This week has seen a dramatic deterioration of relations between Iran and the United States…
© Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
Amid claims that two men under order from Tehran plotted to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States; one journalist reporting today from Kabul has reported cross-border fire from Iran into Afghanistan in what is thought to be a dispute over a village in Nimruz province.
Whilst this story is yet to hit major news sources, maybe inferring its relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things, it can only add to what is becoming a widespread desire to isolate Iran.
According to one source, Iranian officials sent a letter to Afghan authorities earlier this week claiming that the village of Badichi is a part of Iranian territory. Local officials have outlined how the village under dispute was in fact wiped out by flash floods in 2005 but has since been rebuilt, attached to Afghanistan. The Deputy Governor of Nimruz, Haji Qaasim Khedri, confirmed that he had received reports that:
as many as seven mortar shells were shot into Nimruz province…from the Iranian side of the border this morning.
Khedri also stated that the Iranian military had made “force deployments along the border line” and that the Afghan border police are prepared to defend the province.
Whilst higher authorities in Kabul are yet to comment, these actions will surely not bode well for the Iranian elite who are already facing intense criticism amid the accusations surrounding the attempted assassination of Saudi Ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir on US territory.
The US Justice Department has formally charged two men with “conspiring with Iranian factions to kill the Saudi Ambassador” according to a report for The Telegraph. One of the conspirators, Gholam Shakuri, is noted as “an Iran-based member of the Quds Force,” the elite faction of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps charged with Iranian power projection abroad.
In terms of the Iran-Afghanistan relationship, it has generally been stable since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. It is believed that Iran even provided the US with support for the initial invasion, providing them with Special Forces for counterterrorist operations against their long-time enemy, the Taliban. At this time Iran was still engaged in behind-the-scenes talks with the US over a range of issues with a focus on Afghanistan.
Despite some tensions arising between Tehran and Kabul over issues such as oil transfers, as occurred in January of this year; this has owed more to Iranian attitudes towards the presence of ISAF forces in the region as oppose to the Karzai government which it has publicly supported.
Details on both of these incidents remain sketchy; however, both sides have been quick to make broad public statements that could have overarching implications for future relations.
Supreme Leader Khamenei has alleged that the accusations are merely aimed at diverting attention away from the Wall Street protests currently underway in the US. Vice President Joe Biden issued a strong reproach to Iran stating that “nothing has been taken off the table.” Earlier this week, Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman drew attention when outlining his foreign policy, stating:
I cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. If you want an example of when I would use American force, it would be that.
Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee has officially rebuked the accusations in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon accusing the US of “war-mongering” and re-affirming Iran’s commitment to peace and stability.
Although it seems that the US must have some convincing evidence against the Iranian government given the ferocity of their reaction this week, questions remain. According to the news source Al Arabiya, certain US officials have stated that it is possible the Iranian President and Intelligence Ministry were unaware of the plot.
Similarly though it seems unlikely that Ayatollah Khamenei also would have sanctioned a plot that would create so much of a backlash against the Iranian government. According to the Iran analyst Karim Sadjadpour, Khamenei runs his government much like a CEO, balancing factions with the main aim being regime survival.
According to one analyst, the Quds Force in particular follows an agenda:
parallel to Tehran’s normal diplomatic and economic relations with Kabul.
This highlights the often forgotten fact that the Iranian government is not a monolithic body but one of competing factions, revolving around Ayatollah Khamenei but not necessarily all under his complete control.
Jennifer Lang has an MPhil in International Relations at Cambridge University, and has recently spent time in Israel and the West Bank. She writes on subjects including Afghanistan, Iran and US/EU foreign policy. You can find her on Twitter @Jenn_Lang