The US vs Iran: Killing of General Soleimani foretells instability in the Persian Gulf

Updated: January 3, 2020 7:46:47 PM

General Soleimani headed the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, an elite arm of Iranian Defence Forces responsible for all overseas operations. He was at the helm of affairs of Quds Force for nearly two decades directing all Iranian guided operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt and Afghanistan.

US, Iran, General Soleimani, Persian Gulf, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Middle East, defence newsUS- Iran relations had been on a downward slide since the assumption of President Trump to Presidency.

By Brig NK Bhatia

Middle East and its immediate neighbourhood is in imminent danger of uncertain times ahead due to killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in an American aerial attack while on his visit to Baghdad. His killing was reportedly at the behest of President Trump.

General Soleimani headed the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, an elite arm of Iranian Defence Forces responsible for all overseas operations. He was at the helm of affairs of Quds Force for nearly two decades directing all Iranian guided operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hasan Rouhani mourned the death of General Soleimani and have vowed “harsh retaliation”. What can be “harsh retaliation” or consequences of his killing could be any body’s guess.

While Iran may lack any capability to challenge US military superiority or engage in direct confrontations, it’s capacity to cause damages through unconventional and irregular means would worry USA and all its allies, especially in Iran’s neighbourhood and middle east.

Iranian capability to cause disturbances to have been to the fore during the previous year, most prominently the attack on four oil tankers in May 2019 and missile attacks on a Saudi oil refinery in September 2019. The most vulnerable after the assassination of General Soleimani would be the sea routes in the Persian Gulf that transport most crude through the Strait of Hormuz from the middle-east.

The killing of General Soleimani is being attributed to the belligerent attitude of Iran, ready to confront the USA and challenge the interests of its most trusted ally, Saudi Arabia and proxy battles being wages in Yemen and Syria. However the immediate trigger for the US action is reported to be the attacks on US bases and killing of US contractor in Iraq on 27 December followed by the siege of US embassy in Baghdad by members of PMF.

US- Iran relations had been on a downward slide since the assumption of President Trump to Presidency. His decision to withdraw from the 2015 multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran deal), agreed upon between Iran and a group of world powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany) and the European Union only escalated the deteriorating relations and put the whole middle east region in a turmoil due to a series of hostile actions attributed to Iran. President Trump had also declared Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard – where General Soleimani belonged – a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation.

The killing of General Soleimani is likely to draw support from Iranian population where he was seen as a popular and powerful unifying figure. It will also provide a much respite to the Islamic government that had witnessed widespread riots against the increased prices of oil on 15 November and an outcry against corruption and theft of government resources with a potential to destabilise the Islamic government.

During the last few years, India has maintained a fine balance in its relations with the Arab world and Iran in spite of increased tensions in the region. US waiver of sanctions for India to trade with Afghanistan using Chabahar, through the current US imposed economic sanctions is the outcome of some deft diplomacy. Similarly, India’s relations with the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia have been robust showing mutual respect for each other’s viewpoint.

From the Indian viewpoint the escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf leading to instability in the region will add to its increasing economic troubles and create anxiety for large Indian diaspora that works in the Middle East.

(The author is Indian Army Veteran and comments frequently on the situation on India’s Western neighbourhood. Views expressed are personal.)

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