Iran’s ballistic missile attack on US bases in Iraq was an attempt to replicate the kind of message sought to be conveyed by Pakistan after India’s Balakot strike. It was meant to display capability without actually causing any damage. The stand-off between the two countries did not escalate because of the captured fighter-pilot’s prompt return by Pakistan. Unfortunately, in its eagerness to exhibit ‘strength’ in the face of adversity, Iran’s response to the killing of General Suleimani is probably going to make matters worse, particularly if there have been US or coalition casualties. The US will be smarting, also, because of its inability to see and prevent the strike in time. Observers are particularly surprised by the sophistication of the missiles that were used.
Unfortunately for a lot of countries in the region, including India, escalation of hostilities will be very bad news. The reasons behind the conflict, of course, are more than just the inflated egos of the US President and the Iranian ‘Supreme Leader’. It is caused by the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the effort to dominate the region, emanating from the Shia-Sunni conflict of centuries past. Everybody acknowledges that Iran has quite successfully countered the US-Saudi-Israeli influence through its proxies operating in the region, particularly within Shia dominated areas.
The earlier attack on Saudi refineries had caused panic in the markets, leading to rise in oil prices. The same is happening, now, and India will be among the worst affected. As such, proactive measures are needed from the Indian Government, which has good relations with all parties involved in the conflict, to prevent escalation. At least the attempt should be made.
The earlier proxy war ensured that open confrontation was avoided. The killing of Suleimani made it a direct attack, which had to be countered in the same manner by Iran. Sadly, Iran has lost even more lives in the aftermath, with deaths of over sixty people during stampedes at the general’s funeral. The possibly not unrelated crash of a Ukrainian Aircraft has claimed another hundred and eighty. This, too, will weigh on the minds of the Iranian decision makers. Only outside mediation, as has often happened in the case of nuclear armed India and Pakistan, can resolve the issue peacefully. Otherwise, everybody will have to prepare for difficult times ahead, particularly India, which is working to transform its economy.