Iranian airstrikes on ‘militant bases’ in neighbouring Pakistan signal a dangerous and worrying escalation of the conflict in the Middle East. Details of what unfolded remain sketchy, but Iranian media reported that the strikes were aimed at the bases of a Sunni militant group, Jaish al-Adl. The missiles and drones landed in the Balochistan province, which lies along the 600-mile border between the two countries. Both countries have long bickered over the activities of Baloch separatists and other militant groups in the border region.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said two children were killed and three others were injured. The Pakistani authorities condemned Iran for an ‘unprovoked violation of its airspace’, and warned of retaliation.
The Iranian action came as something of a surprise because only yesterday Iran’s foreign minister and Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister met for talks on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland. What could they have discussed? What is abundantly clear is that the already delicate relationship between the two countries is now teetering on the brink.
Tehran’s military action has no direct or obvious connection with the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but it will do nothing to ease fears that the Middle East is slowly succumbing to a wider and much more unpredictable conflict.
The timing of the latest Iranian attacks could not be worse, coming just a day after Tehran launched missiles against Syria and Iraq. The Iranian regime claims it targeted Islamic State bases in northern Syria, and an ‘Israeli espionage headquarters’ in Erbil in northern Iraq.
It all points to unprecedented levels of tension and mutual suspicion throughout the wider Middle East. All it would take is one misunderstanding or false move to spark all-out war: Lebanon, the Red Sea, Yemen, Iraq and Syria have all become spillover conflict zones from the Gaza war.