- Iran’s expansionist regional policies and involvement in Iraqi and Syrian conflicts have revived latent Arab, Baluchi, and Kurdish separatist insurgencies within its borders.
- There is an alignment of interests between Iran’s various separatist militant groups to carry out more ambitious attacks on Iranian security targets on the one hand and Iran’s regional adversaries in confronting Iran more directly within its borders on the other.
- This increases the risk of more frequent and bolder attacks, particularly targeting Iranian security installations and personnel in border areas, but also one-off attacks in major urban centres.
A series of relatively bold, albeit low-capability attacks and announcements over the past month is consistent with the sympathetic and increasingly aligned messaging across several militant groups’ media outlets over the past year, according to IHS Markit monitoring of their social media.
The Iranian government has also shown increased political sensitivity to the separatist insurgencies, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warning on 10 May that presidential candidates must avoid “exploiting” Iran’s ethnic fault lines. Although an apparent criticism of incumbent Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to Kurdish and Sunni voters, it is also probably an effort to downplay the rise in separatist activity observed in 2017.
Moreover, there is an increasing alignment of interest between the separatist groups in securing external financial and military support to achieve their local objectives, and Iran’s regional adversaries in opening another, more direct front against Iran. Indeed, Saudi deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammad bin Salman threatened to take the ‘battle’ inside Iran on 2 May, rejecting the prospects of bilateral reconciliation. Notably, Saudi Arabia has been expanding its engagement and presence in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), also opening a consulate there in January 2017, and appointed former Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif as the commander of the Saudi-led military alliance against terrorism in March.