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Who escalates tensions on Iran’s northwestern border?

Commander of Iran's Border Guards Brigadier General Qassem Rezayee

On July 24, Commander of Iran's Border Guards Brigadier General Qassem Rezayee announced that his forces in Northwestern Iran discovered and seized a lot of arms and ammunition being smuggled into the country using livestock, Fars News reported. "30 horses and mules, carrying a cargo of weapons, ammunition and explosive devices, were discovered in the Northwestern parts of the country by the border guards," General Rezayee said, addressing a ceremony in the Southern city of Bushehr on Monday. Noting that the Iranian border guards are always ready to stand against enemy threats, he said, "They don’t allow the aggressors and enemies to cross the borders of the Islamic Republic." The information seems routine at first sight. In the same report, Fars News recalls that it was already the second incident on the northwestern border of Iran for the week. On July 20, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) reported its guards foiled a terror attack on the country’s Northwestern border, killing four terrorists and injuring three others, Tasnim News reported.

According to the source, the IRGC personnel with the Hamza Sayyid al-Shuhada' Base of the IRGC Ground Force engaged the terrorists on the borderline on Thursday as they were about to stage the attack, according to a statement by the base’s public relations service. The base described the gang as linked with “the global arrogance,” and enlisted by foreign spy services. During the conflicts with the terrorists, one IRGC member was martyred and another one wounded during the “heavy confrontation.” The remaining terrorists fled to the other side of the border.

According to Tasnim News, “There has been a surge in the number of counter-terrorism operations the IRGC has carried out in recent weeks. In a similar operation last month, the forces of the IRGC’s Hamze Sayyid al-Shohada Base identified a number of terrorists in the western province of Kurdistan and managed to kill three of them and capture one. The military base said its forces confiscated the terrorist team’s weapons and ammunition in the operation.”

Actually, there were three penetration attempts “by foreign terrorists” in a month. However, in late May, after presidential election results were announced in Iran and a series of calls for “change of power in Iran” were made by U.S. officials (including by Pentagon Secretary of Defense James Mattis), some forces tried to destabilize the situation on Iran’s Northwestern border four times.

Recall that on May 27, Fars News reported that 2 Iranian border guards were killed and 7 others wounded in clashes with PJAK (the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan, a group backed by U.S. and Israel, which is deployed in Turkey after it was expelled from Iraq – editor’s note) terrorists in the Northwestern province of West Azerbaijan. Clashes with terrorists erupted on Saturday afternoon as the Iranian border guards of Orumiyeh regiment were driving along the border line to change shifts, the source reported. In comments carried by the Fars News Agency on May 28, Iranian border guards commander Qassem Rezayee said the Iranians “consider Turkey responsible, and the country should account for this act.” Rezayee vowed, “Iranian forces will certainly give a crushing response to these moves.”

Ostānhā (provinces) of Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan have been regularly attacked for the last two months in an attempt to escalate tensions. Penetration into Kurdistan is possible only from the territory of Iraq. West Azerbaijan mostly borders Turkey and…Nakhijevan. That is the nuance. In their recent reports on attempts of armed attacks on Northwestern regions on Iran, the Iranian sources do not specify if the terrorists attacked from Turkey, meantime the reports made in late May contained such details. It is not reported whether the recent attempts by “foreign terrorists” to penetrate into Iran’s Northwest were from Turkey or Azerbaijan’s Nakhijevan Autonomy? The answer to this question is important, considering Iran’s warning to Ankara (in May) not to provide territory to anti-Iranian Kurdish organizations to favor third countries. That ultimatum of IRGS to Turks is still in force, as far as is actually known. In May and early June, Iranians twice crossed the border and destroyed terrorists on Pakistan’s territory when repelling attacks by a new Balouchi terrorist group from Pakistan’s territory. Iran did it to demonstrate the capacity of IRCG and materialize its April “warning” to Pakistan into actions.

It is hard to believe that after IRCG Brigadier General Qassem Rezayee’s warnings and after Iran demonstrated in Pakistan’s territory that it translates words into deeds, Ankara would risk providing its border area to PJAK again. Besides, Turks were warned that Tehran is well informed who backs that group, what kind of “instructors” from U.S. and Israel train them at American military bases and camps on the Turkish-Syrian border and how they “instruct” PJAK militants. For the time being, Turkey is trying to present itself to Iran and Russia as a regional power disobeying U.S. and Israel. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds phone calls with the presidents of Iran and Russia at least once in a month to prove that Ankara is still committed to the “Astana Agreements” on Syria. It is no secret that among others, Iran-Russia tandem and Turkey have discrepancies over Syrian Kurds. However, the armed attacks on Iran’s Northwest since May 27 are not connected just with the Kurdish problem, given that in May Tehran blamed specifically PJAK, but in June-July, it has been reporting about certain “international terrorists” without naming any nation or country.

Many have certainly followed the recent confidential talks between Presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan, Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev, in Sochi and could also see the difference in media coverage of the event in the two countries. According to Azerbaijani media, the two presidents discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. Meantime, Russian media said the leaders touched upon importance of settling “regional conflicts” at large. Both prior to and after Putin-Aliyev meeting, one could guess from some press reports that “Aliyev has become a problem for Russia” and Putin “warned Aliyev.” It is quite strange, but prior to the meeting some Iranian mass media too hinted that Iran is discontented at Azerbaijan’s actions in the region. After the meeting in Sochi, some mass media reported that “Aliyev has become headache for Erdogan too.”

Talks that Iran, Russia and now also Turkey are discontented at Azerbaijan’s policy coupled with reports about attempts to penetrate into Northwest regions of Iran - West Azerbaijan province borders also with Armenia’s Megrhi – as well as the Putin-Aliyev meeting in Sochi are interconnected processes. Earlier this month, Meghri border detachment of Russian FSS Frontier Department and second border detachment of Armenia’s NSS Border Troops held joint military exercises and developed the scenario of prevent attempts of penetration into Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. After Baku’s protests, the wordings mentioning Nagorno-Karabakh were omitted from official reports by Russian FSS Border Department press-service. Yet, varnished tale can’t be round.

In accordance with international practices, IRGC was notified beforehand about Armenian-Russian exercises in Meghri located on the border with Iran. Then the scenario of the exercises seemed unrealistic due to visa-free regime between Armenia and Iran. However, in the light of Iran’s reports on penetration attempts via its Northwestern borders, the Russian-Armenian military exercises in Meghri seem quite realistic preventive effort coordinated with Iran for the cases if an armed gang or even a group of two manage to penetrate into Iran, and then into Meghri and further into NKR. It may seem too complicated, but we have already emphasized that Iranian mass media do not specify wherefrom the “foreign terrorists” tried to penetrate via the Northwest borders of Iran. Supposing that after being warned by Iran on May 27, Turkey avoided cooperating with PJAK or any other group, the penetration attempts could be from nowhere but Nakhijevan. Kurds could be involved in those attacks - in early 2000s, even Azerbaijani journalist, editor-in-chief of Real Azerbaijan, Eynulla Fatullayev repeatedly wrote that Turkey is settling “its” Kurds and Kurds from Iraq in Nakhichevan and the conflict zone between NKR and Azerbaijan in agreement with Ilham Aliyev.

Taking in account the aforementioned, the attempts to penetrate into Iran can be explained as efforts to use the “Kurdish factor” against Iran and explode the situation in Transcaucasia using Kurds and the territory of Iran only.

Sergey Shakaryants for EADaily

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