The People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran or Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), a controversial exiled opposition group that enjoys the support of serving and former Western officials, including some in the Trump administration, as well as prominent Saudis such as Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, who is believed to be close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has taken credit for a number of the protests in Khuzestan.

Goading Iran to retaliate

The incidents fit an emerging pattern, prompting suggestions that if a Gulf-backed group was responsible for this weekend’s attack, it may have been designed to provoke a more direct confrontation between Iran and the United States.

"If the terrorist attack in Ahvaz was part of a larger Saudi and UAE escalation in Iran, their goal is likely to goad Iran to retaliate, using Tehran’s reaction to spark a larger war and force the U.S. to enter, since Riyadh and Abu Dhabi likely cannot take on Iran militarily alone… If so, the terrorist attack is as much about trapping Iran into war as it is about trapping the U.S. into a war of choice," said Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council.

Iran appears with its response to the Ahvaz attack to be saying that its fears of U.S. and Saudi destabilisation efforts are becoming reality. The Iranian view is not wholly unfounded. Speaking in a private capacity on the same day as the attack in Ahvaz, U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, declared that U.S.. sanctions were causing economic pain that could lead to a "successful revolution" in Iran.

"I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them. It could be in a few days, months, a couple of years. But it’s going to happen," Giuliani told an audience gathered in New York for an Iran Uprising Summit organised by the Organisation of Iranian-American Communities, a Washington-based group associated with the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Together with John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, Giuliani is a long-standing supporter of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq that calls for the violent overthrow of the Iranian regime.

No formal U.S. endorsement for regime change

Bolton, last year before assuming office, drafted at the request of Trump’s then strategic advisor, Steve Bannon, a plan that envisioned U.S. support "for the democratic Iranian opposition", "Kurdish national aspirations in Iran, Iraq and Syria", and assistance for Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan and Baloch in the Pakistani province of Balochistan and Iran’s neighbouring Sistan and Balochistan province.

The Trump administration has officially shied away from formally endorsing the goal of toppling the regime in Tehran. Bolton, since becoming national security advisor, has insisted that U.S. policy was to put "unprecedented pressure" on Iran to "change its behaviour", not its regime. Bolton and Giuliani’s inclination towards regime change is, however, shared by several U.S. allies in the Middle East and circumstantial evidence suggests that their views may be seeping into U.S. policy moves without it being officially acknowledged.

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