The tit-for-tat aerial assaults across the Pakistan-Iran border, targeting militants within each nation’s territory, signify an extraordinary escalation in a region already fraught with tension, according to experts.
Following Tehran’s drone and missile strikes on the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan late Tuesday, Islamabad responded by summoning its ambassador and barring the Iranian envoy.
Next, Pakistan’s military retaliated by targeting ethnic Baloch separatists in Iran early Thursday, asserting that militants are flourishing in Iran’s “ungoverned spaces.”
The conflict has resulted in a reported death toll of 11, primarily women and children, with each country blaming the other for failing to curb militancy along their shared frontier.
Apart from Pakistan, Iran has also conducted missile strikes against “spy headquarters” and “terrorist” sites in Syria and the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, claiming to target Israeli intelligence centers.
- The question is why Iran and Pakistan would choose to strike insurgents in each other’s territories rather than their own, considering the risk of a wider conflagration.
- Pakistan’s military action in Iran on Thursday was directed at the strongholds of the Baluchistan Liberation Army and the Baluchistan Liberation Front. The intent was not only to dismantle these hideouts but also to convey a strong message to Iran and other neighboring countries that Pakistan is capable of a robust response if challenged.
- Meanwhile, Tehran has been under mounting pressure to demonstrate a decisive stance, especially in the wake of a recent lethal attack by the Islamic State group, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran’s ally Hamas, and the increasing domestic discontent with its ruling theocracy.
- By initiating these strikes, Tehran may be aiming to showcase its proactive military engagement while strategically avoiding a broader clash with major powers like Israel and the US. This approach is particularly significant given the existing tensions surrounding Iran’s rapidly progressing nuclear program.
- Tehran anticipates tensions with arch-foe Israel are “going to increase” this year with the Israel-Hamas war set to drag on, Sanam Vakil, a director with the Chatham House think tank, told AFP. “It’s putting down these red lines to show Israel directly what it will and will not respond to,” she added.
What’s behind Iran’s new aggression?
Or it could be something else behind Iran’s new-found aggression? Did Iran use these attacks to showcase its new missiles? The spotlight is on Iran’s Kheibar Shekan missiles. The Kheibar Shekan is a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) developed and operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It is one of the latest and most advanced missiles in Iran’s arsenal, and it has been used to strike targets in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan.
Kheibar Shekan missiles: All you need to know
Kheibar Shekan missilerepresents a significant development in the nation’s military capabilities, showcasing advancements in indigenous technology and strategic defense. The name “Kheibar Shekan,” which translates to “Kheibar Breaker,” harkens back to the Battle of Khaybar in the 7th century and is indicative of the missile’s intended symbolic and operational impact.
- The Kheibar Shekan was unveiled in February 2022, on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. It is a third-generation missile of the Fateh family, which includes other solid-fuel missiles such as the Fateh-110, the Zolfaghar, and the Dezful.
- The Kheibar Shekan is a two-stage, solid-propellant, truck-launched missile that can be rapidly deployed and fired. It has a length of 10.5 meters, a diameter of 80 centimeters, and a weight of 4.5 tons. It can carry a 500-kilogram warhead, which can be a high-explosive or a submunitions type.
- The Kheibar Shekan has a maximum range of 1,450 kilometers (900 miles), which covers most of the Middle East and parts of South Asia and Eastern Europe. It can reach targets in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
- The Kheibar Shekan has a high accuracy and maneuverability, which makes it able to evade and overcome missile defense systems. It has a guidance system that uses inertial navigation and global positioning system (GPS) signals. It also has special wingtips and a warhead that can withstand high temperatures, which enable it to maneuver in the terminal phase of flight.
- The Kheibar Shekan is a strategic weapon that can be used to deter and retaliate against Iran’s enemies, especially the US and Israel, which have threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and military sites. It can also be used to support Iran’s allies and proxies in the region, such as Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis.
A sales pitch for new missiles?
- According to a report in the New York Times, “when Iran launched a barrage of airstrikes this week into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, it was not just showing off the reach and sophistication of some of its newest missiles but also staking a claim: This is a new era in which Iran can flex its muscles at will and, as an added benefit, bolster its credentials as an important arms supplier.”
- “Iran’s willingness to fire volleys of missiles at its adversaries, diplomats and experts agreed, is partly a venting of anger, partly a warning and partly a sales pitch to future customers,” the NYT report said.
- As per the report, Kheibar Shekan missile, coupled with Iran’s extensive drone fleet, is reshaping perceptions of Iran’s military capabilities, especially given Russia’s significant acquisitions for use in Ukraine.
(With inputs from agencies)