US-Iran crisis escalates - Trump’s gift to Tehran — a martyr

US-Iran crisis escalates - Trump’s gift to Tehran — a martyr

There must — mustn’t there? — have been someone in the room who asked questions when the US president, Donald Trump, and his advisors met to discuss the proposal to kill Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani.

“Yes, we can kill him, but what’s our assessment of the risks of retaliation for the US and our allies? What’s our strategy for getting Iran to behave like, as we say, a normal nation?”

Answers, it seems, came there none, although Mr Trump might have said, as he did later, that assassinating Iran’s highest-ranking general would stop a war, not start one, and that a “reign of terror” would be over with Soleimani blown out of the picture.

The general had much blood on his hands. He inspired and controlled jihadi militias that plague the Middle East and North Africa — in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the Palestinian territories, and Libya — and which have the shared Iranian aim of destroying, firstly, Israel, and, secondly, Saudi Arabia. He died in Baghdad, alongside the founder of Iran’s principal proxy militia in Iraq, the group responsible for strikes against US bases and diplomats.

The general’s friends lodge, in mitigation, his role in co-operating with Western special forces in the defeat of Islamic State , but they omit to explain that this was motivated not so much by the Shia commander’s loathing of its so-called caliphate as his determination to crush a rival Sunni power base in the region.

But what little Mr Trump has said — and tweeted — to justify the assassination does not add up. If there was evidence of an imminent, murderous jihadi plot, removing Soleimani will not thwart it; another general, equally committed to the goals of Iran’s extraterritorial Quds Force — whose brief is unconventional warfare — has stepped into his boots.

Soleimani’s network of jihadi proxies across the Middle East remains in place, as does that which Mr Trump describes not inaccurately as “the reign of terror”.

The Tehran regime, weakened by trade sanctions and increasingly unpopular at home, has been re-energised by the gift of an adored martyr.

We cannot know how Iran’s government will retaliate. But it will, and with a thirst for revenge whetted by Mr Trump’s bizarre warning that the consequence of retaliation would be attacks on sites — 52 of them — “important” to Iran and its culture.

This atavistic reference to the 52 hostages held by Iran’s rulers for almost 15 months after its mobs overran the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, would be comical if it were not so incendiary.

Soothing appeals by our government, and by others in the European Union, for all parties in the conflict to exercise maximum restraint, are unlikely to count for much, certainly not while Iran’s theocracy is busy milking Soleimani’s funeral for its propaganda value.

In Washington DC., House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks for many in the US, and the wider Western world, when she complains about the inadequate information provided by the White House to justify an escalation that puts Americans and their allies in danger.

“Iran,” says the president pithily, in reply, “has been nothing but problems for many years.”

He’s right; it has, and his solution has compounded them.

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