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Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 175

Edited by Ilan Berman and Berke Gursoy
June 16, 2017

After years of warnings, the Islamic State terrorist group has carried out its first attack within Iran. On June 7th, two teams of gunmen carried out coordinated assaults on Iran's parliament building in Tehran, as well as on the tomb of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic. The Islamic State has formally claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed seventeen people and wounded nearly fifty more.

The ISIS attack, scholars note, represents an attempt to intensify the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shi'ites. "The Islamic State has aimed to strike Iran since at least 2007, when it openly threatened to attack the country for supporting the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq," writes Will McCants of the Brookings Institution. The attack on Iran, he notes, is a fulfillment of that objective. It is also one that likely driven by a number of strategic rationales. "Reasons for attacking Iran might include punishing an adversary for attacking its territory, provoking an all-out sectarian war to force Iraqi Sunnis to side with the Islamic State, or provoking the Iranian government to launch a domestic crackdown on Sunnis that would lead them to turn to the Islamic State for protection," McCants notes. "Finally, the Islamic State wants to win its struggle with al Qaeda for the hearts and minds of global jihadis" - something that an attack on the Islamic Republic would help to accomplish.

In the wake of the attack, Iran's government has launched a clampdown on Sunni extremism in the country. To date, Iran has arrested more than 50 people in connection with the attacks, and Iranian forces have launched raids against suspected extremists in southeastern Iran. A particular target has been the Sunni extremist group Ansar al-Furqan, based in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province. (
New York Times, June 7, 2017; Foreign Policy, June 7, 2017; Reuters, June 15, 2017)


In its ongoing attempt to control social mores within the Islamic Republic, the Iranian government has taken aim at an odd foe: dance aerobics. In an official statement, Ali Majdara, the official who oversees public sports within Iran, has announced that the Latin dance aerobics craze called Zumba is henceforth banned for women within the Islamic Republic. The basis for the ban, Iranian authorities have clarified, is religious. "Any harmonious movement or rhythmic exercise, if it is for pleasure seeking, is haram [forbidden]," according to Hossain Ghayyomi, a cleric in Tehran. "Even jobs related to these rhythmic movements are haram. For instance, since Islam says dancing or music is haram, then renting a place to teach dancing or cutting wood to make musical instruments is haram too." (
Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2017)


In an effort to ameliorate ongoing U.S. sanctions and head off the possibility of renewed pressure from the Trump administration, Iran has agreed to an oil-for-good barter agreement with Russia. The deal will see Iran export 100,000 barrels of oil per day to Russia in exchange for a combination of technology, heavy machinery, and cash. The move represents a clear overture from the Kremlin, which is seeking to assist the Iranian regime in ameliorating ongoing economic difficulties in "reintegrating into the global economy" stemming from U.S. pressure and continued isolation from Iran's Sunni Gulf neighbors. (
The Moscow Times, June 9, 2017)


What drives Iran's involvement in the Syrian civil war? Over the past half-decade, the Islamic Republic has become a major strategic player in that conflict, providing both materiel and military assistance to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The long-term objective of Iran's engagement, says one of Israel's top military analysts, is to establish a beachhead on the Iraqi-Syrian border, something that would represent a strategic coup for Tehran.

"In both [Iraq and Syria], Shi'ite militias, backed by Iran, are moving toward the border," writes Amos Harel in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. "If they can come together on both sides of the frontier and create a band of control, a longtime Iranian aspiration will be fulfilled: to establish a land corridor through which the Iranians can freely move forces, weapons and supplies from Tehran through Iraq to the Assad regime in Syria, and even west of there to Hezbollah in Lebanon." (Tel Aviv
Ha'aretz, June 5, 2017)

Related Categories: Middle East; Terrorism; Radical Islam; Iran Freedom Initiative; Iran; Israel

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