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Source: IranWire

Jan 4, 2024

Iranian Officials Blame Israel for Blasts Amid Popular Skepticism

Iranian officials unveiled a giant mural on the morning of January 4 at Valiasr Square, in Tehran, and vowed revenge following yesterday’s deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the Islamic Republic.

Emblazoned with the slogan "Harsh Response," the mural triggered a cascade of reactions on social media.

Islamic Republic officials promised revenge with the same words four years ago – when General Qasem Soleimani was killed in Baghdad by an American airstrike – only to then shoot down the civilian Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 on 8 January 2020.

The mural's message prompted speculation and questions about the nature of a possible Iranian response to the bombings yesterday. 

A day before the mural's unveiling, on January 3, the city of Kerman was shaken by two deadly explosions during a government ceremony commemorating the fourth anniversary of Soleimani's death. Authorities say at least 95 people were killed (revised down from earlier reports of 104) and 141 others were injured including women and children.

Soleimani, the 62-year-old commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force, was killed in 2020 Baghdad in a US drone attack ordered by former US president Donald Trump.

Iranian officials condemned the latest attack as "the work of the enemy" and vowed a swift response.

"Those whose hands are stained by the blood of innocents, as well as the corrupt and malevolent minds guiding them into this wrongdoing, will be unequivocally targeted," Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said yesterday.

"A very strong retaliation will be handed to them on the hands of the soldiers of Soleimani," First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told reporters at a hospital where some of the wounded were receiving treatment.

But the lack of any group claiming responsibility for the bombing stirred speculation and distrust among some Iranians as well as analysts.

In Washington, US officials dismissed as '"ridiculous" claims made by Iranian political and military officials that either the American and Israeli governments were behind the bombings.

“The United States was not involved in any way, and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said about Wednesday’s violence.

“We have no reason to believe that Israel was involved in this explosion,” he also said, expressing condolences to the victims.

Some social media users meanwhile questioned the official narrative and even suggested the possibility of the Iranian government's involvement.

These suspicions stemmed from past pronouncements by authorities, including a video clip resurfaced by user Mohsen Khorram. 

The clip, originally published during the 2022 protests, featured a Basij member saying, "We will kill our own wives and children to preserve the government." 

This statement resonated with critics of the Islamic Republic and further amplified doubts over any official explanation.

Several officials, however, stuck to the official narratives and blamed Israel.

Mojtaba Zulnouri, an MP and a prominent figure in the parliament's fundamentalist faction, said that "I have no information or news suggesting that this operation is the work of Israel,” he nevertheless insisted that it is evident from the nature of the operation that "it is their doing."

He also said, "We will retaliate against Israel in a manner that holds global significance."

Mohsen Rezaei, a member of the Expediency Council, and Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, the head of the Revolutionary Forces Coalition Council, also pointed the finger at Israel.

Contradictions in the government's narrative, ranging from the number of casualties to details surrounding the explosions themselves, also contributed to popular skepticism regarding the government’s scenario.

While the initial announcement stated the death toll as 103 people, officials later claimed that some names were registered twice, resulting in an accurate count of 95 deaths. 

However, in an interview with Tasnim news agency, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said, "The number of our martyrs is 84," citing the medical examiner.

The number and nature of the explosions also present a contradiction. 

Initially, it was suggested that the incident was caused by the explosion of gas canisters, but then it was reported that a suicide belt was discovered. 

Finally, it was disclosed that two bombs concealed in handbags, detonated by remote control, were responsible for the incident.

Mahmoud Amiri Moghadam, the Norway-based activist and director of the Iran Human Rights Organization, condemned the explosions and said the people of Kerman had again become "victims of terrorism." 

He said, "The people of Iran are victims of an inefficient and corrupt government whose so-called security forces, instead of ensuring security, destroy their facilities. They use it to repress citizens because of obscenity and dissension."

Amiri Moghadam expressed concern about a potential increase in executions and the repression of citizens following the bombing, saying, "I fear that the government may use this terrorist act as a pretext to intensify executions and citizen repression, as seen in the past."

Several political figures referenced past incidents in Iran where civilians became victims to safeguard the survival of the Islamic Republic. 

Political activist Kamran Behzadi held the Islamic Republic accountable for the explosions in Kerman, saying, "Just as they sought revenge on Qasem Soleimani by downing a Ukrainian plane, they similarly sought revenge on Seyed Razi in Kerman by causing harm to their own supporters," referring to a prominent commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria on December 24. 

The timing of today's attack could not have come at a more challenging or tense moment in the Middle East, amid heightened distrust and instability because of ongoing conflict between Hamas in Israel in the Gaza Strip. 

Hamas also accused Israel of conducting a drone attack on January 2 resulting in the death of its deputy in Beirut. 

Shortly after the bombings in Iran, the United States and 12 of its allies issued a written warning to another militia group in the region, the Houthis of Yemen, which has been carrying out missile, drone, and seaborne attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea as well as launching drones at American forces in the region.

In response, on January 2, Iran's navy announced the deployment of a flotilla of warships to the Red Sea. Iran's Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, also expressed "gratitude and appreciation" to a visiting Houthi official in Tehran for the group's support for Hamas, as reported by the government-run IRNA news agency.

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