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Are Pakistan and Iran on the Brink of War?

Iran's recent strikes on militants in Balochistan were not the first time it has attacked Pakistani territory in recent years. But the latest strikes will surely add to Pakistan’s nervousness, because it is increasingly clear that Iran's military power – and its willingness to use it – is growing.

ISLAMABAD – Is the broader Middle East conflict drawing Pakistan in? The answer hinges on Iran. Not only are its proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen keeping regional hostilities at a boil, but it also backs militant groups that have attacked positions in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan – three countries that are generally friendly toward it (to varying degrees). Recent missile and drone strikes by Iran, a would-be nuclear power, on nuclear-armed Pakistan’s territory are particularly worrying.

Iran’s attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan are responses to hostile activities that it believes originated within those countries. Iranian strikes in Syria, for example, followed suicide bombings that killed nearly 100 people in the Iranian city of Kerman. In a sense, these episodes were nothing new. Iran and its proxies have been battling the Islamic State (ISIS) for years. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself has relied heavily on Iran in fighting ISIS (he also ultimately benefited immensely from US, Israeli, and Turkish offensives against the group).

By contrast, a recent Iranian attack on the Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, was intended to punish Israel. As General Amir Ali Hajizadeh of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force told Iranian state TV on January 16, Israel’s covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and assassinations of its nuclear scientists have been planned from a facility in Erbil. “We had to confront this and retaliate in the name of the blood of our martyrs,” he explained.