For the first time in its involvement in Syria’s six years of civil war, Iran has launched missiles against Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria.
According to a statement released by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the June 18 missile strikes hit targets in eastern Syria that Iran holds responsible for the recent IS attack in Tehran that killed 18 people and wounded 50. The IRGC statement said that the strikes targeted the terrorist group's gathering centers and bomb-making factories. The missiles were launched from IRGC bases in Iran's western provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan.
Tasnim News Agency reported that the city of Deir ez-Zor was targeted specifically because many of the IS fighters had fled there after suffering setbacks in other parts of Syria and in Mosul, Iraq, where Iraqi forces are forcing the group to retreat. Comments by the IRGC and Iranian officials have led many to believe that the move was not only about taking out those Iran blames for the Tehran attack.
The IRGC wrote that the attack “was a message” and a “warning” to “takfiri terrorists, their regional supporters and their supporters outside of the region.” Former Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who is believed to be close to the IRGC, tweeted that the move was a “soft warning.” Abdollahian is now an adviser to parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. Former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei, who is now secretary of the Expediency Council, tweeted, “There are bigger strikes upcoming. The supporters of terrorists should understand the strength of Iran.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “Iran’s missile capability protects its citizens in lawful self-defense & advances common global fight to eradicate [IS] & extremist terror.”
Conservative writer Mehdi Mohammadi posted on Telegram that the strikes were more than “just a response” to the IS attack in Tehran. He wrote that the strikes demonstrated Iran’s missile capabilities to those “who sent terrorists to Tehran” and that Iran’s "unexpected" response “was a deep message for the supporters of terrorists.” Mohammadi also wrote that the strikes show that ties between IS fighters in Syria and Iraq can now be targeted.
The timing of the strikes has led some to believe the message was also intended for the new US administration, which is adopting a policy of regime change for Tehran and is reportedly seeking to confront Iran militarily in Syria.
Some Iran observers believe the strikes were coordinated with a speech earlier in the day by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In an address to the families of soldiers killed fighting in Syria and Iraq and those of border guards killed while on duty, Khamenei said, “The Islamic Republic is standing strong. … The enemies cannot strike Iran, but the nation will strike them.” After the attack, the Instagram account associated with Khamenei shared a picture of the missile launch with the words “We will strike them.”
In that speech, Khamenei also addressed comments made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the US policy is to support a “transition” of Iran’s government. “In the last 38 years, has there been a time when you guys have not wanted to change the system?” Khamenei asked. “But every time your head hit a rock, and it will always be like this.” Khamenei called the new US administration “inexperienced” and said that many officials before them took their dreams of overthrowing the Islamic Republic “to the grave," adding, "It will always be so.”