Israeli Advocacy for Iranian Fragmentation Raises Concerns Among Iran’s Authorities


Former IDF military intelligence member Mordechai Kedar’s Jerusalem Post article published on March 13, 2024, entitled “The Secret to Taking Down the Iranian Regime: Iran’s Ethnic Minorities” has greatly angered official institutions in Iran. Kedar has played on inflaming national and ethnic tensions which the Iranian regime fears, by calling for the division of Iran into six ethnic states, each representing a people or ethnicity from the non-Persian peoples. The Israeli opinion article and the subsequent Iranian reactions unveil several indications. Iranian society appears to be on the verge of an identity crisis while the ruling establishment is concerned about the potential collapse of the structure and national identity of the society and state that it has shaped for more than four decades. The ruling establishment is also concerned about the impact of separatist calls among Iran’s various ethnic groups, particularly considering the internal and external crises facing the country. These fears stem from the strained relationship between these minorities and the Iranian government, with tensions deepening significantly following the death of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini inside one of the morality police prisons. This report discusses the sensitivity of the timing of this article, the Iranian reactions it has provoked and the potential risks it poses to the Iranian domestic front.

The Delicate Timing of the Article for the Iranian Establishment

Problems between non-Persian ethnic minorities and the state are nothing new, dating back to the shah’s era. However, tensions between the two significantly deepened after the 1979 revolution. This can be attributed to the clear discrimination by the Iranian establishment in the constitutional, structural and legal frameworks between Persian and non-Persian peoples. This is along with the policies of exclusion, marginalization, oppression, injustice and deprivation practiced by the Iranian establishment against these peoples. While calls for a change in the situation of these groups are not new, the question that imposes itself here is: what new perspective does the Israeli writer bring? The answer lies in the timing. The timing is delicate for the Iranian establishment, particularly in relation to any attempts or calls to mobilize non-Persian peoples who fundamentally oppose the political power structure. Therefore, the sensitivity of the Jerusalem Post’s piece that uses national sentiments as a catalyst holds significant implications reflected in the following aspects.

The first aspect is the profound dissatisfaction expressed by the West, particularly the United States, regarding the faltering nuclear negotiations, despite the concessions made to facilitate these talks. This dissatisfaction extends to the actions of Iran-linked militia groups and their involvement in the ongoing conflict in Gaza aimed at influencing US and Israeli positions to stop the war. The Western position seems to suggest that the most effective solution to Iran’s nuclear issue and regional behavior is the overthrow of the Iranian establishment. The piece sends a clear message that the current Western policies toward these two issues have not borne the desired fruit. This is primarily because the dual issues are closely linked to the ideology, nature and principles that govern the domestic and foreign policies of the Iranian establishment. Therefore, changing these policies without changing the political order is a challenging endeavor.

From Kedar’s perspective, the traditional pressure tactics employed by the West, particularly the United States, have proven insufficient in altering the Iranian government’s behavior. Therefore, he proposes a different approach that the Iranian establishment greatly fears — leveraging the crisis of non-Persian peoples by inciting them toward secession. This could lead to dividing Iran into six ethnic states, each representing one of the ethnicities residing in Iran, such as Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Balochis and Turkmen.

The writer underscores the significance of his perspective, given the existing opportunities and justifications for encouraging Iran’s ethnicities to secede and achieve self-rule. The conditions facilitating secession are a result of the government’s internal policies and tools that undermine its chances of survival which are based on exclusion, marginalization, displacement, repression and executions against non-Persian peoples.  

The second aspect lies in the sensitivity of the Israeli approach to the identity crisis and national integration in Iran, a dilemma that has significantly intensified compared to previous historical periods. The escalation has been evident in the consecutive protests waged by non-Persian peoples and perhaps the significant decline in their participation in the Iranian electoral process. This occurs against the backdrop of the government’s ongoing repressive and violent policies against non-Persian peoples. Therefore, Iranian decision-makers find themselves before a deep-rooted identity and national integration crisis that is about to erupt. This heightens their sensitivity to this issue at the present time as it presents them with a complex challenge — how to redefine and structurally represent the concept of national identity in a way that acknowledges ethnic and even sectarian diversity.   

The writer may have hinted at the West, particularly the United States, providing support for Azerbaijani Turks concentrated mainly in the northwest of Iran (along the border with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan) which make up an estimated one-fourth of Iran’s population. He suggests that the South Azerbaijanis can rebel alone against the government to weaken and exhaust it. Then the Ahwazis, Kurds, Balochis and others could join the effort. The ultimate goal is to dismantle the ruling elite so that the nuclear issue and other outstanding matters that involve regional and international stakeholders can be resolved.

The third aspect is the possibility that the article is an open call for Europe and the United States to exert serious and effective pressure on Iran. This approach suggests countering the pressure applied indirectly by Iran through its proxy armed groups on the US and Israeli positions on the Gaza war by mobilizing ethnic groups within Iran. The writer appears to argue that the most effective strategy is not sporadic and limited attacks on the strongholds of Iran, but rather igniting separatist tendencies among non-Persian ethnic groups. He believes that by provoking these sentiments, the Iranian establishment can be weakened from within, thus reducing the security threats emanating from Iran and its Middle Eastern proxies. This could increase the prospect of establishing regional peace, as the threats posed by groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and various Iran-backed militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen would diminish.      

