Did "we" have a hand in the terrorist attack in Iran?

The Iranians accuse Britain and America

Iran has blamed the west for a suicide bombing over the weekend that killed 42 people, including six senior commanders, in one of the harshest terrorist attacks sustained by the country in recent years:

The attack, at a Revolutionary Guard gathering in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of the country's most unstable provinces, was the worst attack on a powerful unit in recent years.

Inflicting Iran's worst military casualties in years, it killed the deputy commander of the guard's ground forces, Noor Ali Shooshtari, and Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, the provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan.

Responsibility was quickly claimed by Jundullah ("soldiers of God"), a militant Sunni group that regularly attacks the Guard in its rebellion against the government and the Shia majority. Jundullah said the bombing was a response to "the constant crime of the regime in Baluchistan".

The Telegraph quotes General Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Revolutionary Guard's ground forces:

The terrorists were trained in the neighbouring country by the Americans and British . . . The enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran are unable to tolerate the unity in the country.

Hmm. Are these the normal propaganda and paranoia that we might expect after such an attack? Or might Iran have a case against us?

The United States has denied being involved in the attack, which the state department condemned as an "act of terrorism" and our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office also condemned the bombing. But it has been established that the United States has been secretly supporting and perhaps even arming the Baluchi Sunni terrorist group Jundullah since at least 2005. Here is ABC News's investigative team, for example, reporting in April 2007:

US officials say the US relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight . . .

Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice-President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

A senior US government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al-Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the US to deal with such groups in that context.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the US government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilise the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Shouldn't we know a bit more about all this? And have we learned nothing from the disastrous experiences of the 1980s, when we backed the Afghan mujahedin -- or the "Taliban-in-training" -- against the Soviets? There has been a change of US president and British prime minister since these reports first emerged, and so I would argue that it is high time the administrations in Britain and America repudiate their predecessors' policies and shine a light on the "dark side" of the so-called "war on terror".

On a side note, I noticed the Jerusalem Post was full of empathy (!) for the dozens of Iranians killed in the horrific suicide bombing, with the analyst Yaakov Lappin pointing out, almost gleefully, that "Iran received a dose of its own medicine".

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.