The plot thickens — why Iran?

Past six months Iran has been a consistent target of killings and assassinations as if the country is being incited

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan May 26, 2024
The author is postdoctoral scholar at the International Affairs Department of Kazan Federal University (KFU) Russia


The death of the Iranian President is a national tragedy and a matter of deep concern for Iran. There are lots of speculations on whether the death was a result of an accident or assassination, but without going into those details I want to write on how important it is for the West to ensure that it stops doing things that intimidates Iran.

Russia was consistently intimidated and provoked and that ended up in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Past six months Iran has been a consistent target of killings and assassinations as if the country is being incited and provoked to retaliate. An Israeli air strike in December 2023 in Damascus killed Gen Sayyed Razi Mousavi who was an adviser to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. On 3 January 2023, as many as 84 people died in two explosions that took place near the grave of General Qassem Soleimani on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of his death. It may be recalled that Gen Soleimani himself was killed in a drone attack. Another Israeli air strike in April 2024 on Iranian Consulate in Damascus killed, along with others, Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi who was the commander of the Quds force in Lebanon and Syria. In another attack in April this year inside Iran, 11 security officers were killed in the province of Sistan. It is understandable that Iran is engaged in a proxy war with Israel, and if Hezbollah and Hamas are Iran’s proxies then they should be the US and Israel’s military targets. Hitting targets inside Iran or executing targeted assassinations and attacking Iran’s consulates opens up the possibility of similar retaliations from Iran. The tit-for-tat actions and reactions are dangerous. Conflicts arise not over small things but from small things, said Aristotle.

A critical geopolitical assumption that the West is unwilling to understand or misunderstands is that with the future of Iran is attached the geopolitical future of the Indian Ocean and the adjacent Western Pacific. The sooner the West understands this geopolitical reality the better it is for the peace and security of not only the region but the entire world. Iran is a hornet’s nest that the US and Israel dare not stir. Why?

Iran sits on the rim of the 2050 global demographic heartland comprising South Asia, East Asia, South East Asia and East Africa. By 2050 nearly seven out of nine billion people will be living in this demographic heartland. Dominating and controlling the Strait of Hurmuz, Iran will continue to keep under its watch all the oil that will be transported from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and over to the West Pacific region. The US can bring as many aircraft carriers as it wants in the region but strategically sea denial is much cheaper and easier than sea control. The West is nervous because of not only the ideological preference of Iran to continue to fight the proxy wars against it but also Iran’s dangerous capability of sea denial in the most important commercial water body in the world – Indian Ocean. In any future conflict, Iran has the capability of interfering in the bigger conflict in South China Sea by creating a force posture and maritime uncertainty and insecurity in the Indian Ocean. The enormity of Iran’s actions in Indian Ocean and its effects on the future military theatre of operations in South China Sea or Western Pacific can be ascertained from the fact that 60 thousand vessels pass each year through the Strait of Malacca including tankers originating from Persian Gulf and holding 13 billion barrels of petroleum. The soft-liners in the American administration know the importance of the continuity of this traffic but it is the hardliners that ignore this geopolitical reality to promote targeting Iran regardless of the consequences. History tells us what the two hardliner Presidents – President Bush the father and President Bush the son – did to Iraq.

Iran is not a low hanging fruit like Iraq that President Bush Senior could easily knock out by arranging a global coalition force that executed operation desert storm and defeating Saddam Hussein. The unfinished job was started again in 2003 on false pretexts by President Bush Junior who failed miserably to achieve the stated goals. But since then both the US and Israel have a deep-seated desire to put an end to the story of Iran. Subjected to US sanctions and American withdrawal from JCPOA – the nuclear deal that would have lifted the sanctions, unfrozen its assets and opened up its economy – Iran continues to suffer at the hands of American hardliners, as they want Iran to suffer because it is part of ‘Axis of Resistance’. But would this axis of resistance remain limited to three countries? What message is the US giving to the world when the American President lunches an assault on International Criminal Court and says that he doesn’t consider the courts-declared Israeli genocide in Gaza as genocide, and that he will continue with the military support to Israel. The US Senate is even talking about sanctioning the International Criminal Court for declaring the Israeli Prime Minister a war criminal. This political rhetoric coming from the US as a global hegemon doesn’t hold good with the rest of the world.

For the last four decades, Iran has been a US ideological foe, yet it has not entered in a direct conflict with it. It doesn’t need to. As the ‘Axis of Resistance’ against the US expands, all Iran needs to do is to offer support to those who now lead this Axis of Resistance. It is already extending crucial military support to Russia in the war against Ukraine and is also supplying China with much-needed oil and gas to run its industrial complex. Both Turkey and Qatar host Hamas leaders. Would attempts be made to assassinate them in these countries as well? What would be the reaction of these countries or that of any other country whose sovereignty is violated?

The plot thickens as there is no higher authority to prevent Israel from carrying out targeted assassinations in sovereign states and genocide in Gaza. Iran would remain a major actor in the plot and continue to retain its capability of not only waging proxy wars but also denying sea control to the US as it pivots to the Indo-Pacific to contain China.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2024.

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