If US President Donald Trump had recklessly ordered the targeted assassination of an iconic Iranian general on Sunday, causing anxiety across the world about a possible outbreak of a region-wide military conflict, Tehran showed good sense in giving an example of proportionate retaliation when it shot off cruise missiles on Tuesday against US military targets in next-door Iraq that did not cause much damage.
Fortunately, open conflict has been averted. Global oil prices, which looked like climbing precipitously after the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in anticipation of the impact of this unforeseen event on petroleum supplies from the region, are back in the normal range. India's economy, already tottering due to misguided domestic policies, has been spared a further blow.
Iran had to respond militarily in line with the over-wrought emotional outburst in the country. This was a dire necessity to maintain national unity. But its leadership was careful not to be cause a wider conflagration. Right after the ballistic missiles against American targets were despatched, Tehran officially declared it had “concluded” its “proportionate” response in line with international law.
More, shortly before firing the missiles, the Iranians tipped off Iraq what was coming. The Americans were thus alerted. The US and Iran also kept the diplomatic channels open through Switzerland’s good offices. It is the go-between country since the US does not have a diplomatic mission in Iran.
It is clear Iran and the US have both stood down. But the recent mini-crisis brought two new elements into play. Speaking after the Iranian response was over, President Trump announced tighter sanctions against Iran. Perhaps the US leader believes this could force Iran to the negotiating table to redo the 2015 Obama-era nuclear deal from which Mr Trump walked away.
Especially in an election year in America, this is an unrealistic expectation. After the killing of the Iranian commander, Tehran announced it would now be free to enrich more uranium, and to the degree it wanted, while continuing to allow intrusive IAEA inspections. That leaves America worse off than before over its objective of rolling back Iran’s nuclear programme.
Recent events involving Iran have also bolstered that country’s regional standing. The people have once again wholly united against America, no matter what their own criticisms against their government. Two, Tehran demonstrated to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and others that it is capable of striking targets anywhere in the Gulf region and beyond. Three, Tehran's allies — Syria, Lebanon and Yemen — will be boosted across the Shia-Sunni regional divide, and that means they may be less prone to counsel the US in support of aggressive intent against Iran. Four, the Trump administration plans to apply “maximum pressure” against Tehran seems to be coming unstuck.
It appears Mr Trump's recent show of aggression was not backed by professional military and diplomatic expertise, of which there is no shortage in America. Perhaps the US leader just wanted to make a splash to impress his support base. But he has ill served America’s overall interests.