The Act of War: Tensions between Iran and the United States

Jan 16, 2020

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US- Iran contention has escalated the regional unrest once again. The incidents were presumable, and sufficient to destabilize the Middle East. Traditionally, Iran is highly portrayed as a mystical, authoritarian and theocratic regime in the mainstream western media outlets. However, Iran’s economy is robustly independent and self sufficient where we can see no KFCs or Gucci in the streets of Tehran or Isfahan. Its austere, diversified and conservative economy produces almost all kinds of goods, from carpets to cars, or from apple to pharmaceuticals, everything is on their list of production. In contrast to its Arab neighbours, it is quite unthinkable. Decades of US- led sanctions; Iran managed to survive on its own and influenced its periphery with a strong hand. Although there is growing number of Chinese and Russian companies in telecommunication and construction business, it is still believed that this scenario will last longer.

The killing of Qasem Soleimani is not an unfortunate incident out of the blue. Since the Islamist revolution in 1979, there has been a paradigm shift in the foreign policy of Iran. Its new rulers became antagonistic to its former allies like the US and the Western Europe, which led to the hostage crisis in the US Embassy, where 52 American crews were barred from leaving the building for 444 days. Nevertheless, the problem between the US and Iran is not a one to one, vanilla coloured fight. The issue is extremely complex and it has many folds. The Saudi- Iran tensions and Israel vs. Muslim world problem both feed to this debacle. One thing has made Iran vulnerable and intimidating at the same time: its geographic position and natural resources. It possesses world’s largest gas reserve and it is the third highest oil producer among OPEC. It also holds a vital control over Hormuz strait, which is the global getaway for trading fossil fuels worldwide.

Under the circumstances, the Obama administrations and the previous governments in the US launched numerous negotiations with Iran. On 14th July, 2015, P5+1 (5 members of the UN Security Council: US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany signed an agreement namely JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) or simply known the Iran Nuclear Deal. It was considered as an edifice of a peace process in chaotic situation of the Middle East. Eventually, it was a win-win situation for both the parties despite the ongoing proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. However, the current President Donald Trump ignited the tension again by withdrawing from JCPOA in 2018, making it a futile attempt of peace negotiation. It is still not clear whether Donald Trump withdrew from the deal deliberately or there was a constant advocacy from the Jewish lobby. However, only the United Kingdom of all other signatories welcomed such a move.

Although Iran became a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 and claims that it had always complied with the rules of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association) ever since, the west has always been cynical about the nuclear programme. The main reason is simple: the objection of Israeli government. Israel considers Iran to be a potential threat to its security in that region. Iranian leadership vowed its aim to dissolve the Jewish state of Israel. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is trying to curtail the influence of Iran in its neighbouring countries: Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Iraq. All these countries have a significant number of Shiite followers and thus, Iran backed- Shiite militias. Naturally, it is the game that Qasem Soleimani played for decades and demonstrated his adeptness: Iran backed militias in the proxy wars.

Qasem Soleimani was the commander of Quds force, which aims to carry out operations in the overseas, a division of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, primarily responsible for extraterritorial military operations on behest of Iran. The Quds force still serves throughout the Middle East. From the prior strategies of Iran carried out in the Middle East, dangerous repercussions might arise very soon. Imminently, Iran may try to retaliate. Otherwise, it will be overlooked as a weaker party of this conflict. These atrocities may result in opening a destructive Pandora’s Box in the region. A dead general may be worse than the alive. Technically Iran’s military strength is not enough to intimate the US military existence in the region, but its nuclear power program can be used as a pawn in this game. For instance, President Hassan Rouhani announced that they would step down from the commitments to limit the scale of nuclear power production in May, 2019. A nuclear facility near Qom was made a research facility in 2015, but in November 2019 the nuclear power plant started to enrich uranium once again. These actions may continue in 2020 and escalate further contention between the Iranian regime and the west, which include not only the US but also its European counterparts.

The results are far- reaching and yet to be comprehended. Although President Trump claims that he wanted to end a war, it seems a major takeaway from the history that such a move can never deescalate the tension. The geopolitical strategies may lead to a longer presence of the proxy wars, but it will not commence a direct war between the two countries. As the weaker opponent, Iran will try its best to avoid a full- fledged war with the US. However, it will try to gain dominance in the region through the supports from Shiite militias and rebel groups, namely the quintessential Hezbollah. Furthermore, Iran invited Russia and China for a military drill in the Persian Gulf in December, ignoring the constant disapproval of its Arab neighbours.

To sum up the further debates, a war may cost many innocent lives and their wealth with the taxpayer’s money. More sanctions on Iran will bring more sufferings to its people, but contribute very little to change the theocratic regime. Therefore, we can only hope for a credible diplomatic and peaceful solution in the end. Unfortunately, the situation got worsened so far. In January 8, Iran shot a missile in the US military base in Iraq, and within less than 24 hours, it shot down a Ukrainian jet of Boeing 737, killing 176 innocent people on the spot. Iran took the responsibility and termed it as a “human error” , and vowed to punish the perpetrators who carried out this attack. Iran, the regime of isolation has yet to prove its strength in its upcoming days.

Tags : International Relations , US-Iran , War

Kazi Suhair Hasan has completed his Masters in Economics from the University of Dhaka. Although he is a student of Economics, his interests grew in the broader aspect of Social Sciences, including International Politics and Political Economy.