An unstable Gulf region means higher costs for crude that could have a rippling effect on the Indian economy. At the same time India’s most promising port of Chabahar in Iran could face hurdles, say strategic experts. The killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport is perhaps the most precipitous step that the US President Donald Trump has taken in the context of the continuing US – Iran confrontations. It’s not an ordinary killing of an insurgent group’s leader but that of a man ranked among the top leadership of a sovereign country – Iran.
Sharing his views Brig SK Chatterji (retd) says “In Iraq, Hezbollah backed militias have fired rockets at a US base in Balad, Iraq. They have asked Iraqi forces to stay away from US bases. However, all that could pale into insignificance if Iran decides to take any action to disrupt oil shipping through the Strait of Hormuz — 20 per cent of the global oil traffic passes through this Strait which is just 33 km wide at its narrowest point. The UK has already announced that the Royal Navy will escort British shipping through the Strait. Even if Iran were to limit its response to a lesser objective, a spiral of violence in war-torn West Asia could be witnessed. Many West Asian countries including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Libya are already in turmoil or simmering.”
“Soleimani, it needs to be understood is a national hero in Iran and often referred to as the nation’s protector. Obviously, the pressures on the Iranian leadership are immense. The Ayatollah has promised, “Severe revenge awaits the criminals”, adds Chatterji adds.
According to the former Indian Army Brigadier, “Should the US – Iran confrontation get worse, Pakistan may benefit. Pakistan and Iran share land borders and definitely do not have a warm relationship. The US has the option of using Pakistan to enhance its options. In such a situation, Pakistan will definitely expect American support in multiple areas including those in an Indian context.”
Both Iran and the US have been pushing and pressuring each other repeatedly for decades. “Until now, American pressure has primarily been through political isolation of Iran and its containment by building an alliance in the region to oppose it, and economic pressure through sanctions. Iran, on the other hand, has seen the US not only as a direct threat but also an obstacle to its position in the region and it has repeatedly taken military action, often through its proxies but sometimes directly, against the US,” Prof Rajesh Rajagopalan, School of International Studies, JNU states.
This included killing over 200 US Marines in a truck-bomb attack in Lebanon in 1983, killing over 600 US personnel during Iraq insurgency, and more recently, shooting down an American drone over the Strait of Hormuz and attacking Saudi Arabian oil facilities. “It is important to note that the Iranian actions were not purely defensive but also designed to expand its influence over the Gulf and the Levant, including its gruesome war in support of the Assad regime in Syria and building up Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Rajagopalan observes.
In Rajagopalan’s view, “The US has responded with kinetic force partly because Iranian proxies appeared to be readying to repeat the Embassy hostage-taking of 1979, and because Iran appeared to be convinced that the US would not respond: as the Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei taunted President Trump in a tweet, “You can’t do anything”. Trump was demonstrating that he could escalate if he wanted to. But this is also the reality: though Iran has a lot of proxy forces and asymmetric capabilities, US power, if used, is not something that Iran can match.”
“Thus, escalation is not a prudent course for Teheran, though it is likely that they will take some action. But such action is likely to be a nominal one rather than an actual “escalation” because Iran ought to recognize that Trump is unlikely to back down,” he adds.