On knife edge

ME situation remains tense



Over a dozen ballistic short-range missiles, two rockets –fired on Iraqi territory housing the US troops and embassy respectively – and two speeches later (by Iran’s supreme leader – not widely reported and US president Trump), it might seem it is over but it is far from that. In fact the two rockets that were fired on diplomatic location within 24 hours of the missile attack came after Iran’s foreign minister had used the word “concluded” in his tweet. It was not immediately clear as to who was behind the rockets attack. Fortunately there were no causalities reported.

Iran did not bury its revered general Suleimani until it had first fired those missiles. It was important for it to address its domestic audience. It also claimed, again for domestic consumption, that 80 of the US troops – they designated them as terrorists – were killed in the attack but, as is now confirmed by all credible sources, there was no damage done. This in part is due to Iran’s advanced warning to the Iraqi government about the attack and partly because the American radar system was able to detect the activity in advance and moved its troops out of the harm’s way.

This is might be a signal from Iran that response in military terms might be done and over with as long as the other side exercises restraint. The analysts still view that some cyber attack was still possible as one could easily dissociate itself from it.

The US reaction to the attack was delayed by quite a few hours. Earlier we saw a tweet by president Trump assuring the world that ‘all was well’ and there was no damage to report.  In his speech that last for some eight minutes, he looked visibly out of breath while announcing even stricter and “punishing” sanctions on the Iranian regime. He said Iran was a destabiliser -in-chief in the region and Iran’s nuclear programme needed to be stopped in its tracks if any sustainable solution was to be had in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. He also took the opportunity to criticize the previous US administration of letting Iran off the hook and in the process unfreezing $150billion in addition to some other support. What Mr Trump conveniently ignored was that most of this money belonged to Iran itself which was just unfrozen. Iran already has announced that with the unprovoked attack by the US the deal was already over and they would continue with their programme unimpeded now.

Pakistan, in the meanwhile, being an important player announced some measures in the aftermath. The foreign minister shall be embarking on a diplomatic mission to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US, not necessarily in the same order. The US Secretary of Defence got on phone with the chief of army staff; Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan and Chinese envoy have already called on the general to discuss the security situation in the region. The underlying message of all these diplomatic moves is to ensure de-escalation. That is what is needed of a responsible country such as Pakistan.