Any New Year’s wishes for peace in 2020 didn’t last long before being dashed.
The killing of a top Iranian military commander earlier this month in an airstrike carried out by the United States has ramped up tensions in the Middle East to what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls “their highest level this century”. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite paramilitary Quds Force, was killed along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), by a Reaper drone at Baghdad airport in Iraq. Reports say PMF is an Iran-backed umbrella organization consisting of several militias.
The attack came on the OK from U.S. President Donald Trump, and former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton called the killing of Soleimani “long in the making.”
The attack has drawn vows of retaliation from Iran and has, as a result, pulled U.S. allies into the fray, with Western nations including Canada expressing concerns about the safety of their own citizens in the Middle East.
It has also left Canada’s ongoing mission in Iraq in limbo. Canada is leading the NATO training mission in Iraq but the operation has been temporarily suspended in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. Iraqi officials are calling for the expulsion of foreign troops from the country.
The U.S. has defended the strike by pointing out that Soleimani has long masterminded terrorist operations throughout the Middle East, and the U.S. had intelligence information indicating a plot against Americans in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Trump said in a briefing after the airstrike that Soleimani’s “reign of terror is over.”
A former foreign-policy adviser to the Canadian government supports the view of Soleimani as a terrorist.
In a Canadian Press story, Shuvaloy Majumdar, a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said Soleimani “oversaw a state-backed, industrial-scale, mechanized terrorism outfit that since the late 1990s, since he led the Quds Force, has become the most sophisticated terrorism (organization) the world has ever known.”
Majumdar also addressed the likelihood of retaliation by Iran.
“We can expect … there will be a wide range of asymmetric attacks against principally American assets but also quite possibly western ones.”
Iran had retaliated last week by launching missiles at military bases in Iraq where U.S. forces were based, and — although it was initially denied — accidentally shot down a Ukraine-bound plane killing all 176 people on board, including 57 Canadians.
Guterres, the UN chief, is urging calm among the international community, noting that tensions are “leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences.”
But calm isn’t what’s coming from Iran, and Trump has threatened to strike 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacks American citizens or assets.
Do we need to fear that this could boil over into a major conflict?
One analyst for the BBC doesn’t think so. BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus noted in a reply to an online question: “This will not prompt World War Three. The key actors who might be involved in such a conflict, for example Russia and China, are not significant players in this drama.
“But this could become a defining moment for the Middle East and for Washington’s role in it. A significant Iranian retaliation is to be expected, and this could lead to a cycle of action and reaction that could bring the two countries ever closer to an all-out conflict.”
However, the situation does appear ripe for more bloodshed, and has led to criticism of the U.S. for the strike on Soleimani. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the U.S. actions “have brought us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East.”
It’s not the way we would have preferred to start 2020. Unfortunately, terrorism is a reality of our time and while we would like to see conflict between nations avoided where possible, it’s also important to stand up against terrorism.
We still have in our country many citizens who remember both the horrors of a world at war and the evil that was its cause.
Fighting evil and seeking peace can sometimes be a difficult balance, and it appears it’s a tightrope that will have to be walked again in 2020.
This editorial originated in The Lethbridge Herald.