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US AND IRAN: Still on the brink

International 10 Jan, 2020 Follow News

A few days ago the President of the United States, Donald Trump, took to Twitter, his preferred communications tool, and tweeted “all is well”.

It was in response to a ballistic missile attack by Iran on a military base in Iraq used by American forces.

That attack followed the US killing of Iran’s top commander Qassem Suleimani (also spelt Qasem Soleimani) by the US a few days before.

No Americans lives were reported to have been lost in the Iranian retaliation.

On that basis primarily, President Trump assessed that all was well.

But is all really well?

The United States and Iran appear to have stepped back, at least for the time being, from the brink of an all-consuming military conflict.

While trigger fingers still appear to be itchy, the sobering spectacle of a passenger jet going down in flames, reportedly a casualty of the belligerence between the two sides, has given pause for reflection.

It may yet lead to a further uptick in tensions as Iran insists that it was not responsible for the shooting down of the aircraft and is refusing to hand over the flight recorders.

One hundred and seventy-six people including Canadian and British citizens died in the incident.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and other Western leaders have suggested that information available to them indicate that the plane might have been shot down accidentally by Iranian missile fire.

Iran had launched a wave of ballistic missile attacks on military bases in Iraq used by American forces as retribution for the killing of General Suleimani.

Iran had also threatened to attack Israel and Dubai as part of its retaliatory action and had vowed to restart its nuclear programme in defiance of assertions by President Trump that the US would not “allow” Iran to have a nuclear capability.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on Iran to desist from further attacks on the US.

“Iran should not repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks but must instead pursue urgent de-escalation," he said in parliament.

Mr Johnson also repeated his condemnation of the actions of the slain Iranian general saying General Suleimani had "the blood of British troops on his hands."

What appeared to be a few days ago to be a perfect storm of aggressive circumstances with war a most likely outcome, has somewhat morphed into a perfect opportunity to resolve the longstanding rift between the two nemeses.

But is that wishful thinking a thought too far?

From the abysmal lows of their tit-for-tat, cat and mouse game to what now seems, to quote a BBC journalist, “a confluence of cock-ups”, the consequences are too dire to contemplate.

But they must be faced.

The world waits for the next salvo in the seeming, for the moment, mainly verbal war of attrition between the two belligerents.

Amidst calls for a de-escalation of tensions, every utterance hinting at a dialling-back of their rhetoric is more often than not accompanied by excessive breast-beating, veiled and even open threats.

A lot is at stake beyond the belligerence.

The risk of military conflict between the two nemeses remains ‘a real and present danger’ even to those countries not directly involved but who are more than likely to suffer the effects.

The British government has despatched two battleships to the Strait of Hormuz to protect UK-flagged ships in the vital sea lane for world oil shipments.

Any disruption in the strait which washes the shores of Iran would have serious knock-on effects on world oil prices with consequential global economic impact.

The result down the global economic ‘pipeline’ for countries such as the Cayman Islands could be severely disruptive, if not devastating.

With the belligerent face-off between the US and Iran now threatening to ensnare other countries, the world has now entered a new period of uncertainty.

All is far from well. Although they have been forced to step back from the edge, this is brinkmanship on the brink.

Who will be the first to blink?

For the moment though, in the present stand-off, a fragile calm hovers under a dark cloud of palpable tension.


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