What happens in Iran after the ISIS attacks?

In many ways, the Iranian regime is different from other classic dictatorships.  But who would have thought that in mourning Tehran's terrorist attacks last week, a first for ISIS in Iran, which left 13 dead and some forty others injured, the mullahs' supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would set a new high in absurdity?

It is obvious that any leader's first priority in any civilized country in the world would be to mourn with his people.  It is even customary for leaders and elected officials to show at the scene as soon as possible and pay respects to those who lost their lives and comfort the families of the victims.  But not Khamenei.  He did nothing.  Instead, on June 7, he callously minimized the ISIS twin attacks by shrugging them off, saying: "These firecrackers that happened today will not have the slightest effect on the will of the people."

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, claimed that "the incident was not unexpected," and the regime's Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, referred to the bloody attack as a "gem" and a "valuable jewel."

Such comments, although painful and shocking for many Iranians, had a hidden and dreadful truth.  Khamenei and Rouhani alike were trying to capitalize on the ISIS attack in their political favor.

Iran's police chief and later minister of intelligence and security (MOIS) gave, in some cases, conflicting reports and different accounts of the events.  One thing was certain: neither was being transparent.  In comparison to how, for example, British police were clearly and consistently releasing information to the public in recent terrorist attacks in London, the regime authorities were trying to cover them up.

The MOIS chief was vague and refused to give bombers' last names and their prior activities.  Case in point was one of the bombers, Serias Sadeghi, an Iranian Kurd from Paveh, a city in western Iran, who has been cited as a prominent recruiter for ISIS in Iranian Kurdistan.

It has been reported that Sadeghi, over a year ago, was arrested by MOIS and then recruited by ISIS.  He underwent training for three months.  Then he was released.  

Iranian Kurdistan since the 1979 revolution has always been a hotspot for the regime.  People in that region are twice as much under pressure by the IRGC and MOIS as the rest of the country.  How is it possible that an ISIS recruiter has such a free hand in Kurdistan?  It just does not add up.

It has been a pattern throughout the mullahs' regime to use a diversion when it is struggling to stay afloat in the face of problems at home.  The Iranian regime's founding father, Khomeini, set an example when, for the first time, he shocked Iranians by calling the devastating eight-year-old Iran-Iraq war a "blessing."  Khomeini's fatwa for British writer Salman Rushdie's head is another famous example of how this regime operates and dodges problems.  The fatwa was used as an excuse to cover the heavy losses in the war with neighboring Iraq in 1988.

Then again, there were the planned terrorist attacks designed by MOIS to blow up Imam Reza's holy shrine in the northern eastern city of Mashhad in 1994 and blame it on the regime's opposition. 

Why would Khamenei and his regime welcome such a heinous attack in Tehran by ISIS?

The short answer is that a new excuse was needed to prevent the powder keg – the Iranian society – from explosion.

Despite arguments that elections were a show of unity and force for the mullahs' regime, they were not.  The election opened old wounds and intensified factional infighting and an unprecedented power struggle.  Since a year before the presidential election of May 29, Iran's supreme leader had been planning for – engineering – it.  He openly banned his previous favorite former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, from running in hope of a quiet and clean "section" for the post.  He failed, and Ahmadinejad defiantly threw his hat in but was blocked from entering the race by the powerful Guardian Council.

The next step was to prop up Ebrahim Raisi, an infamous hanging judge with a track record of at least 30,000 political executions in 1988.  All factions within the mullahs' regime tried hard to brush off the massacre.  Raisi and Rouhani struggled to distance themselves from killing of those prisoners who were serving their sentences.  The main Iranian opposition People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (POMI/MEK) shone the light on the regime's black history last year with a major campaign.  Among those executed were teenage girls as young as 13, according to Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khomeini's handpicked successor, who was later sacked for protesting the summary executions.

Iran's economy would be in shambles had there not been around $100 billion in unfrozen assets, courtesy of the Obama administration after the nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other world powers.  In the words of President Trump, the regime would have fallen in six months.  The irony is that much of the money has been funneled into wars in the region.  The Iranian regime is heavily involved in Syria and has to bankroll terrorist groups such as the Lebanese Hezb'allah.  In the words of Hezb'allah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah: "We do not have any business projects or investments via banks[.]"  Nasrallah added, "We are open about the fact that Hezb'allah's budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran," and he emphasized that his group "will not be affected" by any fresh sanctions. 

The Syrian opposition says the mullahs' regime has around 90,000 militias in its country.  Similar ragtag militia groups under different aliases are running in Iraq.  Yemen is another theater that the Iranian regime is deeply involved in, fighting a proxy war by financing, training, and supplying weapons.  The rest is spent on security forces such as Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  Rouhani bragged recently that under his watch, the Iranian military spending has skyrocketed some 145 percent.  The bigger picture is that 11 million Iranians are unemployed, more than a third of the population live under the regime's declared poverty line, highly educated youths have to take pity jobs, and Iran has seven million street children.  Not a day goes by without shocking news out of Iran: some Tehran citizens living in freshly dug graves, with thousands others robbed of their life's savings by shady financial institutions directly or indirectly connected to the IRGC or a subsidiary of the security apparatus.  Individual freedoms are a myth in Iran.  The presidential election in Iran did open the Pandora's box for Khamenei.

Against this backdrop, the regime's officials, including but not limited to Khamenei, all welcomed Tehran's twin terrorist attacks.  By nature, the Iranian regime thrives on terror, uncertainty, and hatred.  It is not a surreal conclusion to draw that the number-one beneficiary of the deadly attacks in Iran is none other than Khamenei and his goons.

Reza Shafiee (@shafiee_shafiee) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).