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Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani

Opinion | America’s dangerous gamble

Iran-US relations have been tense ever since 2018, when Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal with Tehran

The US has eliminated one of Iran’s top military commanders. The commander of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), General Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a drone strike in Baghdad authorized by US President Donald Trump. Global crude oil prices shot up in response, an indicator of the risk that this assassination exposes the world to. Should Tehran retaliate, as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini has said it would, an escalation of hostilities between the two countries could spell turmoil in the region.

Iran-US relations have been tense ever since 2018, when Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal with Tehran that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions on it. The clamps, chiefly on its oil exports, were restored by the US, and Iran has threatened to enrich enough uranium for a nuke.

What the White House hopes to achieve with Soleimani’s killing is unclear. Various militia groups across the region, from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Yemen, were thought to be under his command, working as Tehran’s proxies against Israeli forces at one end and Saudi forces at the other. Both Tel Aviv and Riyadh would have welcomed the news. But his role will surely be taken by someone else, and peace may begin to look even more precarious. Thus far, Tehran’s game, as it seems, has been to play for time, nudge European leaders to revive the nuclear deal, and hope for Trump’s exit. If it judges a favourable outcome unlikely, it may go ahead and acquire nuclear weapons. Pre-emptive strikes on its facilities by the US or Israel may result in a major conflagration. As before, talks are the only sensible way out of this.

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