Many political and military analysts had little positive to say about the year 2020, given the intense polarities and political fallouts at local, regional and global level emerging in the last half of the previous decade. And yet what no one saw coming was that the US would take a direct hit at Iran’s most valuable asset in the Middle East, an act which has the potential to set the Middle East deeper into the fires of conflict.
On 3rd-January-2019 US drone strike targeted and killed Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad where he led the Irani Quds Force; a special unit of Iranian military which deals with unconventional warfare and has remained a potent instrument of Iran’s offshore engagement in the Middle Eastern conflicts. Donald Trump soon afterward assumed responsibility for issuing executive orders which led to the drone strike, qualifying it as a pre-emptive and defensive act against Iran’s potential acts of aggression on American diplomats in the Middle East, on which he maintains Pentagon had persuasive intelligence.
Soon afterward hashtag WWIII and TrumpWar started to trend on Twitter and an interesting fall out amongst Democrat and Liberal political representatives was observed on American media. Several states including China, Russia, Germany, Canada, UK, and Pakistan as well as the UN secretary-general released statements favoring maximum restraint and de-escalation of hostilities.
This vaguely resembles the Indian insistence to qualify alleged “Surgical Strikes” against Pakistan and violating territory to be an acceptable norm
Meanwhile, Iran’s Khomeini promised brutal revenge on American aggression, followed by a national level public outrage in Iran against the killing of Soleimani. The American embassy came under protestors siege in Tehran’s red zone, the US dispatched several hundred troops into the Middle East and along with several allies, states asked their nationals to leave Iran immediately.
As if Pakistan and India’s recent nuclear standoff was not enough to impress upon the world leaders how fast contemporary conflicts escalate and how swiftly regional and international forces are polarized; China, Russia, and Iran hastened joint military exercises and political pundits all over the world declared the inevitability of conflict and use of force in the Middle East which is likely to arise in days following this incident.
Something very interesting may be observed in the context of this strike; which has apparently attempted to set an extremely dangerous precedent in international politics and war history. A state which is not engaged in either a war or a direct armed conflict with the sovereign rival state, still targets and kills the highest-level serving military official, and assumes state-level responsibility, and insisting this not be an act of war and violation of International law or relative pacifism maintained between the two states.
This vaguely resembles the Indian insistence to qualify alleged “Surgical Strikes” against Pakistan and violating territory to be an acceptable norm. Again, a sovereign state with which India was not in an active armed conflict, but has a lethal history of war and security crises which led to a nuclear arms race. Yet it was insisted that this should not be accounted for as an act of military aggression or an act of war on Pakistan.
The aftermath of the strikes by India resulted in direct Arial engagement between the two air forces, shooting down of Indian fighter jets in a dog fight and an Indian wing commander becoming a POW inside Pakistan. It may thus be futile to assume Iran with its potent military, public sentiment against the US and powerful allies like Russia will not retaliate and not assume this as an act of war or military aggression by the US and will show restraint.
Also, both these acts from India and US have attempted to establish a very dangerous precedent in international politics which may not be defendable under International Law and is considered a direct breach of pacific relations between any two states: on grounds of violating internationally recognized and militarily secured territory or targeting serving military heads of sovereign opponent state, both of which form valid referents to secure at national level anywhere across the world.
To assume this situation not to lead to further complications may thus be wishful. As for Pakistan, another conflict zone in close vicinity is perhaps the last thing we want
Another alarming aspect of this dangerous and rapid escalation of hostilities in the Middle East is the fact that this region is the birthplace and thus association and solidarity basis of three Abrahamic religions. This accounts roughly for more than half of the world’s population. Religious solidarities and sectarian identities, in particular, have shown the ability to bypass nation-state and conventional regional boundaries.
Any conflict in the Middle East, therefore, will only worsen the global security situation and may impact populations and regions which hold little apparent or geographic proximity with the Middle East. If US-Iran tensions may not directly lead to WWIII, it most certainly is capable to inducing polarities and enforcing hostilities that might soon get out hand and diffuse across the world, as well as gravitate multiple forces from across the world for intervention in the Middle East a miniature of which has already been observed in Syrian conflict.
With Trump narrowly escaping impeachment and the upcoming presidential elections in the US, it may not be farfetched to think of this attack as a last attempt to sustain office, again something which seems right out of Modi’s blue book. Iran, however, is no Syria neither Iraq; we are speaking of a state which has shown extraordinary resilience in face of US sanctions, has built military, economic and political rapport regionally as well as sought strategic depth inside of the Middle East and the Levant in particular.
Topping this is Tehran’s nuclear ambitions which will only be validated by any rise in polarities with the US and Israel. To assume this situation not to lead to further complications may thus be wishful. As for Pakistan, another conflict zone in close vicinity is perhaps the last thing we want.
With Afghanistan nowhere near stable, Kashmir under siege and now Iran under the military radar of US and Allies; this is not something which we would like to get into, given the fact how recent our memories of internal conflict and worst security situation across the country are. Since we share international borders with Iran and are still hanging in as a US ally, this situation may lead to Pakistan being caught between a rock and a hard place in the coming days and test our skills in diplomacy and balance of power.
Noorulain Naseem is a lecturer at NUML University IR dept and holds an MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies from NDU. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.