From the brink of war: on U.S.-Iran conflict

U.S. President Trump did well to shrug off Iran’s retaliatory strike

January 09, 2020 12:02 am | Updated November 28, 2021 11:51 am IST

The latest spell of conflict between the U.S. and Iran turned full circle on Wednesday when Tehran launched ballistic missile attacks at American troops in two military bases in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In its first direct attack on U.S. forces , Iran targeted Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan in the north, and Al-Asad in the west, which is some 400 km away from the Iranian border. The attacks were both an act of retaliation and a show of its capability. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows member-states to take military actions in self defence if they come under attack. He said Iran has taken and concluded “proportionate measures in self-defence”, which can be interpreted that Iran is now ready for de-escalation. The man who is primarily responsible for the current explosive situation is U.S. President Donald Trump . His decision to kill Soleimani, a top Iranian military leader who commanded the elite Qods Force for over two decades, in the Iraqi capital, was practically an act of war, forcing the Islamic regime to respond. However, despite the wide range of rhetoric issued by Iranian military leaders and hard-line politicians, what Tehran actually did was to launch a calculated, limited strike. It is as much an act of revenge as an opportunity for de-escalation.

The Pentagon’s assessments suggested there were no American casualties and only minimal damage in the attacks. Mr. Trump, in his response later on Wednesday, has signalled that he was backing away from further conflicts with Iran. If the U.S. had responded with air strikes or missile attacks inside Iran, it could have triggered further attacks from Iran, setting off a cycle of violence and aggression. A direct shooting match between the U.S. and Iran would have been disastrous for the whole of West Asia. Iran may be a weaker power compared to America’s conventional military might, but it is a formidable rival. It not only has ballistic missiles and a wide range of rockets but also a host of militias under its command across the region. It could have made an invasion and air strikes on its territories extremely costly for the U.S. and its allies. It could also have disrupted global oil supply by attacking the Gulf waterways. By any assessment, a direct war would have been catastrophic. Mr. Trump did well to step back and not push the Gulf region into a disastrous cycle of violence and destruction. The international community should now push for a diplomatic settlement of the crisis and find ways to revive the nuclear deal which could bring long-term peace to the Gulf. And Iran should seize this opportunity for de-escalation.

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