A man in Karachi, Pakistan, looks at a television screen after the Pakistani foreign ministry said the country conducted strikes inside Iran.January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

By Ahmad Rafat

The Islamic Republic’s recent missile and drone attacks on neighboring countries are part of its broader plan to establish itself as a regional power. These missile strikes and other operations conducted by Iran’s regional proxies are the principal components of the Islamic Republic regime’s foreign policy.

Although the Jan. 16 missile and drone attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan and the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria were not the first time that Iran had targeted those regions from inside its territories, Iraq has never retaliated against Iranian attacks previously.

However, Pakistan was quick to respond strongly to the Iranian missile and drone strikes. In the early morning hours of Jan. 18, Pakistan’s air force bombed six locations inside Iran.

Among all its neighbors, Iran has so far had the most mutually respectful relationship with Pakistan. However, the recent missile attacks by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Pakistan’s quick military response have changed that cordial relationship.

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Despite both sides trying to restore diplomatic ties, their relationship will now be permanently altered from what it was before the attacks. Violating each other’s territorial sovereignty is an episode that neither country will forget soon.

The recent missile and drone strike on Pakistan will have much broader implications than just souring ties between the two countries. It will also impact Iran’s regional policies, and expose its lack of true power.

Iran’s inability to offer an appropriate military or diplomatic response to Pakistan’s attacks reveals the cracks in a regime embroiled in domestic and international crises.

Pakistan’s military strikes showed, above all else, that despite boasting of its military capabilities, the Islamic Republic cannot defend its borders and fend off a military attack from its neighbors. It also exposed disarray and weakness within the ruling regime in Iran.

While Iranians realized that the regime was incapable of defending the country’s borders, Iran’s neighbors discovered that the Islamic Republic’s boasts of exercising regional power were empty.

Senior state officials and IRGC commanders have repeatedly said that all extraterritorial military activities were defensive operations. The missile attacks on Pakistan and the latter’s decisive military response proved that claim to be false.

According to Iran, the strikes on Pakistan aimed to foil the operations of a “terrorist group,” Jaish al-Adl, which is active inside Iran. Yet the strikes failed to stop the group and instead prompted a neighboring country to launch a military attack against Iran. No country has openly attacked Iran since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88.)

Iran has also revealed its weakness in the sphere of diplomacy. Following the IRGC missile strikes, Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran and prevented Iran’s ambassador to Islamabad from leaving the country. By contrast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry released a brief statement after the incident, while none of the country’s senior officials, not even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, bothered to issue a verbal response.

While Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, and Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani canceled their international trips in the wake of the missile attacks, Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi did not even care to postpone his visit to the Tehran suburbs. He did not offer his condolences to the victims of Pakistan’s military attack that killed dozens of people on Iranian soil.

A country’s military must defend it against foreign aggression. Yet the IRGC has caused a neighboring nation to attack Iran. The IRGC’s missiles and the new generation of adventurist military commanders who take their orders from the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Republic military — Ali Khamenei — have been the cause of the recent attack on Iran.

The IRGC’s missile program, which had instilled a false sense of confidence in the Islamic Republic about its military prowess, has become a significant impediment to the country’s defense capability in the wake of Pakistan’s recent military aggression.

The military attack on Pakistan showed once again that it is neither the Iranian government nor the Foreign Ministry, but rather the IRGC, that sets and executes the country’s foreign policy.

Pakistan’s decisive response prompted the Iraqi government, which had not responded to previous attacks by Iran, to recall its ambassador to Tehran. Baghdad also complained to the UN Security Council about Iranian “aggression,” which showed that despite its complete dependency on Tehran, the Iraqi government would not tolerate the IRGC’s missile strike on its territory.

In an interview with CNN on the sidelines of the Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland on Jan. 16., Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein condemned the Iranian missile attacks as a “violation of international law.”

“The Iranians do not want to, or cannot attack Israel. They search for victims around them, and so they attack Erbil,” Mr. Hussein said.

Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani canceled a meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, at the World Economic Forum at Davos on Jan. 17.

Iran claims its missile attacks on Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, were in retaliation for the killing of an IRGC commander in Syria. Irrespective of whether Israel has an intelligence network in the Kurdish region or not, all those killed in the IRGC missile attack on Erbil were civilians, which included an 11-month-old baby.

The missile attack on Iraqi Kurdistan under the pretext of targeting an Israeli base in that country is part of Iran’s indirect involvement in the conflict after the start of the war in Gaza. A direct confrontation could have wide-ranging implications for Tehran and pose an existential threat to the Islamic Republic regime.

Yet many in Iran and among the Islamic Republic’s loyal forces in the region seriously question the regime’s policy. Extremist elements inside Iran are urging a direct response to Israel, especially after the assassination of senior Palestinian and Hezbollah leaders in Syria and Lebanon and the targeting of commanders of the IRGC’s Qods Force (IRGC-QF).

Forces within the “Axis of Resistance” are also critical of Iran’s current approach, which could create a rift between these groups and the Islamic Republic regime.

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