Iran explosions

An injured man receives medical assistance after two explosions struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in the Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024.

(Photo: Mehr News/AFP via Getty Images)

Middle East on 'Precipice of a Full-Blown Regional War' After Iran Blasts

"This is a very dangerous moment," wrote one analyst. "A regionwide war appears more likely by the day."

While it remains uncertain who was responsible for the two explosions that killed over 100 people and injured hundreds more in the Iranian city of Kerman on Wednesday, analysts warned that the blasts increased the already high risk of an all-out regional war involving Iran, Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the United States.

The explosions, which Iran's vice president blamed on Israel, came a day after an alleged Israeli drone strike killed a senior Hamas official in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, ratcheting up tensions with Hezbollah, whose leader vowed "a response and punishment." Last month, Israel assassinated a senior adviser in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with an airstrike in Syria.

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement Wednesday that "we deplore this latest terrorist attack to strike inside of Iran" and called the explosions "the latest stark reminder that the U.S., Iran, and Israel remain on the precipice of a full-blown regional war that would be disastrous to all actors, including civilian populations across the region."

"We urge the U.S. to condemn this attack and express solidarity with the people of Iran," said Abdi. "We also reiterate our call on the U.S. to move with urgency to de-escalate and pursue a lasting cease-fire between Israel and Palestine, and to support broader regional diplomacy, before the crisis spirals fully out of control."

During a press briefing on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller expressed condolences for the victims of the blasts in Iran and denied any U.S. involvement. Miller also said he has "no reason to believe that Israel was involved."

The Kerman explosions took place during an event commemorating Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, whom the U.S. assassinated with a drone strike in 2020.

Citing Iranian officials' comments to state media, The New York Timesreported that "a pair of bombs placed in bags along the road toward the cemetery in Kerman, Iran had exploded as a procession of people was on its way there to commemorate the four-year anniversary of Gen. Soleimani's assassination by the United States."

"The officials said the bags appeared to have been detonated via remote control, leaving bodies in pieces on the ground," the Times added.

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, warned that "this is a very dangerous moment," pointing to the Iran blasts, the reported Israeli drone strike in Beirut, and Israel's assassination of a top IRGC official—all of which came amid Israel's devastating U.S.-backed assault on the Gaza Strip.

"A regionwide war appears more likely by the day," Parsi wrote.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Kerman attack as of this writing. Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, pledged a "harsh response" and "just punishment" for those behind the deadly blasts.

The Associated Pressnoted Wednesday that "Sunni extremist groups including the Islamic State... have conducted large-scale attacks in the past that killed civilians in Shiite-majority Iran."

Arash Azizi, a historian and fellow at the Center for Middle East and Global Order, argued in a column for The National that "based on the available evidence so far, given the target and the methods used, ISIS, especially its much-feared regional branch in Afghanistan, known as ISKP, are likely culprits behind the attack."

"Several experts, on both ISIS and Iran, that I've spoken to agree on this point, although, at the moment, this is mostly educated speculation," he wrote.

Azizi noted that "while Israel has a long track record of operating on Iranian soil, it has usually targeted IRGC figures or nuclear scientists."

"There is no precedent for it conducting this kind of mass attack on Iranian civilians," Azizi added, pointing out that Iranian media "has reported there were no IRGC generals amongst the casualties or injured."

This story has been updated to include new details of the Kerman explosions and expert reactions.

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