The US’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, represents a dangerous escalation of tensions between the two countries and could well lead to war in the region. 

US President Donald Trump, who ordered the killing, now has to face up to the consequences of his grossly irresponsible decision. Soleimani was no ordinary figure – he was a hero in his home country, a brilliant military strategist and considered to be the second most powerful man in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

Trump claimed Soleimani was planning attacks on US military and diplomatic personnel, but has shown absolutely no evidence of this. Neither has he shown how this assassination fits into some sort of overall strategy in dealing with Iran. Furthermore, neither the US Congress nor Washington’s allies were consulted before the attack – which surely lacks any basis in international law.

True, Soleimani was the mastermind behind proxy forces through which Iran projected its influence across the Middle East, from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon, and was without doubt a thorn in the side of the US, but that is certainly no justification to have him killed, especially without considering the very dire consequences that could follow.

And the consequences have started: After the killing, Iraqi MPs passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country. About 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the so-called Islamic State (IS), which has now paused operations.

The only winners in such a scenario are the jihadists. In another development, Iran announced it was removing all limits on its enrichment of uranium, thereby moving further away from an agreement struck with the US and other world powers in 2015 aimed at preventing it developing nuclear weapons. Again, how can this be a good thing? Indeed, Trump’s worst foreign policy decision (before this latest assassination) was to abandon the landmark nuclear accord with Iran – which his military advisers begged him not to do and which was being adhered to by Teheran.

That deal was reached after many years of painstaking diplomacy by the Obama administration and other world powers and had succeeded in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Washington’s exit from the deal had already led to Iran watering down its commitments to the accord – and the assassination of General Soleimani steered Teheran to all but abandon the pact.

The killing of Soleimani will likely lead to widespread retaliatory attacks against US targets from Shi’ites in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and throughout the Middle East. Terrorist attacks, including on American soil, cannot be ruled out. 

Hezbollah in Lebanon could renew attacks on northern Israel. There may well be attacks on the Strait of Hormuz where 20 per cent of the world’s oil supply passes through, leading to a spike in oil prices – with negative consequences for the global economy.    

And of course such an escalation could lead to direct war between Iran and the US – which would trigger a long and widening regional conflict.

What is needed now, more than ever, is a period of reflection and intense diplomacy by the international community, particularly the European Union, which is thankfully welcoming the Iranian foreign minister to Brussels this week.

President Trump’s declaration that 52 Iranian sites – including heritage sites – have been targeted for airstrikes in response to any retaliation by Iran – is certainly irresponsible, and disgraceful coming from a country which claims itself to be the leader of the free world. 

Iran, on the other hand, must weigh its desire to respond to the US killing against the risk of sparking an outright war.   

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