TEHRAN, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- An explosion at an army base has heightened concerns that the Islamic Republic, grappling with severe political tumult, is facing a surge in violence that could be linked to tortuous negotiations on curbing its nuclear program.
There has been no explanation concerning the explosion Wednesday at a military facility in the port of Bandar Abbas in the southern province of Hormozgan that wounded three people.
It may well have been an accident. But Bandar Abbas is a major base for the Iranian navy and the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. It dominates the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the only way in and out of the Gulf and a key oil route.
The explosion follows a chain of violent incidents mainly located in Iran's periphery in restive provinces along the borders with Pakistan, Iraq and Azerbaijan that may escalate as Tehran becomes more obstinate on the nuclear issue.
Armed groups in these provinces, where the populations are largely Sunni Muslim, have been fighting the Tehran government for several years claiming to seek separation from the overwhelmingly Shiite Islamic Republic.
Tehran claims these groups are supported, armed and financed by the United States, Britain, Pakistan and Israel. All deny that, but it is widely believed that covert action against Iran is under way using these forces.
The objective is to destabilize Iran and undermine a regime that allegedly seeks to acquire nuclear weapons.
The tempo of attacks across the country seems to have picked up of late, although it is difficult to discern any particular pattern.
Several clerics were killed recently in Kordestan province in the west where Kurdish separatists are active, a nuclear physicist was assassinated in Tehran on Jan. 12, and a court prosecutor was murdered Monday in the northwestern town of Khoy near the Turkish border.
The most spectacular of the recent attacks occurred on Oct. 18, when a suicide bomber killed 42 people in the town of Pishin in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.
It's a resource-poor and largely lawless area bordering Pakistan's equally restive Baluchistan province -- but both regions appear to be in the eye of a coming storm.
Among the dead in Pishin were four of the most senior commanders of the IRGC, the Tehran regime's Praetorian Guard, which has become immensely powerful since hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former IRGC officer, was elected six years ago.
They were Gens. Noor Ali Shoosharti, deputy commander of the corps' land forces; Rajab Ali Mohammad-Zadeh, commander of IRGC forces in Sistan-Baluchistan; Hossein Moradi, commander of the IRGC garrison in the Iranshahr region; and Ali Alavian, commander of Sarallah Corps, a prestigious infantry unit.
The slaughter during a security meeting with tribal leaders was the deadliest blow against the IRGC since the 1980-88 war with Iraq, in which the corps carried out suicidal human wave attacks against Saddam Hussein's forces.
Shoosharti especially was a high-value target as he had assumed command of all IRGC operations in the province, making him in effect military governor, shortly before he was killed.
The suicide attack bore similarities to the Dec. 30 bombing of a CIA base in Afghanistan's Khost Province in which seven agency operatives and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed by a turncoat Jordanian.
That was the CIA's most severe losses since a suicide bomber blew up the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983, killing six CIA officers, including the agency's Middle East chief.
The Pishin bombing was carried out by Jundallah, or God's Soldiers, a Baluchi separatist group founded in 2003 by Nek Mohammad Wazir, a charismatic Pakistani Taliban commander killed by Pakistani forces in 2004.
Jundallah has claimed several major attacks since 2003, but the Pishin attack marked a sharp intensification of the simmering rebellions in Iran's frontier regions at a time when the Tehran regime grappled with unprecedented internal unrest.
Tehran accused Pakistan of harboring Jundallah fighters. Islamabad denies that, but Pakistan's principal intelligence outfit, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, has a history of running groups like this.
Saudi Arabia, Iran's main rival in the region, is believed to provide funding for Jundallah.
The region is becoming a major hot spot. Pakistani Baluchistan is also in ferment, much more than on the Iranian side, and it is figuring increasingly in the U.S. war against the Taliban as the fighting spills over.
The province contains vast reserves of copper, natural gas, uranium and possibly oil. Expect more trouble there in this looking-glass war.