the targeted parade.
This would no doubt correspond to further political justification for harsh crackdowns on anyone who might criticize the Revolutionary Guards in the context of ongoing anti-government protests.