To the brink and back again and again

To the brink and back again and again

Venkat Raman
Auckland, January 13, 2020

Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei (Wikipedia)

Even before the chimes of New Year bells could (or as erroneously mentioned in many quarters, the joy of the dawn of the new decade) recede, the Americans struck in Iraq, killing Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s decorated Major General. Iran hit back with rage.

The downing of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft five days later let loose another series of accusations and denials until Iran admitted that it shot down the airliner killing all the 176 passengers and crew and that it was ‘a human error.’

Triggering worst fears

These developments brought the US and Iran close to war, triggering the worst fears since the hostage crisis of 1979. While the audacious killing of Soleimani enraged Iran, the missile response by the Ali Khamenei regime threatened not just the peace in the Middle East but the world itself.

Iran’s hasty attack fortunately did not lead to any casualty, somewhat cooling tempers.

As Politico observed, the sense that Washington and Tehran had stepped back from the brink prompted audible sighs of relief, and a British royal drama replaced World War III as the top trending news story on social media.

Crisis not over

“Unfortunately, while the world’s war jitters have indeed subsided, the crisis itself is nowhere near over. Last week’s reprisals from Iran were not the end of the confrontation between Tehran and the Trump administration, but rather the beginning of a new, more dangerous and unpredictable phase of the long-running U.S.-Iranian hostilities.”

Iran finds itself internationally isolated while fully committed to its Middle East expansionism through its network of proxies. The Iranian government is also facing the worst domestic dissent in decades and spared no expense on quashing protests in late 2019.

Politico said: “The early Iranian response was consistent with the theocratic state’s calibrated, incremental escalation against US interests and partners in Iraq and around the Persian Gulf over the past six months, when Washington ratcheted up economic pressure on Iran to unprecedented levels. In a series of mostly small-scale, precise attacks that culminated in September with a more consequential strike on Saudi oil infrastructure, Tehran sought to raise the costs to Washington and the world without placing itself in the cross-hairs of American firepower.

But not so unsurprising, most friends of the US have maintained stony silence.

New Zealand’s response was somewhat muted, prompting the opposing National Party  to advise Wellington to maintain its neutral stand.

However, we have not seen the end of the crisis perpetrated by the US-Iran standoff.

That is worrying.

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