Pakistani fighter jets entered Iranian airspace to attack rebels
Pakistan's F-16 fighter demonstrated in Karachi in February 2020. Photo: Reuters

Pakistani intelligence sources said that the country’s air force aircraft entered Iranian airspace to attack the Baloch rebel group and then returned.

“Our forces launched air strikes against rebels inside Iranian territory. The targeted fighters all belong to the Baloch Liberation Front,” a Pakistani official said on January 18, referring to an Armed group demanding independence for Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

According to a Pakistani intelligence source, the country’s air force fighter jets flew into the airspace in southeastern Iran to attack rebel targets there and then returned home, but did not disclose the number of fighters participating in the campaign. This is considered a move that could significantly escalate tensions between the two sides.

The Pakistani army named this operation “Marg Bar Sarmachar.” In Iranian Farsi, “marg bar” means “die”, while “sarmachar” is the nickname of the Baloch armed group.

After the raid, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Pakistan’s chargé d’affaires to explain the incident.

On the same day, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the country’s military launched a campaign against armed groups they consider terrorists, including a raid on targets in Sistan-Baluchistan province in southeastern Iran. “Pakistan fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the agency said.

A senior Pakistani security source said the country’s military “has been placed in a high state of combat readiness” and warned that Islamabad would respond strongly to Tehran’s “adventurous acts.”

Alireza Marhamati, deputy governor of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, said a total of nine people were killed in the missile attack on villages near the border with Pakistan.

Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahid said all those killed were foreign citizens, while the FARS news agency reported they were “Pakistani.” Iranian officials did not explain why these foreign citizens were present in the territory at the time of the airstrike.

The attack was carried out after Iran, on January 17, announced an attack on a rebel base linked to Israel in Pakistan with missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Pakistani officials said the raid left two children dead and several injured but did not specify the specific location. Pakistan then recalled its ambassador to Iran to protest the “flagrant violation of sovereignty.”

Iran recently launched several raids targeting what it believes is an “Israeli spy nest” in Iraq and the position of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. Iraq recalled its ambassador to Iran after the raid.

Some experts warn that the situation in the Middle East could get out of control after a series of raids on each other’s territory between Iran and Pakistan.

“What may attract Iran’s attention is that Pakistan crossed the ‘red line’ when attacking its territory, a threshold that both the US and Israel have so far avoided,” Asfandyr Mir, a senior expert on South Asian security and at the US Institute of Peace, commented.

The Baloch Liberation Front group operating in Iran is launching an uprising campaign against the Pakistani government. Meanwhile, the Jaish al-Adl group operating in Pakistan consists of Sunni fighters who are considered a threat to Iran. Jaish al-Adl once attacked Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.