Iran said it had launched the missiles at targets connected to a major terrorist attack earlier this month, the country’s deadliest ever, as well as in retaliation for the targeted killings of Iranian and Iran-allied commanders, which Iran has blamed on Israel.
Analysts say Iran is walking a fine line, hoping to flex its strength to show conservative supporters of the government at home that it can hit its enemies — without getting directly entangled in a fight with Israel, the United States or their allies.
By Tuesday morning, murals and banners had gone up around the Iranian capital, Tehran, praising the missile attacks and vowing revenge. At Palestine Square, a mural on the side of a building depicted a missile being fired. It bore a caption that warned, in Hebrew and Farsi, “Prepare your coffins.”
Some conservative Iranians celebrated the missile strikes as appropriate vengeance, a defiant show of force against regional foes.
One of those foes is the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for a bombing in Kerman, Iran, that killed nearly 100 people this month. Iran said its attacks had also targeted “anti-Iran terror groups in occupied territories of Syria.” It hit Idlib province in Syria, which is controlled not by President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Iran, but by a Syrian opposition group.
Iran accused Israel of being behind the targeted killing of a senior Iranian commander in Syria in December. On Tuesday, Tehran claimed it was targeting Israel in one of the strikes on Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, accusing it of operating a spy outpost there.
Officials in Iraq rejected the charge, and the country pulled its ambassador from Tehran in protest.
Militants in Pakistan were also apparently in Iran’s sights in one of the missile strikes on the country’s Baluchistan region. Iran said it had struck a remote mountainous area believed to be the base of Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni militant group that claimed responsibility for a December attack that killed 11 security officers in Rask, a town near Iran’s border with Pakistan.
Pakistan also denounced the strike.
Government supporters had been incensed over the recent attacks inside Iran, which seemed to expose the authoritarian clerical regime’s weaknesses and security failings.
The bombing in Kerman, in particular, rattled a country that has tried as much as possible to maintain stability by keeping Iran’s regional conflicts from bleeding onto Iranian soil.
Iran usually prefers to confront its enemies at a distance, relying on the armed groups it funds and supports in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen, instead of committing its own forces.
Still, said Sanam Vakil, an Iran expert at Chatham House, the fact that Iran suffered such a deadly Islamic State attack on its own soil suggested the risks of its activities across the region.
Iran has tried to “export” its conflicts abroad “rather than manage them closer to home,” she said. Yet “the great irony for Iran,” she added, “is that being so present beyond its borders has attracted high-level security risks inside Iran.”