Iran’s Fateh-110 missiles: warning to Israel and its US backer

Rivals or allies?

It was not in revenge for Kerman. Yassamine Mather explains what really lay behind the recent missile attack on Pakistan

Last week, Iran’s Islamic Republic was involved in three missile attacks against ‘enemies’ in Syria, northern Iraq and Pakistan.1

A number of Iranian ‘analysts and commentators’, assembled by dubious Persian-speaking TV stations abroad, offered the usual analysis: “The leaders of Iran’s Islamic Republic are going mad”; and “With three missile attacks in one week, while supporting their proxies, ‘the Houthis’, the regime is overextending its capabilities; it will not survive.”

Al-Monitor’s correspondent in Tehran reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps not only miscalculated the reaction to the missile attack in Pakistan, but also risked pushing the country to the brink of full-blown war with its nuclear-armed neighbour.

A more reasoned analysis was provided by professor Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins University during a discussion with BBC’s Lyse Ducet:

Iran has showcased its missile arsenal and its willingness to use it. This was likely also a message intended for Israel and the US amid the Gaza war, especially considering the potential escalation in Lebanon and Yemen.2

He rightly pointed out that, for now, Iran is not looking to escalate the conflict - less than a week after the incident, Iran and Pakistan have made peace. The ambassadors, initially withdrawn following the respective missile attacks, have returned to their posts.


As usual, there is some confusion in both western and Persian-speaking media, with outlets broadcasting anti-regime propaganda from outside the country. They are attributing the bombing in Iran’s Kerman province in early January as the reason for Iran’s ‘revenge’ attack in Pakistan.

However, as Tariq Ali has rightly pointed out in an article, ‘The Baluchistan imbroglio’,

The level of ignorance in western coverage of the border clashes between Iran and Pakistan should come as no surprise. Nor should the state department declaration that Pakistan’s response was “proportionate” - making for queasy comparisons with the ongoing mass slaughter being perpetrated by another US-funded and armed entity not too far away.3

In relation to the Kerman province incident, two bombs killed mourners and bystanders at a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of Qasem Soleimani’s assassination by the US. Islamic State - presumed to be a faction based in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan - claimed responsibility. Consequently, the attack on the Baluchi separatist group in Pakistan, Jaysh al-Adl (formerly known as Jundallah), cannot be considered revenge for the Kerman bombing. It was instead related to another attack by Jaysh al-Adl, who stormed a police station in the Iranian city of Rask last month, resulting in the death of 11 officers.

There is a long history of skirmishes along this border, with separatist groups from both countries using the border to seek refuge after attacking their opponents - mainly officers and military personnel associated with the governments in Tehran or Islamabad. Sunni Baluchis generally do not support Iran’s Shia clerical regime, and foreign powers have attempted to exploit the general discontent in this underdeveloped and impoverished region of Iran to ferment armed opposition. In 2007, ABC News claimed the US was giving covert assistance to Jundallah to cause unrest inside Iran.

Kerman in southeast Iran has long been a contested area between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 1871, the British government (allegedly representing the interests of the Khan of Kalat, a Pakistani prince) and Iran agreed to define their mutual frontier. However, at that time, the border was not demarcated on the ground. In 1905, another joint treaty was signed between Britain and Iran.

In 1958, 11 years after Pakistan gained independence, the two countries eventually defined their border. During the cold war, Iran (under the shah) and Pakistan - both close allies of the United States - were founding members of the anti-communist bloc, the Central Treaty Organisation. The shah’s government supported Pakistan in the 1965 war against Soviet-leaning India. However, according to several memoirs by high-ranking Iranian officials close to the Pahlavi court, the shah was disappointed by the breakup of Pakistan and saw the further dismemberment of that country as a nightmare - primarily due to his concerns about growing separatist activities in Balochistan. Alex Vatanka, the author of Iran and Pakistan: security, diplomacy and American influence,4 noted that after 1971 the shah hinted at the possibility of Iran annexing the Pakistani province of Balochistan if Pakistan was further dismantled due to internal ethnic conflict.

After 1979, Iran backed the Afghan mujahideen, who were in part directed by Pakistan. In return, Pakistan increased its support for Iran. Moreover, Iran has shown interest in joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - a key part of the broader Belt and Road Initiative. In recent years, as the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban regained power in the 2020s, Pakistan and Iran stepped up their cooperation to promote ‘peace and stability’ in Afghanistan. Overall, mutual interests suggest that, contrary to the analysis of some pro-US commentators, Iran and Pakistan have reconciled their differences, and an escalation of conflict between the two countries seems unlikely.

Gaza and Yemen

As the bombing of Gaza’s towns and hospitals continues, resulting in a death toll of 25,000 (mainly civilian) Palestinians in two and a half months, the only significant resistance is shown by Yemen’s Houthis, who have ignored repeated warnings by the US, UK and their allies to stop targeting ships in the Red Sea heading to and from Israel.

The British prime minister continues to assert that these airstrikes are “unrelated” to Gaza; however, this is widely called into question. The Houthis have clearly articulated their reasons for launching these attacks, and it is almost certain that they will stop if there is a ceasefire.

Throughout the Arab world, due to the widespread disdain for corrupt, incompetent Arab rulers who have done little to support the Palestinians, the Houthis are the only group in the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ (comprising of Iran, Yemen, Hezbollah, Syria, and Shia militias in Iraq) that has achieved any effective resistance. There is no doubt that Iran’s Islamic Republic sends arms to the Houthis. However, they are far more independent of Iran than Hezbollah and the Shia militias in Iraq.

During the Afghan civil war (1992-96), Pakistan’s support for the Taliban created tensions with Iran, which was hostile to a Taliban-led Afghanistan at the time, and sided with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Following 9/11 (al Qaeda’s September 11 2001 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon), both Iran and Pakistan joined the global ‘war on terror’. It is also important to remember that Pakistan has often played a role as a mediator in the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

  1. See my article last week in this connection (‘A drop in the ocean’ Weekly Worker January 18: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1474/a-drop-in-the-ocean.↩︎

  2. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-68017444.↩︎

  3. newleftreview.org/sidecar/posts/the-baluchistan-imbroglio.↩︎

  4. Published in 2017 by the International Library of Iranian Studies.↩︎