Interaction on US-Iran Tensions after the Death of Major General Qassem Soleimani
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The Vivekananda International Foundation organized an interactive session on “Interaction on US-Iran tensions after the death of Major General Qassem Soleimani” on 7 January 2020. Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF delivered his opening remarks following by a brief discussion by Amb. D P Srivastava, Lt. General Syed Ata Hasnain and Amb. P P Shukla. The discussion broadly focused on the geostrategic consequences in the region as well as its implication on the US interests.

The legality of killing Soleimani was questioned and it was agreed that the Iranian state is ideologically driven and it would continue to push its national objectives. Therefore, the death of the senior general is unlikely to deflect its strategic pursuits. Domestically, Iran witnessed protests in late 2019 indicating frustration with the regime. However, the killing has rallied the people behind the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. (IRGC) and re-ignited the spurt of Iranian nationalism. In Iraq, the sentiments against external intervention which was directed towards Iran has been diverted towards the US.

The discussion opined that the common understanding that “Soleimani is the second most powerful man in Iran” is simplistic that ignores the complex internal dynamics of Iranian polity. Domestically, several factions are trying to appropriate his legacy. Quds Force is a tactical strategic force which is involved in information-gathering, liaison activities and strike capabilities. The latest escalation and the fissures between the US and Iran could facilitate the re-emergence of the Islamic State (IS). The Quds Force could, therefore, be forced to change the intelligence focus from the IS and look into a potential US assault.

In terms of scenario-building, the discussants focused on the potential of direct military action by Iranian forces on the US assets. Diplomatically, the gradual withdrawal from the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal is in the offing. The prospect of proxy warfare was also highlighted and proxy capabilities following the killing could spread into the Gulf states. One discussant predicted an attack on the US assets by Iranian proxy groups in two to three weeks in eastern Saudi Arabia or tankers in the Strait of Hormuz region. The US is likely to suffer possible economic consequences of the growing instability in the region.

For the US, the action has long-term consequences for its interests not only with Iran but also with Iraq. In the case of the US retaliation, it cannot afford protracted conflict learning from the experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, the discussion explored the ethical and moral dilemma faced within the US military over the legality of attacking Iranian targets including cultural sites. Militarily, it could take recourse to tactical strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.

The growing instability could affect India’s oil options as well as create the possibility of evacuation of a large number of Indians working in the region. India must maintain its neutrality with both states.

Event Date 
January 7, 2020

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