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Qasem Soleimani receives a decoration from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in early 2019 [Khamenei's Office]

▲ Qasem Soleimani receives a decoration from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in early 2019 [Khamenei's Office]

COMMENT* / Salvador Sánchez Tapia

The death in Iraq of General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds force, at the hands of a US drone is one more link in the process of growing deterioration of the already bad relations between the United States and Iran, the latest chapter of which has been experienced since 2018, the year in which President Trump decided to break the so-called "agreement (JCPOA) signed with Iran in 2015 by the Obama administration and the other members of the G5+1.

The attack on Soleimani, carried out in retaliation for the death of a US contractor in an attack apparently launched by the Iraqi Shiite militia Kataib Hezbollah on the US K1 base in Kirkuk on 27 December, has marked a qualitative change in the situation in the country. subject response that the U.S. is accustomed to give to incidents of this kind. subject for, for the first time, the goal It's been a stop manager of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Immediately after the assassination, during the funeral for the deceased general, Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, announced in somewhat apocalyptic terms that the attack would not go unanswered, and that it would come directly from Iranian hands, not through proxies. It came, in fact, on the night of January 8 in the form of a massive missile attack on two instructions U.S. military personnel stationed in western Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Contradicting Iranian statements that the bombings had killed some 80 Americans, the U.S. administration was quick to assert that there had been no casualties. leave because of the attacks.

In the aftermath of this new attack, the world held its breath waiting for an escalation by Washington. However, President Trump's statements on January 8 seemed to defuse tensions by arguing that the absence of U.S. casualties was indicative of an Iranian attempt to de-escalate. The U.S. will not respond militarily, although it has announced its intention to tighten the economic sanctions regime until the country changes its attitude. With this, the risk of an open war in the region seems averted, at least momentarily.

Are we affected by the tension between the United States and Iran?

Obviously, yes, and in several ways. First of all, we cannot ignore the fact that several European countries, including Spain, maintain significant military contingents deployed in the region, operating within the framework of NATO, the United Nations and the European Union in missions such as "Inherent Resolve" in Iraq, "Resolute Support" in Afghanistan, UNIFIL in Lebanon, "Active Fence" in Turkey, etc. or "Atalanta" in the Horn of Africa.

In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, the Spanish troops deployed in the aforementioned missions work closely partnership with other NATO allies, including the United States. Although in principle Spanish soldiers – or, for that matter, those of the other NATO nations – are not in the crosshairs of Iranian responses, specifically directed against North America and its interests, there is no doubt that any attack by Iran on American units could collaterally affect the contingents of other nations operating with them. if only for a matter of mere geographical proximity.

Less likely is that Iran would attempt a response against any non-U.S. contingent through one of its proxies in the region. This would be the case, for example, of Hezbollah in Lebanon, a country in which Spain maintains a significant contingent whose security could be affected if it group, either on its own initiative, or at the behest of Iran, attempts to attack any UNIFIL unit or facility. This option, as we say, is considered unlikely because of the negative impact it would have on the international community in general, and because of the proximity to Israel of the deployment of UNIFIL.

The escalation has led to an increase in the alert level and a reinforcement of U.S. troops in the region. If the increase in tension were to continue, it would not be out of the question that Washington could come to some sort of agreement. subject It could appeal to the support of its partners and allies, either with troops or resources. It is difficult to determine at what time and under what conditions such a situation might occur application, for what purpose and, very importantly, what response Europe would give to it, taking into account the concern with which the Old Continent observes an escalation in which it is not interested, and the state of relative coldness that relations between the United States and Europe are going through.

As a result of the assassination, Iran has made public its intention to dissociate itself completely from the provisions of the agreement that I was still watching. In other words, he says he feels free to continue his nuclear program. Undoubtedly, this last nail in the coffin of the JCPOA may lead to an open degree program nuclear power in the region with negative consequences for regional security, but also for European security. The rise of the issue From our point of view, the collapse of nuclear powers is, in itself and from our point of view, bad news.

Finally, and as a side effect of the escalation, the price of a barrel of oil is beginning to show a disturbing upward trend. If there are no corrective measures by increasing production from other countries, the trend could continue. There is no need to dwell on what the increase in the price of oil means for the economy. Economics and, of course, for the national one.

Russia and China in the crisis

Russia is making efforts to replace the United States as the leading power in the region and to present North America as a leading power. partner unreliable, which abandons its allies in difficulty. The escalation of the crisis could have a negative impact on this effort, delaying it or, in the worst case, ending it if, in the end, the United States were to reverse its policy of gradual derailing withdrawal in the Middle East due to an increase in tension with Iran. Russian rhetoric will be anti-Washington. In the end, however, it will do nothing to increase the tension between the United States and Iran, and it will, probably, keep it within a tolerable level or decrease.

Russia is not so much a staunch ally of Iran as one of convenience. Iran is a competitor of Russia for influence in the region – particularly in Syria – and may seek to negatively influence Islamism in the Russian Federation. On the other hand, Russia is not enthusiastic about the idea of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

China's stance is conditioned by its heavy dependence on the steady flow of oil from the Middle East. For this reason, it has no interest in the instability that this increase in tension entails. It is expected to act as an element of moderator, seeking to use the crisis as an opportunity to increase its influence in the region. China is not interested per se in becoming the arbiter of security in the region, but it is interested in a stable, trade-friendly region.

The project "One Belt, One Road" is another reason why China will try to keep the crisis within acceptable limits. The Middle East is an element core topic in the project recreation of a sort of new Silk Road. An open war between the U.S. and Iran could adversely affect the country. project.

In summary, neither Russia nor China are interested in an escalation between the United States and Iran that could lead to an open war between the two nations that would jeopardize oil supplies, in the case of China, and the establishment as the main international power in the region, in the case of Russia. Both will try to temper the Iranian response, even if, at the level of statements, they speak out against the assassination of Soleimani.

 

* This text extends a previous comment made by the author to El Confidencial Digital.

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