New Delhi might do well to crank its diplomacy to get on to Russia’s bandwagon on this one.
The targeted assassination in an American drone attack inside Iraq on Friday of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the iconic leader of the Quds Force, the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps’ external arm which established Tehran’s military, political and diplomatic influence in West Asia, particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, brings the prospects of the outbreak of hostilities in the region a step closer.
However, grave as the provocation is, there isn’t enough to suggest that a war would draw in the key regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Israel on America’s behalf as well as Iraq and Iran’s proxies Syria and Lebanon with Russia’s backing.
It is also possible that Moscow prevails on Tehran to militarily retaliate against Soleimani’s killing in a way that suffices to placate enraged domestic public opinion in Iran but is not of a nature that will persuade the US and its proxies Saudi Arabia and Israel to launch all-out war. Naturally, Moscow and Washington must talk to sort this one out, and this is within the bounds of possibility. Despite their serious differences, the two have collaborated on putting an end to Islamic State’s territorial possessions in Iraq and Syria, which were the size of Britain.
It will be in India’s interest if such a possibility is boosted. New Delhi might do well to crank its diplomacy to get on to Russia’s bandwagon on this one. If India is unable to find this middle road, it stands to lose in a big way even if full-scale war doesn’t erupt. Unable to side with either Iran or the US, India would in that situation risk losing favour with both, and maybe also with the Arab world — which will stand with the US — for a period of time. In short, this country’s severe diplomatic limitations stands to be harshly exposed.
It will also be in this country’s economic and financial interest if hostilities, should they be imminent, are short and swift. In that event the international price of oil will not shoot through the roof, or will do so for a limited duration. Iran has already been pushed to the wall by US sanctions and a long period of fighting or post-fighting pullback is likely to hurt it more than any other country.
By assassinating the most important man in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei under the direct instructions of President Donald Trump, the US has foolishly brought itself in direct confrontation with Iran, the world’s only regional power that has militarily and politically challenged Washington, gathering prestige for its ability to do so. Otherwise, for four decades, the two sides have fought at one remove — through proxies.
It has been speculated that Mr Trump has chosen this path because he has impeachment proceedings hanging over his head and has to face the presidential election in November this year. That makes the high-profile assassination his Balakot moment, precipitously undertaken with narrow electoral calculations. America’s conduct vis-a-vis Iran may, therefore, also be influenced by domestic political developments.