US and Iran: The vicious cycle of revenge moves to a dangerous orbit

January 06, 2020 4:48 PM

The reasons adduced by American establishment is that he along with others was planning major attacks against the US assets.


Iranians find the American hand in fuelling the domestic unrest. (Representative image)Iranians find the American hand in fuelling the domestic unrest. (Representative image)

By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat

The killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport along with some other high-value targets by US military drones last week has induced the vicious cycle of revenge that in all likelihood could spiral out of control endangering the delicate security balance in the already heavily armed volatile West Asian region which as such is unable to handle the prevailing hot spots each of which has the potential to bring about misery and disaster not only to the region but will have a far-reaching impact globally. Hence, almost every country is urging the two sides to cool down the tempers and not to escalate the situation. But one must admit that in a situation marred by huge mistrust and no other arbiter to counter the hype and unpredictability of the US leadership and the Iranian supported non-state actors the chances of an unintended miscalculation are far higher which may lead to dangerous consequences. As of now while the mourning Iranians and Shia-Iraqis are vowing to take “revenge” the Americans are threatening to bomb the fifty odd sites should Iran indulge in attacking American assets.

After President Trump’s withdrawal from JCPOA nuclear deal and imposition of ever upgrading unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure tactic, the Iranians felt cornered as their European partners were unable to salvage the deal. Iranians find the American hand in fuelling the domestic unrest. Likewise, the demonstrations in Iraq and attack on Iranian consulates were attributed to the US machinations as Iraq became the ground for their competition. Consequently, an American contractor was killed by an Iranian affiliated militia group and the US Embassy was attacked leading to the evacuation of all their personnel to avert the Benghazi like situation. The US or Trump, cornered by impeachment and re-election, could not let the Iranians dictate the terms and hence bravado prevailed. One wonders if it was a well and strategically thought out move since both the US Administration, as well as the Iranians, had been working on some modalities of dialogue. But the killing of Soleimani has changed the landscape completely and JCPOA may be dead for good.

General Qassem Soleimani was one of the most powerful military leaders closer to the Supreme leader. Although said to be low profile and temperate in his demeanour he wielded immense influence across the region and was singularly instrumental in expanding the Iranian outreach and influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and even Yemen by coordinating with the key organisations that the US had declared as terrorist including the Al Quds force (IRGC) he was commanding. But he has been at the forefront of the fight against the ultra -Sunni ISIS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria and worked closely with the Americans on one end and opposed them on the other wherever the Iranian strategic interests were concerned to be Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis or pro-Assad groups. He was ambulating around the region and operating virtually at will as probably least he expected Americans to take him out.

The reasons adduced by American establishment is that he along with others was planning major attacks against the US assets. Unfortunately, the US intelligence and its controverted an interpretation has often been subject of international scrutiny and mistrust as was evidenced in 2003 when intel regarding WMD in Iraq was manufactured. Moreover, the invasion of Iraq not only spawned and gave vent to the terrorist groups but also offered “ Bush-Kashi “ Iraq on a platter to Iran- even if an unintended consequence. But now tables have been turned and the Islamic Republic of Iran has become a major enemy which is adept in asymmetric warfare. The current crisis of unending miscalculations may be politically expedient but will surely destabilize the security dynamic in the fragile region and America might get embroiled for a long haul.

The US has not received the kind of support it has been looking for from its allies. Pompeo lamented “The Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be” without analysing that they themselves have made provision of security into an economic enterprise. It appears that the design was not shared with their NATO partners as Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee said “The purpose of having allies is that we can surprise our enemies and not each other”. The UK is concerned of escalation as it has the second-largest western presence there. All other allies warned against any further escalation that could have dangerous consequences. Russia along with his Iranian counterpart called the US strikes violative of international law and sovereignty of Iraq. Qatari Foreign Minister also visited Tehran after the incident and possibly may have tried some mediation. Meanwhile, Hezbollah backed militias have fired rockets on Balad US airbase in Iraq while asking the IRGC and Iraqi troops to stay clear of the vicinity of the US assets.

Reportedly Al Shabab attacked a base in Kenya used by US forces. Whether the situation will escalate to dangerous level or not it seems US would lose its leverage in Iraq as well since the Iraqi parliament will likely consider removal of US troops from their territory as one of their main Commanders Muhanadi was also killed with Soleimani and their sovereignty was violated . Meanwhile daughter of Soleimani seeking revenge and apparently both Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and Iranian leaders have assured her of appropriate response. Of course, Iran has lodged a formal complaint to the UNSG and protested against the US to the Swiss CdA looking after their interest.

As for India the West Asian region being its extended neighbourhood is probably the most important for its own overall security and welfare. India has over 9 million workforces in the region whose wellbeing is paramount. It also depends for over 2/3rd of her energy imports and has just begun to attract significant investments especially from the GCC countries. Hence it is imperative for India that the situation in the region does not conflagrate. At present India perhaps has the most productive and rewarding relationship with key countries in the region and through its strategic neutrality has been able to wade through without getting caught in the regional hotspots or competing axis of influences. Recently, after the 2+2 dialogue in Washington Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar had a productive meeting with his Iranian and Omani counterparts where President Rouhani even claimed that the US will abandon its maximum pressure tactics soon. Barely weeks later more powder has been put in the ignitable tinderbox. India on its part issued a statement urging restraint and that “Increase in tension has alarmed the world. Peace, stability and security in the region is of utmost importance to India and it is vital that the situation does not escalate further”. Hopefully the sanity will prevail on both sides as no one seems to want war.

(The author is, Distinguished Fellow VIF. Views expressed are personal.)

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