“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad,” the Pentagon said in a statement announcing the death of Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s military forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere throughout the Middle East.
Qassem Soleimani, was the all powerful military commander of the Iran’s feared Al-Quds force, a expeditionary wing of the Iran revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which directly reports into the Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Soleimani has literally architected almost every Iranian operation in the last two decades and had a reputation of fear and respect both among friends as well as enemies. With the Quds force at his command, he oversaw operations in various countries and had cultivated powerful proxies like Hezbollahs in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen etc.
For the uninitiated Indian reader, Soleimani is to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei what Amit Shah is to Narendra Modi. A close confidant and a trusted man Friday. With him gone, Ayatollah has vowed for revenge. Rightly, the entire middle-east and West Asia is on tenterhooks now awaiting the next action from Iran with bated breath.
This assassination of a popular figure in Iran has galvanised the public and Iranians have rallied around their government as it officially mourns the death of its beloved son of the soil. Most Iranians regard Soleimani to be fiercely patriotic to the Iran’s cause for revolution. Iranians are bound to react as this is a matter of prestige for them and making no response will dent their strong credentials in the region. It is to be noted that not long before; more than 1500 protesters have died at the hands of the Iranian regime. Whether, they pursue direct kinetic military options against the US or its close allies; or uses their proxies is anyone’s guess at this point in time.
For India, Middle-east in flames will be a double whammy for the already fledgling economic condition back home. Also, a conflict puts the eight million Indian expatriates residing in West Asia in danger. These expats account for about $40 billion of $70 billion in annual remittances. The oil prices have shot up instantly with the Brent crude up by almost 4% signalling for the tough times to come. India being heavily dependent on Iraqi Basra crude will feel the pinch, since Iraq seems to be the unfortunate battleground for the US-Iran face-off. Also, the Chahabar port project in Iran which is leased to India is on thin-ice.
One hopes for rapid de-escalation in the fast emerging situation which is turning out to be a hot tinderbox. Trump is bound to reap political reward for his actions, but at what cost to the world – only time will tell.