By Rose-Aymone Sauvage de Brante, BA English and Japanese
An estimated crowd of one million people filled the streets of Tehran on 6 January, many displaying pictures of late Major General Soleimani. As Iran mourned the assassination of one of its most senior military figures, the world debated the audacity of his targeted killing and the repercussions of his death, some going as far as to forecast the outbreak of World War Three.
Major General Qasem Soleimani was assassinated on 3 January by a U.S. drone strike under the command of President Donald Trump. Soleimani was a senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 to protect the Republic’s political system against foreign interference and military coups. While the state paints Soleimani as a national hero and many Iranians credit their security to his war efforts against ISIS, others are critical of his militarism and tactics, and were arrested or killed by the IRGC during protests.
In fact, student protests denouncing the current regime erupted shortly after Soleimani’s funeral procession after the IRGC publicly acknowledged that they “unintentionally” shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 on 3 January that had 176 civilians aboard. Soleimani’s murder seems to be the apogee of an escalation in a series of tensions between the US and Iran, following the U.S. withdrawal reached from the Nuclear Deal in 2018.
Rather than feeding to a hysteria of impending doom, it is important to view this event in the context of Trump’s impeachment and the upcoming U.S. elections
The United Nations Security Council has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran. Iran responded by resuming uranium enrichment and imposing a tax on oil tankers. In June 2019 the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. In September 2019, the world’s biggest refinery in Saudi Arabia was hit by a drone strike, and despite Yemeni rebel groups claiming responsibility, the U.S. considers Iran the culprit. In December 2019, a U.S. strike in Iraq and Syria killed 25 militia fighters linked to Iran and pro-Iranian protesters stormed the U.S embassy in Iraq in response.
The assassination plan of Soleimani was authorized by Trump seven months prior to the date it was carried out. The order came as retribution for the death of an American contractor who died in a strike on an Iraqi base in one of the proxy-wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The official justification for the assassination was Iran’s ‘imminent threat’ to America, which is coincidently the only scenario in which the US President can order a military attack without congressional approval. Trump claimed that Soleimani had been planning attacks on Americans in the region and that he was responsible for the deaths of numerous US soldiers.
The consequences of the assassination were immediate. The US urged American citizens to leave Iraq and sent troops to the region in case of reprisal attacks. Iran announced it will no longer hold limits to its nuclear activities and warned of revenge. Which indeed came in the form of a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi coalition bases housing predominantly U.S. troops but also various European troops on 8 January. While the United States reported no casualties, Iran claims that a dozen people were killed and several others injured.
Senior Iranian officials said that the retaliation would continue as a multifaceted campaign to remove the United States military presence from the Middle East. In this climate of disinformation and Twitter battles between President Trump and Iranian Supreme Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, many wonder on what grounds the assassination was able to be carried out on. While Iranians claim that the killing of a high-ranking soldier is a declaration of war, there is no international law that explicitly states so. The Geneva conventions and Hague conventions established after two World Wars are norms, arbitrary agreements between players at war, rather than laws. The assassination of Soleimani as retribution for the death of a single U.S. citizen is no doubt too extreme, but not illegal per se.
It is characteristic of Donald Trump individualist, undiplomatic foreign policy, as much as his tweet about attacking 52 Iranian sites if Iran does carry out vengeance. Many argued that it goes against 1992’s Rome Conventions, perhaps forgetting that America is not a signature of this agreement. Having said so, an eruption of large scale war is improbable. There are 68,000 troops on the Iranian border along with an aircraft carrier and possibly nuclear-capable submarines. Conscious of this military superiority, Iran seems to be uninterested in waging war with the United States and its coalition, at least not in a traditional sense of the word and without allies. They could try to close the Hormuz strait, where lies 80% of the world’s oil, but they would have to deal with various international warships defending their county’s economic interest that are also stationed there. The major action they can take is to increase support in the proxy-wars they are already involved with. A conflict on a greater international scale is not likely.
Rather than feeding to a hysteria of impending doom, it is important to view this event in the context of Trump’s impeachment and the upcoming U.S. elections. Historically, increasing or decreasing war mongering plays a vital role in American election cycles. Just like Clinton bombing Iraq in 1998, Trump is perhaps attempting to paint himself as a strong and decisive leader. It is imperative for world leaders to stand strong and not allow the coercive character of the Trump administration to influence global politics.