Dr Nasreen Akhtar
THE Middle East has been a very potential region to the United States – in the 1950s and the 1960s, when the US had set its priorities to influence the regional politics and economy. This region has been significant owing to its natural resources and natural routes to connect the world. External powers, always, exploited internal conflicts and successfully divided the regional states by using ethnic and ideological cards. Thus conflicts among the regional states provide an opportunity to interveners (US, Russia, etc) to play their role to protect their strategic interests. The Arab Spring 2011 deeply changed the internal dynamics of the Middle East which resulted in a bloody civil war in Syria and Yemen. Iran played its ideological role to protect the Syrian regime and the Houthi Group in Yemen. Post-Arab Spring political environment provided strong leverage to the Iranian regime to play effectively in the region and secure its maximum interests – ideological, political and strategic. Constant unrest in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon persuaded the US and its allies in the Middle East, that Iran has been engaged in these states and providing assistance to the pro-Iranian groups. Iran’s expansionist policy beyond its border increased the serious security threat to the other regional states which resulted in the strong cooperation between the US and its allies in the region. In 2019, Secretary of the State, Mike Pompeo, took solo flight and convinced the member states of Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) that “we would use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot from Syria to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people”. Pompeo also revealed the US strategy in the Middle East that “US is a force for good in ME”.
Tension was increasing between Iran and the US for the last few months, “the downing of a US spy drone and attacks on oil tankers in the last months, near the Strait of Hormuz, have not only set off the new tension in the Persian Gulf but invoked memories of deadlier time in the two rivals’ troubled history thirty years ago when the US killed nearly 300 Iranian civilians. Though the US and Iran have never fought a direct war; rather they both have engaged in bouts of hostility since the CIA-backed coup that re-established Iran’s monarchy in 1953 and the 1979 Islamic Revolution ousted that pro-US government. The following decade proved multifarious for the US and Iran. In the course of the regional instability of the Iran-Iraq War (the 1980s), during which the US sought to protect Kuwaiti vessels in the Persian Gulf. “The war spilled over into these narrow, strategic waters, where the guided-missile frigate USS Stark was bombed by a modified Iraqi warplane, killing 37 sailors in May 1987, and fellow warship USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in April 1988. The US blamed Iran for the later incident and conducted one of the largest naval operations since World War II, destroying a number of Iranian ships and killing dozens of sailors. Less than two months later, on July 3, 1988, Aegis-armed guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes opened fire at F-14 fighter jet, the aircraft was Iran Air Flight 655, a Dubai-bound civilian Airbus A300 with 290 people on board—all of whom were killed what its crew would later claim they thought to be an attacking Iranian”. Despite the US attacks, Iran did not announce war but never stopped anti-US policies in the Middle East. In November 1979, Iran detained 52 US diplomats and its citizens for 444 days – because Pehlvi was admitted to the US hospital. Iran’s assets were frozen by President Carter. President Reagan, released $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets. The US historians give credit to President Reagan who resolved hostage crisis through negotiations.
President Trump, however, reminds old historical incident to Iran’s leadership and threatened that 52 sensitive places of Iran would be attacked – representing 52 US hostages held by Iran. Since 2003, the US forces have their bases in Iraq and in the region. On the other hand, China and Russia have established their strategic relations with regional states. China – Russia both have cordial relations with Iran. Since Iran is considered a major irritant in the region the US decided to hit Iran’s core “strategic asset” General Qasem Soleimani. The US drone killed Iranian General in Iraq; he was heading Quds Force. Soleimani was providing arms to the Hezbollah Group and Houthi rebels in Yemen – the US understood the General was the mastermind of Iran’s expansion in the region. General Soleimani probably was achieving its strategic objectives. Wright has mentioned in her article “Soleimani was a challenge to the US” and his presence was a great threat to the US interests in the Middle East.” General Petraeus received Soleimani’s message “that he controlled the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan” and the US had to deal with him”.
Many countries including Germany, China, Russia, and Turkey have criticized the US unilateral act which has, absolutely, provoked Iran and its allies in the region and across the world. Soleimani’s assassination is being justified by the US President Trump that “he did not want war or regime change of Iran. He had acted to prevent a plot against the US”. Soleimani’s killing has changed the regional security and political environment which would affect global security. Iraq’s Parliament has passed a ‘resolution to expel the foreign troops from the country and to cancel its request for assistance from the US-led coalition which has been working with Iraqi forces to fight the ISIL. Iran, however, has made an announcement that it will no longer abide by nuclear deal 2015 and continue to its nuclear program. Trump’s anti-Iran policy would jeopardize peace in the Middle East. President Bush ordered to kill Saddam and the post-Saddam Iraq is expiring constant unrest not peace.
—The writer is Assistant Professor, IIUI, Islamabad.
Dr Nasreen Akhtar