In the aftermath of Qasem Soleimani’s death in a US airstrike on January 3rd, everybody is asking the same question: “Would the US-Iran escalation turn into a larger scale military conflict?” Iran’s retaliatory missile attacks on US bases, Iraq parliament’s decision to expel US troops from the country and, most recently, the seizure of Iranian weapons by the US Navy in the Arabian Sea, all increase concerns for an unexpected regional conflict.
In the past 1,5 months following the death of Soleimani, the prospect of an armed conflict has been discussed by strategists, scholars, Middle East experts; but Iranian opinion leaders have gone underrepresented in the media. Professor Mohammad Hassan Khani, a faculty member of Tehran Imam Sadiq University, talked to Globaltelconews.com on the regional impact of the rising tension between the US and Iran, and Turkey’s role in the conflict.
GTN : After Soleimani’s death, Iran vowed retaliation, but its initial response has not yet gone beyond a few modest attacks with no considerable casualty on US bases in Iraq. What more do you think is to come from Iran? Do you expect further escalation between the two states?
There are two important points worth mentioning in this regard. The first one is the fact that according to Iranian officials the Iranian retaliation was a calculated one, aiming to show Americans that their hostilities and aggression towards Iran does not go without a cost. The second point here is the fact that what Iran did in terms of targeting American bases in Iraq by sophisticated precision guided missiles demonstrated and proved that the Iranian home-made advanced capability in ballistic missile technology is a reality not a myth. In other words, Iranians killed two birds by one stone; first they did a calibrated retaliation against American assassination of General Soleimani and secondly they flexed their muscles and exhibited to Americans that their formidable military power must be taken seriously.
GTN : The US military presence in Iraq has lately received a great deal of attention from the international community. The US government has determinedly stated that they will not withdraw their troops from Iraq despite the decision of the Iraqi parliament. Iran has not responded to that yet. Do you expect any reaction in the future?
Iraqis spoke loudly and plainly by both the bill passed by Iraqi Parliament and also by huge demonstrations on the streets that the American soldiers are not welcome in Iraq and they must leave the Iraqi territory respecting the will of the Iraqi people and recognizing the Iraqi sovereignty. In my view, Americans have no choice but to accept this reality sooner or later. Otherwise their presence will be seen as an act of occupation to which Iraqis will choose how to respond. Ironically this American withdrawal from Iraq and the Middle East region is what both Iraqis and Iranians have labeled as the actual cost for the General Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis assassination by the United States.
GTN : A group of analysts claim that the killing of Soleimani was a tour de force of the US government. Do you agree with this view?
Well, realistically speaking, I do not think that the assassination of a person by a country, which considers itself as a super power, and regards its military and intelligence service as the most powerful ones in the world can be interpreted as a victory to be celebrated. Contrary to that claim, it could be seen as a sign of weakness. Physical elimination of an adversary is perhaps the most convenient way but not necessarily the most effective one.
GTN : Do you see any relation between Soleimani’s killing and recent US domestic politics? Especially the impeachment trial of President Trump? Or is it more likely to be a foreign policy decision of the US government?
It seems to me that timing of General Soleimani’s assassination has something to do with American domestic politics. Trump used this as propaganda trying to sell it to his opponents at the Congress and, also to the US public. His aim was to distract the focus from the impeachment and, also to serve in a longer run for his next presidential election.
GTN : What do you think about the future of the nuclear deal? It has collapsed forever or do you see any prospect of Iran and the West restoring it?
The nuclear deal is surely in a deep coma if not on its deathbed. Although there is still a very slim chance of reviving it which totally depends on the European willingness and readiness to do their obligations, and reject the US policies, yet it is very hard to see how they might choose to resist against US demands and not to bow in the face of US economic threats.
GTN : How do you see Turkey’s stance in the crisis over Soleimani’s death? Do you foresee any impact of the incident on Turkey-Iran relations?
Generally speaking, Turkish stance seemed to be somehow diplomatic and calculated. Many Iranians expected to hear a clear and steadfast condemnation from Turkish authorities. And the question was if such a thing had happened for a Turkish top major general, what kind of reaction the Turkish government would expect to see from Iranians, we expected the same no more no less.
Iran and Turkey are the two key actors not only in the Middle East, but also in the Caucuses, the Central Asia, and the whole Muslim world. The benefits of cooperation and collaboration between Tehran and Ankara serves not only the interest of the two nations but also the interest of these regions as a whole. The future of the region, to a great extent, will be decided by the degree of common interests that they can define and draw as the base for the regional integration process in which both Iran and Turkey will play a critical role.
GTN : Turkey is a NATO member state and hosts several NATO bases and American troops. The article 5 of the NATO agreement, in case of a military attack on a member state, urges other member states for collective assistance. How do you envision Turkey – Iran relationship would develop in case of a military conflict between Iran and the United States?
Well, it is a matter of priority here. Sympathy with a Muslim neighbor country, which is the victim of American aggression, or aligning with the US and its European allies. Which comes first? Turkey before being a member of NATO, an organization with a primary goal of protecting American and European interests, is geographically and historically a great Muslim neighboring county for Iran. I am sure that the danger posed by the US unilateralism and interventionism is perceived as a long term threat for both Iran and Turkey. A good example is the fact that both nations have been the victims of US unjust economic sanctions although with different degrees.
GTN : Would the escalation impact conflict zones in the region such as Syria and Yemen?
Any further escalation between Iran and the United States will have the potential to expand to the whole region and even going beyond. Iran has always been saying that in the case of any attack by the United States, its retaliation includes all US military bases in the region. And with what happened by Iranian missile attack toward the US bases in Erbil and Ein al-Asad, it is now clear that Iran has both the determination and the means to retaliate on his own choice and terms in the face of any escalation by the US.
GTN : Lebanon has been struck by massive protests since October and the newly formed government is backed predominantly by Hezbollah. Many foresee increased Iran influence in the country’s politics and deterioration of the US – Lebanon relations. Could Lebanon be the next battleground for the US – Iran political struggle?
Iran is seeking political stability in both Lebanon and Iraq contrary to the US and Saudi policies which are cultivating hatred and division. It is up to the nations of these two countries to decide about the future of their countries based of democratic rules. I am sure that at the end of the day, it is the will and the vote of majority which will prevail in both countries, and the question is whether or not the US and its allies will accept and respect that decision.
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