Yes, I know: Tehran is full of terrorists, but mostly they’ve been the regime’s terrorists, and mostly they kill, beat, and torture Iranians who don’t much care for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or President Hasan Rouhani. Wednesday was different. Or maybe not.
ISIS has claimed its killers staged the two attacks in Tehran on symbolically powerful targets: the tomb of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the “parliament” building.
There are many Iranians who don’t believe it was ISIS; they think it was the terrorists they know, the ones who kill innocent Iranians all the time. Iran being what it is—a country where the simple, straightforward story is invariably rejected in favor of a more complicated conspiracy theory—they purport to have “evidence.”
The evidence is all circumstantial, including the claim that ISIS has not attacked Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria, and that no Iranian official was killed or wounded. Only civilians were targeted. So why in Tehran? They say it’s obvious: it’s a hoax, staged by the regime, justifying further repression. Notice that the same sort of claim was made by Turks opposed to Erdogan. They say that the dictator staged the false coup that justified his massive crackdown against his internal opposition.
Whatever the truth may be—and it will be a while before it gets sorted out—the events in Tehran bespeak considerable opposition to the regime. If the terrorists were enemies of Khamenei et al., then the regime is faced with armed opponents. If the regime staged it, well then it shows the regime is sufficiently concerned about the internal opposition to have run a substantial risk: the most important symbols of the regime have been attacked, and Iranian security didn’t stop it and in fact staged it.
However you parse it, it’s bad for the regime. Will this be the start of more active opposition? I don’t know, but there are already lots of demonstrations and strikes. And the women, arguably the most revolutionary force in the Islamic Republic, are now filling the stadiums to cheer on their favorite athletic teams, despite a ban on ladies at male sports events.
That could actually be a turning point.