Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Why Soleimani assassination had more to do with Trump's impeachment than with Iran

Though Tehran may have overreacted by tearing up the 2015 nuclear deal with US, says Alban Maginness

People protest against the US authorities over the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani
People protest against the US authorities over the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani

The decision by President Trump to approve the extra-judicial killing of Iranian military chief Qassem Soleimani can either be seen as a successful counter-terrorist surgical strike against a fanatical enemy or, alternatively, as a reckless and unlawful step that risks the outbreak of yet another terrible war in the Middle East.

Doubtless there will be those who applaud this attack on Iran's military capability and justify it as a legitimate use of state force to protect the national interests of the USA.

Leaving aside the methodology of this lethal drone attack, what is the difference between this killing and the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi secret service in their consulate in Istanbul?

Again, what is the difference between the Soleimani killing and Putin's government carrying out an assassination by using polonium 210 on a Russian exile, Alexander Litvinenko, in London?

Of course, there is no substantive difference in any of these extra-judicial killings save that they were carried out by three different governments for their own selfish security reasons.

Each government involved in these outrageous and unlawful actions will attempt to justify them as necessary evils in the real world of constant danger and threat to their respective national interests.

Therefore, no amount of moralising about the legitimacy of Soleimani's killing will reach a satisfactory consensus.

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The real question to ask is: is Trump's decision likely to bring about war or peace?

President Trump justified the killing by saying that Soleimani was "plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel".

However, while Soleimani was undoubtedly engaged in such activities over the past 10 years at least, why is it only now that the Americans decided to assassinate him?

It is hard to accept that his killing was an urgent necessity and would have prevented already planned actions by the Iranians or their proxies.

There is a lingering suspicion that this assassination was due less to security considerations and more to distract attention from the current impeachment proceedings brought against President Trump by opposition Democrats in Congress.

Trump can, rightly, present himself to the American public as a decisive commander-in-chief by striking down one of America's most dangerous and successful opponents in the Middle East.

In Iran Soleimani was a very important military and political figure and was admired as the mastermind of Iran's successful military campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

It should be remembered that the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was largely due to the Iranians under Soleimani's leadership.

Indeed, it should also be kept in mind that Soleimani's proxy forces tacitly co-operated with the Americans at various times during the campaign against Islamic State.

A consequence of his death and the elimination of his military and political influence could well be the weakening of further efforts to completely eliminate Islamic State as a military force altogether in the region.

Soleimani is also credited with steering Iran's political strategy in the Middle East and his absence may create a dangerous vacuum in that country's fractious and unstable political establishment.

That is not good for Iran, but equally it is not good for opponents of Iran - including the United States - to have an unstable political regime in Tehran.

Already Iran has declared that it will no longer comply with the 2015 Iranian nuclear power deal, which President Obama painstakingly negotiated with Iran.

This great achievement by Obama was an important multinational agreement between Iran and other world powers, including the USA, to prevent the Iranians developing nuclear weapons.

As a result a degree of stability was achieved in the Middle East and provided a tentative step towards building peace.

This was, however, undermined by President Trump unilaterally withdrawing from the treaty and his reimposition of punitive economic sanctions on Iran.

This was done with the purpose of causing social unrest in order to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

This impetuous decision by Iran not to comply with the treaty will be welcomed by hardliners in Tehran, but equally by those in the USA, who detest the agreement with Iran.

The Iranian leadership may well yet rue taking such a drastic decision in the immediate aftermath of Soleimani's death.

The Iranians have predictably threatened revenge on America, but whether they are capable of doing so without incurring a dreadful and painful American military reaction is far from certain.

What is also uncertain is whether such responses between the USA and Iran could end up causing the outbreak of a total state of war between the two belligerents.

If that were to happen, it would be at a huge cost to both countries and the Middle East, which has suffered for too long.

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