We didn’t start the fire

by January 6, 2020 0 comments

As tension between the US and Iran is bound to escalate, India and the world must be prepared to be singed by it

The drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force variously described by analysts as being the “Tip of the Iranian Spear”, has the potential to spark a war. One just hopes that the targetting of one of Iran’s most powerful men and its most seasoned military commander, particularly in the Middle-East, should have been taken very carefully by the US’ political and military command. Unlike someone like Osama bin Laden, who was killed by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2011, Soleimani was not difficult to find. Until a few days ago, he was secure that his position granted him a degree of safety. Unlike Houthi rebels or even the Taliban, he was the representative of a sovereign state. He had adopted an aggressive political and military tactic that continued to challenge America’s regional primacy. What his death will mean for future conflict in the Middle-East remains to be seen. Some analysts worry that this will certainly lead to a formal war between Iran and the US. But commentary and analysis on the Levant and Persia are a dime a dozen because there are other experts who say that Iran should have seen this coming, particularly after the way the US embassy in Baghdad was attacked by Shia militants in the guise of protesters a few days ago. Soleimani was the man behind a lot of America’s troubles in the region. Besides, he had irritated and attacked others as well. His hands were behind field actions such as the attacks on the Saudi Arabian refinery, sites in Yemen and the formation of the nebulous alliance between Turkey, Iran and Malaysia. However, according to some reasoned analysts, Soleimani’s violent death is a bit more troubling because he was also a “grown-up” in a world full of juvenile imbeciles, who do not think of the consequences of their actions. He thought he knew how far Iran’s enemies would push the boundaries although he did get his calculations wrong at times. One of those miscalculations cost him his life.

What does this mean for India, a country that has been trying to balance its relationship with both Iran and the US? The External Affairs Ministry put out a reasoned and sensible statement, asking the US and Iran to exercise “restraint” in order to avoid destabilising the region, but it is the Petroleum Ministry that should be petrified in case the conflict escalates. If Narendra Modi’s economic team should be grateful for anything, it is the relative calm in fuel prices over the past six years, which has allowed him to impose high taxes on petrol and diesel without too many complaints from the public at large. But with prices of petrol at the pump already reaching the Rs 80 mark, how much more can the consumers take? Surely, some anger around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being fuelled by the current economic situation in the country, with job creation being not sufficient enough. Can the Indian economy afford an oil shock right now? Unlikely. With India’s relations no more being limited to oil, escalating tensions may even hurt its ambitious plans to develop the new oceanic port in Chabahar, a key transport and trade corridor with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Will Soleimani’s death lead to a war? Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini has already said that Tehran will retaliate. And it would do so at a suitable time and place of its choice. Although the top general’s elimination has come as a huge setback for Iran today, it is still very much capable of leading a war against America, howsoever asymmetrical. Should this happen, hostilities between the US and Iran are bound to spell turmoil in the entire Gulf region and lead to a major conflagration. Both the US and Iran are to go to polls soon. A full-scale conflict should not become the inflicting point for either to win over the people. Also, despite his demise, may be the grown-ups can come to the table and de-escalate the situation.

(Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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