INTL CONFLICTSMIDDLE EASTOPINION

The reason why the US attacked Iran

By Atta Rasool Malik

Iranian Revolutionary Guards said[1] that on Friday early morning, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi deputy militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed by US gunship helicopters in Iraq. The Iranian general was on its way back to Iran after visiting Syria. Later, it was learnt that US President Trump had ordered killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while talking to CNN said that it was well thought out action. However, in Iran, tens of thousands of Iranian people are on the streets mourning the killing of the top military leader. Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to take revenge.[2]

The situation in the Middle East has dangerously escalated. Israel border security forces are on red alert. The US is withdrawing her civilian embassies staff from many countries, however, rushed 3500 more troops in the Middle East.[3]

Trump tweeted that Soleimani was ‘most hated and feared’ in Iran and should have been killed much earlier. He said the attack was launched to stop an imminent attack against the US and warned Iran not to retaliate.

The US forces have killed an Iranian senior army commander in another sovereign country, Iraq at the airport. Why has the United States suddenly launched such an unprecedented attack against Iran? Here is the reason why.

Iran has never hurt the US interests in the Middle East or Afghanistan in any meaningful way for the past three decades. Iran has cooperated with the US during her engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past two decades. Numerous US Think Tanks opine that actually Salafi/ Sunni/political Islam were contesting the hegemony of the US worldwide and not Shia Iran.[4] Obama tried to mainstream Iran by negotiating a nuclear deal[5] with Iran. However, Israel bitterly opposed the move because it saw Iran, the only leftover enemy in the Middle East which could seriously hurt Israeli interests in the region.

Iran greatly benefitted from the US invasion of Iraq in the year 2003. Its arch-rival Saddam was removed. During 2006-Israel-Lebanon War or more famously Israel–Hezbollah War, Israel was defeated[6] by Hizbullah; an Iranian proxy. Consequently, Iran enjoyed a massive influence and power in Lebanon. When US troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and by almost the same timeframe, Assad survived in Syria due to Iranian sustained economic and military support. Iran clearly emerged victoriously, and its strategic depth and influence extended manifolds to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The land linkages were impressive, and many called it a Shia Crescent[7]. It is no secret that Israel has subdued everyone else in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia except Iran. Israel took on isolating and neutralizing the ‘Iranian assets’ in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon for the past many months through military strikes, proxies and other covert activities.

The people of Israel understand that Israel is no longer threatened by hostile neighbourhood and therefore, its domestic politics no longer revolve around security issues. The significant problems in the recent and current general elections are economical and social. In less than twelve months, Israel has organized three General Elections. In April 2019 and then September 2019, the most significant political parties could not form the government and opted for yet another General Election which is now planned on 2 March 2020. However, there is one thing intriguing. If any of the major political party, either Netanyahu’s Likud or Benny Gantz’s Blue &White party had sought the support of Arab Israeli Knesset seats, they could have easily formed the government but neither chose to do it. Hatred for Muslims is common and widespread in Israel.

In 2019, it was the economy which swayed the polls in Israel and the same trend was likely in next General Election due in March 2020 but there might be a change. Netanyahu who stayed in Prime Minister Office over 11 years, telling people he is irreplaceable. He is scaring people that even today Israel is threatened by Muslims. In the eyes of many Israelites, Netanyahu is the saviour and the strong man of Israel. If there is a semblance of an attack on Israel by Iran due to recent developments, or situation further deteriorates; Netanyahu wins.

It is no secret that Netanyahu has prevailed[8] over Trump to withdraw from Iran nuclear deal despite the best efforts of UN permanent five member states (P5). President Trump, too, had no easy-going right from the start of his presidency. Initially, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) inquires and then impeachment. He needed the support of the Jewish lobby and its influence. Now, his impeachment process has commenced. It is usually the most embarrassing moments for any US presidents, but it is more challenging for Trump as it comes amid a re-election campaign. Trump support from the Jewish lobby is encouraging, but he also wants to do something to deflect public opinion. Trump went for the War trophy, a bigger War trophy then Obama. The slain al-Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani was the rock star of Iran’s Syrian policy that reported directly to Ayatollah Khamenei and failed many countries in the Syria attempting regime change.

Iran wants power and influence in the Middle East and its grand strategy is Shia empowerment. Iran enjoys significant political influence in Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran is confident of its vast gasoline reserves, but the US sanctions have crippled its economy. The people of Iran have no doubt much suffered from economic sanctions and expensive military adventures. They are divided over how to balance their foreign policy, and end repressing US sanctions. Recently there was a sudden outburst due to increase in fuel prices and violent protests against the government erupted. The Iranian regime also brutally suppressed the protests by killing over 300 youth and arresting in thousands[9]. The Iranian clergy needed something similar to deflect public opinion and tighten her grip over the internal situation. The killing of general Soleimani will be capitalized by the hardliners.

The United States has attacked an Iranian military plane in another sovereign country, Iraq in broad daylight. It is a dangerous trend in international security dimensions, and many others may learn the wrong lessons. It is a clear case of criminal intent and nature and hard to defend at any moral and legal grounds. The killing of Iranian general has neither served deterrence nor made the lives and interests of American any safer. It is linked with domestic politics of the United States and Israel, and the similar domestic compulsions of Iran may aggravate the situation even further.

References

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/03/air-strike-kills-qassim-soleimani-head-irans-elite-quds-force/

[2] http://time.com/5758750/iran-us-qasem-soleimani/

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/f45ccf37-2329-3081-90ab-6ca192e1ccb7

[4] https://www.cfr.org/interactives/sunni-shia-divide#!/sunni-shia-divide

[5] https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/26/the-myth-of-a-better-iran-deal/

[6] https://carnegieendowment.org/files/PaulSalemChapter.pdf

[7] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/middle-east-faqs-volume-1-what-is-the-shia-crescent

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/magazine/iran-strike-israel-america.html

[9] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iran-protests-death-toll-arrest-government-crackdown-amnesty-a9249351.html

Atta Rasool Malik hails from semi-tribal areas of Pakistan. He is a veteran and holds an M Phil degree in International Relations from National Defence University in Islamabad. His interests include politics of South Asia, the Middle East and Islamic & Jewish theology

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