Comparison, Analysis and Identification of Behavioral Models of Terrorists in Iran

Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
December 2018

Terrorism is the most important threat, or at least one of the biggest threats overshadowing Iran’s national interests both inside the country and on a regional level. Iran is located in a region characterized by abundance of money and weapons. These are two major elements, which in addition to presence of failed states, provide a breeding ground for terrorism. Australia’s Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has conducted a study on 99.7 percent of the world’s population, which led to the production of the institute’s flagship report known as “the Global Terrorism Index (GTI).” According to that report, out of six countries with the highest risk of terrorist attacks, three countries, namely Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, are located in Iran’s neighborhood.
This neighborhood has entailed a high security cost for Tehran. This situation is also considered by Iran’s regional and transregional adversaries and rivals as an opportunity for sowing insecurity in Iran. Despite this situation, security has been the most important achievement of Iran following victory of the Islamic Revolution. Therefore, disrupting this security achievement, especially making the country’s economic sphere insecure through establishment of a sanctions regime, can provide enemies with hectic conditions that they want to see inside Iran.
From the viewpoint of comparative studies, the trend of terrorist developments in Iran has not been unrelated to their general global trend. As put by the famous political scientist, David C. Rapoport, terrorism was mostly of an anarchic nature during the 19th century, was of a colonialist nature during the 20th century, and was dominated by a leftist aspect after the end of World War II. During early years after victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the leftist terrorism (spearheaded by such groups as the MKO and Fadaei Guerillas), anarchist terrorism (as represented by the Forqan group), as well as ethnic and secessionist terrorism (by Komala and Turkmen parties), came into being with the goal of achieving their own political goals. However, following early post-revolution years and after the end of Iraq’s imposed war on Iran, the second wave of terrorist attacks swept the country. It aimed to terrorize people in order to undermine the Iran’s ideological standing by attacking the country’s infrastructural facilities, holy shrines and mosques. However, before long, failure of the second wave of terrorism gave birth to the third wave. The most important index of the third wave of terrorism in Iran was the foreign and regional origin of terror attacks. However, the main goal of those attacks was to undermine the national spirit of Iranians. In order to achieve this goal, they first started by assassinating major scientific figures, including Iran’s nuclear scientists. However, after failure to achieve their goal, terrorists put more attacks on their agenda during past years, which mostly targeted the country’s political symbols such as the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament) and the Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini. They also targeted the country’s security, including through a terrorist attack on a military parade in Iran’s southwestern city of Ahvaz and a recent attack on a police station in the country’s southeastern port city of Chabahar. Such attacks were carried out because of their higher potential to affect the overall atmosphere in the country.
Apart from the goals and tactics specific to each and every one of those waves of terrorism, we are faced with three circles in this regard. The first circle is comprised of militants, which form the main group of terrorists, while the second circle consists of those who provide them with funds and logistical support. There is also a third circle, which is made up of potential supporters of terrorism, who are hidden among various social strata. When it comes to preventing and fending off terrorist attacks, the third circle is the most important and the biggest of all those three groups. This is a group, which exists within the country, and the lion’s share of investment by terrorist leaders is made in attracting this group.
Sending strong signals to terrorists and their backers, and carrying out anti-terror operations will create a sense of public trust in the government. One example was a missile strike on the headquarters of terrorists, who carried out the terror attack in the city of Ahvaz, by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). The media outlets, in the meantime, play a powerful role in this regard. When terrorist attacks take place, a solid media strategy must be adopted so as to reduce damage to the government inside the country. At the same time, various aspects of the attack must be highlighted at international level in order to forge a global consensus against regional supporters of terror attacks.
Of course, there are several factors, which make the fight against terrorism more difficult. Those factors include the vast expanse of terrorist operations, networked structure of terrorist groups, internal intricacies of such groups, and the fact that they take advantage of cyberspace to coordinate their attacks. However, it must be noted that when terrorist attacks are planned, they are based on rational choice theory. Therefore, if the cost of terrorist operations is increased – in military, psychological and media terms – it would have a tangible effect on calculations that underlie such operations. As a result, effective and calculated fight against terrorism will prevent the third cycle from being attracted to terrorist groups, while the first group will become smaller. The final result would be inefficiency of terrorist attacks and the government’s success in overcoming this dangerous wave.
Apart from tactical aspects of the fight against terrorism, it must be noted that since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has been constantly faced with this threat and the country’s GTI index has been growing on an annual basis. Therefore, there is a serious need in the country to conduct painstaking studies on various region of Iran. Such studies must cover a wide range of issues, including political, economic, social, and cultural conditions in various regions; the type of terrorist attacks carried out or terrorist teams identified in those regions; geopolitical and ideological incentives for terrorism; and the metamorphosis of terrorism within a given period of time. Following such studies, various regions in the country must be divided into three categories: regions with a high risk of terrorism, regions with a moderate risk of terrorism, and regions with a low risk of terrorism. Then effective and operational strategies must be offered for every one of these regions.
There is no doubt that at the end of this wave, terrorist activities will not ebb in Iran and a new period of terrorist attacks will begin. In order to predict the future wave of such attacks, terrorist operations must be looked upon as a continuous system. In this way, it would be possible to identify and monitor behavioral and operational models of terrorists in order to facilitate processes related to prevention, countering and fighting terrorist attacks, and make them more efficient.