Donald Trump’s assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani has undermined American influence, while his threat to destroy cultural sites in Iran would see him responsible of a war crime previously the preserve of the likes of the Taliban, writes Angus Robertson.
The world today is a less safe place since the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, and not just in the Middle East. Singlehandedly, American president Donald Trump has effectively undermined the US presence in Iraq and handed its strategic influence over to Iran. At the same time he has strengthened the resolve of hardliners in Tehran to resume their nuclear activities and plan their retribution.
Some have compared the rocket attack on Soleimani with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, which led to the First World War. Given that we don’t live in 1914, its age of alliances and troop mobilisation plans, that is not likely. But the risks of escalation now are inevitable, and they are very serious.
Major General Soleimani has been responsible for spreading Iran’s nefarious international military interests for decades, yet previous US presidents, and Israel, which has faced attacks from Iranian-backed Hezbollah, have stepped back from past assassination plans. The consequences of taking out one of Iran’s most senior and respected leaders have been too risky – it’s effectively an act of war.
Threat to oil supplies
You don’t have to like the Iranian regime or the bloody track record of Soleimani to understand that the Iranians are a proud people who don’t like to be pushed around and humiliated.
Vast crowds, exponentially larger than Trump’s inauguration, have crowded the streets of Tehran chanting “Death to America”. The US President has done more to radicalise opinion in Iran than any other event since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Iran is now threatening “severe revenge” and that does not bode well for world security. They have already shown they are extremely capable in asymmetric conflict, from cyber attacks to regional proxies across the Shia crescent from Lebanon to Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, as well as threatening oil supplies in Saudi Arabia and the Strait of Hormuz.
President Trump has ramped up the rhetoric in the face of likely retaliation. He has threatened to attack 52 sites (the same number as US hostages in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis) “some at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture”. He followed that up with a threat “that should Iran strike any US person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner”.
A cultural war crime
Threatening cultural sites has been the recent preserve of Islamic State group Daesh and the Taliban.
Now President Trump is proposing the same, despite it being a war crime under a 1954 Hague convention and a breach of a unanimously passed 2017 UN Security Council resolution condemning the destruction of heritage sites.
Iran is home to two dozen Unesco world heritage sites, making the point that they are of global cultural significance. Only a philistine of the highest order could threaten to destroy such treasures.
Where is the UK in all this? Answer: totally uninformed of the US assassination plan and reactive to events – the reality of the so-called ‘special relationship’.
Sadly, UK troops in the Middle East including 400 in Iraq are now at heightened risk as are UK flagged ships. Royal Navy vessels are to start accompanying them through the Strait of Hormuz. The world is now a less safe place and the UK is hanging from President Trump’s coat-tails.