(BBG) Iran said it fired missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria in retaliation for the jihadists’ deadly attacks in Tehran last week, a rare strike signaling Iran’s willingness to escalate its use of military power in the region’s conflicts.
Six surface-to-surface missiles were launched on Sunday from western bases in Iran at command centers, logistic sites and suicide car bomb factories in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor area, 700 kilometers (435 miles) away, the Revolutionary Guard Corps said.
The missile operation “is just a very small part of the capability of Iran’s punitive force against the terrorists and its enemies,” the Islamic Students’ News Agency quoted Guards spokesman Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif as telling state TV. “Regional and international allies of the terrorists must understand this missile operation is a warning message.”
Iran had earlier insinuated that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia — its chief regional foe — had encouraged the June 7 attacks on Iran’s parliament and the mausoleum of the late Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which killed 17 people.
Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are on opposing sides in a series of conflicts raging in the Middle East, and their sectarian rivalry is also at the heart of a Saudi-led coalition’s recent isolation of Qatar, which has plunged the Gulf region into its biggest crisis in decades.
The U.S. and Iran, meanwhile, are supporting opposite sides in Syria’s civil war. Iran is backing President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. is supporting a rebel militia and leading a coalition campaign against Islamic State.
The Guards’ missile strike sends a message that extends beyond the fighting in Syria, said Amir Handjani, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council research center.
It sends “a message to the Saudi-led alliance that ‘our missiles have the range and the accuracy to strike anywhere in the region’,” Handjani said. It’s also designed to signal to the U.S. that Iran is fighting the Islamic State on its own terms, he added.
In another manifestation of how the rivalries in Syria are playing out, a U.S. combat plane on Sunday shot down a Syrian-regime combat aircraft south of the town of Tabqah that had dropped bombs near the American-backed militia, according to a statement from the U.S.-led coalition. The Syrian army said the warplane was on a mission against Islamic State militants when it was shot down.
The “flagrant aggression” highlights coordination between the U.S. and Islamic State and “reveals the evil intentions fo the U.S. in administering terrorism,” the general command said in a statement carried by state-run SANA news agency.