Iran has been an enemy of the United States since the Iranian hijack of the US Embassy in 1979, which led to the downfall of President Jimmy Carter. Iran is a friend and trade partner of India, with the latter’s oil trade heavily dependent on the former until recently. In what is akin to the India-Pakistan hyphenation, Iran has been a constant factor in the steadily developing “Allyhood” between a rising New Delhi and President Donald Trump’s Washington. With the recent turn of events, the consequences for India in the emerging Iran-US dynamics may be more severe.
The recent “taking out” of Iran’s General Quassem Soleamani in Baghdad airport through a precision strike could initiate a full-fledged conflict in West Asia with repercussions for the larger international system. Immediately, the Iranian leadership vowed to fight back with vengeance, following guided missiles launched at American bases. This was done to evince Iran’s undaunted resolve as well as the capability to hit US regional targets.
Iran once again became a declared target of the US in the region after the call for GWOT (Global War on Terror) by the Bush administration, which also declared Iran as a ‘Rogue State’. Iran remains a regional challenge for the US, besides extremism emerging from other regional players. Other regional tussles involving Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey have further muddied the waters.
One cannot safely posit where the aftermath of the Iranian General’s assassination would lead us to? The killing of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis along with Suleimani further complicates regional dynamics for the US. Iran’s Quds Forces will likely retaliate along with other regional militias. The Iranian leader has gone on to contend that, “Iran, if inflicted with war, would destroy all that the United States of America possessed.” The Al Jazeera has reported about Tehran’s resolve in the following words, “You will start this war, but we will be the ones to impose its end. Therefore, you have to be careful about insulting the Iranian people and the President of our republic”.
There is a view that Iran’s threat of nuclear weapons might be real, just like North Korea. The other view is that Iran’s nuclear threat might not be real. Although tempers have calmed down on either side, regional players should be cautious. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned his US counterpart not to escalate tensions with Iran, saying a confrontation with the Islamic Republic would be the “mother of all wars”. Those remarks were followed by aggressive comments from both Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo blasted Iran’s religious leaders as “hypocritical holy men”, whom he said were more interested in lining their pockets and spreading hardline views abroad than helping out their cash-strapped citizens.” For India, it would be a good time to facilitate talks among the two warring parties.
The world stands caught by surprise in the recent escalation between Tehran and Washington. The red line that countries so often speak about to mark their strategic tolerance might already have been crossed in this attack. This poses a tremendous challenge for the region, both inside and outside.
American under President Donald Trump does not seem to stand down. Trump tweeted the following threat to Iran, “Never ever threaten United States of America again or you will suffer consequences, the likes of which throughout history before we are no longer a nation that would stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious and wary!” Furthermore, the President’s assurance that he will not let Iran develop nuclear weapons until he remains the President poses a great risk of escalation in the region. A recent tremor in Iran amidst the ongoing escalation suggests that Iran might have tested a nuclear weapon. Thus, both sides should exercise restraint and avoid conflict, even as both sides weigh their next steps. Iran’s invitation to India to lead compromise between Iran and the US is an opportunity at hand which should be grabbed by India. India’s good relations with either party presents a rare opportunity for a new role at the international stage.
*** The author is a faculty at International Relations and International organizations at IIPA of DOPT of Government of India ***