The Iranian Establishment’s Response to Separatist Calls and Support for Non-Persian Peoples

Iran’s potential division or the secession of any of its regions has been a concern that persistently troubled successive Iranian governments. During the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the monarchy employed harsh measures to suppress minorities advocating for separation. The current leadership continues this approach, resorting to violence, coercion and intimidation to dissuade various minorities from contemplating independence or even self-rule. This approach aims to prevent a recurrence of the separatist attempts made by some ethnic groups, such as the Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds and Azeris, following the 1979 revolution.  

Therefore, Iran is highly sensitive to any form of support for its ethnic minorities, even if it is merely moral or cultural. A notable incident occurred in December 2020 when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited a verse of poetry during a visit to the Republic of Azerbaijan. The verse, part of a poem by Azerbaijani poet Mohammed Ibrahimov, ignited a significant controversy in Iran. The latter interpreted the poem as advocacy for secession, particularly because it highlighted the importance of the Aras River to the Azerbaijani people. The river, which forms the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, is home to an Azerbaijani-Turkish minority residing on its northern Iranian bank.   

In another incident, Tehran summoned the Iraqi ambassador in May 2023. This was in response to an invitation made by the Iraqi government to groups that Iran categorizes as “opposition groups” to attend an official ceremony in the Kurdish region of Iraq in the presence of Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani.

The mere recitation of a poetic verse and an invitation to an event were enough to cause significant uproar. This raises the question of the extent of Iran’s reaction to the explicit call from an official in Israeli intelligence to support ethnic minorities and divide Iran. These concerns are further amplified by the mutual hostility Iran shares with Israel which has made relentless efforts over recent years to infiltrate Iran’s security infrastructure and execute a series of explosion and assassinations, particularly targeting nuclear facilities. Kedar’s proposition of overthrowing the Iranian establishment through dividing the country into six states has indeed sparked great outrage in the country. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, believes that the Israeli scholar’s statements clearly reveal the malicious intentions of Iran’s enemies. Others in Iran view this call as a blatant interference in Tehran’s internal affairs and a threat to its national unity.    

The Iranian establishment’s anxiety regarding separatist calls is likely heightened by the fact that most of its ethnic minorities inhabit border regions. The Azeris reside in the north, northwest and certain central parts, while the Kurds are in the west, the Arabs in the south and southwest, the Balochis in the south and southeast and the Turkmen in the north and northeast. These minorities also have significant populations in neighboring countries. The Azeris, for example, live near the Republic of Azerbaijan, while the Kurds reside along the borders with the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Turkey. Meanwhile, the Arabs, who have tribal extensions with neighboring countries, are close to Iraq and the Arabian Gulf states. The Balochis have ethnic ties in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Turkmen ethnicity is affiliated with the Republic of Turkmenistan.   

Therefore, any endeavor to support or mobilize these groups could pose a real threat to the Iranian establishment. This is due to the possibility that any armed struggle by one minority against the Iranian establishment could inspire other minorities to follow suit. Iran’s ethnic groups have shown stern opposition to the government in recent years, evident in the swift and substantial participation of the border provinces, inhabited by non-Persian peoples, in the anti-government protests since 2017 until the most recent protest moment sparked by the death of Amini. This suggests the likelihood of these communities backing each other, especially with support from international entities willing to endorse their self-determination projects and objectives.

On an important note, igniting tensions in the non-Persian populated regions could exacerbate the dire economic situation in Iran. This is because many of the important strategic locations are inhabited by these minorities, especially the Ahwaz region. The region is inhabited by an Arab minority and holds great strategic and economic importance for the establishment as it contains more than 90% of the country’s oil and gas resources.  

Kedar’s call, amid the ongoing discrimination, suppression and exclusion, coupled with the Iranian government’s intentional efforts to obliterate the identities of these ethnic groups, could potentially win support from these minorities. Indeed, some activists and politicians within Ahwaz have already welcomed separatist calls, believing that secession will grant non-Persian peoples their legitimate rights and contribute to improving their social and economic conditions.


Iran recognizes the serious threat of the non-Persian minorities lever on its national security and the survival of its political system. This lever has been used to provoke Persian national sentiments to warn against supporting separatist tendencies that threaten Iran’s territorial integrity and the Persian population itself. However, the shifts within Iran and the political, social and security developments in the neighborhood could prompt regional and even international powers to use this lever to apply additional pressure on the Iranian government. This aim of this pressure tactic would be to compel the government to alter its approach toward the nuclear program as well as its behavior in the regional and internal arenas. Such a scenario presents a substantial challenge for the Iranian establishment in managing its relations with these minorities to eventually preserve its unity and block the road for Israel or any other enemy country to exploit the issues with minorities. Iran needs to consider such an approach, especially at a critical time when it faces significant challenges at home and abroad.     

Editorial Team