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Insights into Editorial: Middle East braced for backlash after killing of Qassem Soleimani

Insights into Editorial: Middle East braced for backlash after killing of Qassem Soleimani

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Context: U.S. kills top Iranian General in air strike:

The U.S. killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, in an air strike near Baghdad airport, the Pentagon and Iran said.

Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Gen. Soleimani, was also killed in the attack authorised by U.S. President Donald Trump after a pro-Iran mob laid siege to the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capita Baghdad.

  1. officials said Gen. Soleimani had been killed in a drone strike while Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said he was killed in an attack by American helicopters.

The killing of Gen. Soleimani, considered the architect of Tehran’s spreading military influence in West Asia, marks a dramatic escalation in the regional “shadow war” between Iran and the U.S. and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could quickly ratchet up tit-for-tat attacks.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed harsh revenge. Iran has been locked in a long conflict with the U.S. that escalated with an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen after a U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.

Some 5,200 U.S. troops are stationed across Iraq.

Reaction from Iraq:

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the strike was a “flagrant violation” of a security accord with the U.S., warning it would “spark a devastating war in Iraq”. Oil prices shot up by nearly $3 a barrel after news of the killing.

Iraq is home to myriad Iranian-aligned Shia militia groups that have huge sway in the security apparatus and the government.

The Islamic regime sponsors proxies across the region which it considers part of its national security and influence strategy, from Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group, to groups in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories.

Oil sector as target:

At a regional level, anxiety may rise about Gen. Soleimani’s death being avenged by a thousand cuts at the interests of the U.S. and its allies.

This may involve resumed attacks on oil tankers and other low hanging but high value economic targets, particularly in the oil sector.

Global oil prices have already seen a 4% rise within hours of the incident due to the “fear premium”; unless de-escalated, jittery commodity speculators may spin out of control.

The urge for a riposte runs deep in the Iranian psyche. The U.S. has a global presence but that also brings in vulnerabilities. All that can be safely predicted is that the situation remains highly unpredictable.

Potential fallout, on India:

India has already had considerable difficulties in meandering through the obstacle course created by the U.S.-Iran cold war.

While we need to be on the right side of the U.S., our ties with Iran, apart from being “civilisational”, have their own geostrategic logic.

Now that the conflict has turned hot, its adverse impact on India could magnify.

Apart from a rise in our oil import bill and difficulties in supplies, the safety of an estimated eight million expatriates in the Gulf may be affected.

Iran has the capacity to influence the U.S.-Taliban peace process in Afghanistan, a neighbouring country.

Last but not the least, after Iran, India has perhaps the largest number of the world’s Shia population and the possibility of some of them being radicalised by this event cannot be ruled out.

Critics argument:

The attack has already killed off even the possibility of renegotiating the nuclear deal.  Iran might see this as an act of war like any sovereign country would do.

U.S. President Donald Trump is responsible for where U.S.-Iran ties stand today as he single-handedly destroyed the co-operation between the two nations established by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposing sanctions on Iran.

It could trigger multiple attacks across the region, destabilising it further, cause heavy casualties and help the jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and the IS regroup and re-emerge.

Resumed attacks on oil tankers and other low hanging but high value economic targets, particularly in the oil sector

By sabotaging the fragile peace negotiated over years between world powers, Mr. Trump, in a single act, pushed both the U.S. and Iran down a dangerous slope.

Conclusion:

For India, the bigger strategic choice will have to be made if the region does descend into an overt conflict situation between the Arab states and its old strategic partner, Iran and even Israel.

Unlike in the past, Indian interests in the region are broader and deeper than ever before. There will be hell to pay in the aftermath of Soleimani’s assassination.

The world doesn’t yet know exactly how the chips will fall. But it will not be good.

India will ready its contingency evacuation plans, just in case things get ugly for the diaspora in the Gulf region, but that is now a relatively easier exercise, having done it several times.

India will have to keep a keen eye out on Afghanistan, which could return into a geopolitical conflict theatre.

Pakistan will attempt to fish in troubled waters, but frankly, India is now better able to take care of that. Also, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has more important things to worry about now rather than a discussion on Kashmir.