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As Israel-Hamas war presses on, flareup between Iran an Pakistan emerges

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

As the war between Israel and Hamas surpasses 100 days, a new flare-up of violence has emerged between Iran, a main sponsor of Hamas, and Pakistan.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Earlier this week, Iran struck militants inside Pakistan. Then Pakistan carried out its own strikes inside Iran, which killed nine people. It adds even more uncertainty in a part of the world central to U.S. interests.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. To help sort this out, we turn now to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, this is a part of the world that has seen attacks in the past. What has happened so far this week on a considerably larger scale? What's happening?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, Iranian officials say they were targeting specifically a militant group known as Jaish al-Adl. And that's in Balochistan, a large territory. It straddles southwest Pakistan, Iran, parts of Afghanistan. Tehran says it was concerned about the possibility of escalating cross-border violence by the group. Pakistan swiftly responded with a deadly strike inside Iran - Sistan-Baluchestan province - and Iranian officials say there were children among the dead there. There are signs that both sides would be interested in de-escalating the situation at this point. But with tensions running high, it might not take much to set things off again.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, I mean, Israel continues its war on Hamas, the Iran-backed proxy militia and governing power in the Gaza Strip. And Israel is exchanging fire with Hezbollah. That's the Lebanese militant group backed by Iran. I mean, what might all of this mean for the U.S. and Western approach in Iran?

KENYON: It would seem likely to ratchet up tensions considerably on that front, as well. I spoke with Ali Vaez. He directs the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group. He says the Hamas attack that left some 1,200 people dead in southern Israel last fall effectively rules out any diplomatic improvement in relations with Iran. Here's how he put it.

ALI VAEZ: And also, what October 7 has done and what the conflict has done is that it has derailed the escalatory understanding that Iran and the U.S. had negotiated over the summer and has completely shut the door on the prospect of any resumption of negotiations about the future of nuclear diplomacy between Iran and the U.S.

KENYON: And now, with the flaring tensions between Iran and Pakistan, there's another potential front to worry about.

MARTÍNEZ: But Iran has said that it was just as surprised by the Hamas attack on October 7 as everyone else. Does that hold water outside of Iran?

KENYON: Well, certainly, the people I've been speaking with say it is entirely plausible, but that doesn't absolve Tehran of responsibility. Iran has financed and armed these proxy militias for years, and it's hard to see how the October 7 attack would've happened were it not for that. But on the narrow question of whether Tehran was behind this attack, analyst Sanam Vakil at the U.K.-based Chatham House think tank says there is this general assumption that Iran plays some kind of role of a puppet master, but that doesn't mean it ordered this attack. Here's a bit of what she said.

SANAM VAKIL: Iran has provided financial, technical, capacity-building support over a long period of time and deferred to these groups to manage relations and politics within their own entities that they operate. So it's not a command-and-control relationship.

KENYON: But Vakil also emphasizes that this in no way absolves Iran of responsibility. It's the one that gave these groups the means to commit bloodshed in the name of resistance to the U.S. and Israel. And she says it should be held accountable.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOMEBODY'S "SWINGING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.