Iran must change its course
The Iranian missile that brought down a Ukranian passenger aircraft and killed 176 people will have far reaching implications for the regime in Tehran, ramifications for Iran’s image and its relations with other countries.
After all, shooting down a passenger jet due to “an error of judgment” reflects badly on the systems in a country dominated by the clergy.
The tragic incident comes on the heels of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds force of the Iranian revolutionary guards, by a US drone. Soleimani’s killing raised huge fears of an imminent military confrontation between Iran and the US.
But the danger of a conflict has been averted for the time being. Luckily, strong rhetoric from both sides was not allowed to assume the shape of open conflict with the hazards of military confrontation weighing heavily on both Tehran and Washington.
In a carefully orchestrated manouvre, Iran responded to the killing of Qasem Soleimani by targeting empty fields close to US military bases causing minor damage and no casualties. The action was obviously meant for its domestic audience. As an additional measure to avoid misperceptions, Tehran even informed the Iraqi Prime Minister of its intended missile strikes targeting the US bases.
This provided a perfect setting for President Trump to declare the US did not want any escalation of the conflict. It was viewed with tremendous relief by all those who support a peaceful resolution of disputes in the region. But there are important takeaways from a situation that nearly brought the two countries to the brink of a conflict.
The two incidents –the killing of Soleimani and the Ukranian passenger plane being shot down-- should provide context for a re-think in Tehran.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
The US assassinating an Iranian General on Iraqi soil was seen by some as a violation of international law. But the incident relates to Trump’s own difficulties at home, where he is facing an impeachment trial in the Senate. The attack on the Iranian commander was designed to relegate the Senate debate to the background. That also explains why the US Congress was not taken into confidence while launching the attack.
By whipping up war hysteria, Trump wanted to garner the support of the far-right, mostly white Americans and promote his chances of re-election.
It is clear that both countries did not want war. But each one was seeking not to be seen as a loser.
Iran’s proxies in the region also showed unusual restraint in the face of grave provocation.
There are however lessons for Iran in this episode. Iran has been involved in creating its own militias in the region. Its militias now exist and function in countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and have sizeable support groups in some other countries in the region.
These militant outfits operate in line with a grandiose vision of Tehran that seeks to establish its hegemony in the Middle East. This has provoked a reaction.
But sooner or later, Iran will have to come to grips with hard realities. Its sponsoring of militias-- mostly in Arab countries-- is one of the factors contributing to turmoil, conflict and instability.
An ideologically motivated regime is seeking to establish its hegemony in the Middle east. Regardless of the enormous cost to its economy, the regime has persisted in pursuing a policy of creating its own powerful militant groups that operate at the directions of Tehran and have created havoc in the countries they operate in. The unity and integrity of these small countries has been torn asunder by armed militias pursuing their own warped agendas.
The two incidents –the killing of Soleimani and the Ukranian passenger plane being shot down-- should provide context for a re-think in Tehran. Its economy is in bad shape. More sanctions would make the situation worse and Iran would go into a downward spin.
A reappraisal of policy is badly needed. For Iran to become a normal state and to come out of its isolation, it must change its course. Failing to do that would be a recipe for continued pain and suffering for its large population.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.