The drone assassination by the United States of General Qassem Soleimani — Iran’s spearhead to counter the Islamic State and to preserve its strategic space in its periphery — has been a turning point triggering a new spiral of hostility between Washington and Tehran.
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After Soleimani’s killing outside Baghdad airport, Iran has declared its own version and variant of the Monroe doctrine in reverse. The Iranian leadership has made it plain that the armed forces of the U.S. have to vacate the region.
To make their intent that a long campaign to clear the Americans from the region has begun, the Iranians have made use of rare and exceptional symbolism, intended to trigger the historic imagination of the followers of Shia Islam in West Asia and beyond.
After Solemani’s assassination, a red flag was hoisted over the dome of Jamkaran Mosque — a rarity when annual mourning festival of Muharram is not being observed. Some analysts say that the hoisting of the red flag was meant to convey that a major battle will now commence as the blood of martyrs has been spilled.
It has been reported that that General Soleimani often prayed at the Jamkaran mosque, located in the holy city of Qom,140 kilometers south of Tehran.
Already the message from Iran is echoing in Shia strongholds in Lebanon, led by Hassan Nasrallah.
The Houthis in embattled Yemen are also fired up to seek an expulsion of the “American occupier” from the region.
In Iraq, The Iraqi Parliament has demanded that the government must “work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason”.
An anti-American backlash is now bound to grip Shia strongholds in Bahrain, but more importantly in Saudi Arabia’s oil rich eastern province.
Despite the recent provocation of General Soleimani’s assassination, a full scale war between the U.S. and Shia alliance woven around Iran, impacting on the movement of oil and gas tankers along the Indian
Ocean shipping lanes is unlikely. The Americans are fully aware that that a full scale attack on Iran, is expected to trigger an all-out and unaffordable Iranian missile strikes against Israel.
Besides, after the assassination of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi in October 2011, during the heat of the Arab Spring, the Russians and the Chinese decided not to allow any more “regime changes” in the region.
In order to protect the Eurasian core, both countries had decided that Syria, under Bashar al Assad and Iran under its current leadership will become the first and second defence lines of Eurasia.
Nevertheless, after Solemani’s assassination, a cycle of instability is likely to grip the energy rich Persian Gulf and its periphery for an unforeseeable future.
This will have major and multiple implications for India, including on its energy security. The Iranian General’s death has yet again delivered an unvarnished message to New Delhi that it has to urgently diversify its energy supply chain.
Yet, tapping new sources of oil and gas that do not transit the Indian Ocean are few. Exacerbating tensions with Pakistan has meant that transiting Central Asian oil and gas along a land corridor is not viable. India may thus have to sharpen its focus on tapping huge Russian energy sources buried under the permafrost of Siberia.
Last year, India and Russia had signed a five-year energy agreement that included joint development of oil and gas fields in Russia and India, as well as a long-term agreement for sourcing Russian crude oil.
The fallout of Soleimani’s assassination now means that implementation of that blue print must remain sharply on India’s energy radar.