The Killing of Soliemani and War in the Middle East
The situation in the Middle East is red hot. President Donald Trump is in the eye of the storm. The president beleaguered by an impeachment process and looking more like a lame duck as ever has exerted. Maybe he wanted to show that he still was the most powerful ruler in the world. There is some food for thought that he does take some whimsical decisions like calling for talks with the Taliban of Afghanistan of all places at Camp David and then abruptly canceling the meeting.
He took a fate full decision and ordered the elimination of Qassem Soleimani the top general of Iran in Iraq. The general was killed in a drone attack close to Baghdad airport. The president has claimed that Soleimani was heading a terrorist group and was responsible for terrorist attacks in New Delhi and the UK. Iran has expressed outrage at the assassination and their supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has threatened "severe revenge."
All this is very well but Iran has not explained what an Iranian general with nearly 5000 troops was doing in Iraq. The state of Iraq is not a province of Iran. There is some truth that he was organizing a plan to oust the American military from Iraq with the connivance of the Shia government in power there. Iran is also a Shia country and wants to lead the Islamic world.
The US is also at its wits end in Iraq as the seeds sown by President Bush who ordered the invasion of Iraq and subsequent hanging of Saddam Hussein have sprouted. Even to a layman its apparent that the uS committed a blunder and its sad that the Shia government is not ready to pull the American chestnuts out of the fire.
The siege by the pro-Iran militia of the American embassy was thus just the match to light the tinder box. Soleimani was killed as a retaliation for the siege, which in any case was uncalled for. There is no doubt that Soliemani who is the highest-ranked Iran general and a close confidant of Ayatollah Khomenai the supreme religious leader of Iran had a big part in this.
After the killing and Iranian threats, The United States is moving almost 3500 troops to the Middle East. BBC has reported that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that he is deeply concerned by the rise in tensions in the Middle East.
In the war of words between the US president and the Iranian leadership, the chance of a military conflagration is pretty high. Despite this Iran knows that a war with the United States will be detrimental to its interests. The Iranian military at the moment is not a match to American military power. The Air Force is like a toothless tiger with obsolete planes. Iran has not been able to modernize its AirPower because of the severe sanctions imposed by the USA. By all standards, the Iranian Air force will not be able to act as a deterrent or a credible force against the USAF f-16 and other planes.
Militarily Iran is sitting on gunpowder as its 350,000 strong armies are poorly equipped and lack the offensive capability. It also has nothing much to show in its earlier combat history. One can recollect that it failed to defeat Iraq when the latter attacked Iran resulting in a war lasting many years.
However, Iran is developing its nuclear capability. CBS has reported that Iran has announced on Sunday that it will no longer abide by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran's main strength is the Revolutionary guard. This is a force of about 150,000 personnel and is supposed to be better trained and armed. The Iranian army consists of about 350,000 soldiers but their performance in any military conflict has been poor. As far as the Revolutionary guard is concerned it appears to be a case of ''spit and polish.'' The force looks impressive while marching along streets but its actual utility in combat had never been tested. It's one thing to overawe the unarmed local population but a different proposition to face a professional force. One can recollect that Saddam Hussein's presidential guard fared badly against the onslaught of the US army.
The Iranian navy compares very poorly with the American aircraft carrier led force in the Persian Gulf. It has a strength of about 20,000 and is capable only of coastal defence. There is news that the Russians and Chinese navy is carrying out some exercises in the Persian Gulf along with the Iranian navy. This to my mind is meaningless as both Russia and China have no matching naval strength to the US carrier support group in the Persian Gulf
Knowing its military weakness the Iranian government has concentrated on missiles and drones. In this field, they have made a fair amount of progress. They were able to shoot down an American drone which they claimed had violated their air space. They use drones also from bases in Syria over Israel. They have used drones to attack the Saudi Arabian oil assets and were able to inflict a fair amount of damage.
It appears that drone technology has been given to Iran by China but one should bear in mind that no war was won by only drones. The drones were pretty useful when they attacked the oil installations in Saudi Arabia. One cannot visualize them bringing a war to a successful conclusion
Strait of Hormuz
Knowing their military weakness the Iran government has laid great stress on missile technology. The European Union is alarmed by the development. Iran is developing ICBM but at a conservative estimate, they would be at least a decade away before they can launch anything worthwhile. They have however perfected short-range missiles that can inflict severe damage to the sea lanes in the Persian Gulf. This is the real fear from Iran because it can block the Strait of Hormuz and by corollary the supply of oil.
Any US attack will not be able to stop the launch of missiles by Iran against the ships in the Persian Gulf. Even if one or two tankers a hit in the Strait of Hormuz, the supply line of almost 30% of the world's oil would be disrupted. Iran could also launch short-range missiles against targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel. This could lead to greater destruction. The United States will have to factor this in their calculation.
War is a terrible option. The US president, as well as the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, will be sitting on the horns of a dilemma. In my mind, William Shakespeare's openings soliloquy in the play "Hamlet," to be or not to be is true in the present scenario.
The Americans missed the bus almost a decade and a half back when they failed to rein in Pakistan and took the wrong option in removing two leaders Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam, who were a bulwark against Wahabbi extremism. The present US President is holding the baby which has been left by the earlier presidents. His views which he had articulated during the election campaign are well-known. One does not know which way the dice will spin this time but President Donald Trump will bear in mind that there are no half measures and either he has to bite the bullet or let things drift.