It didn’t take long for the shine to come off the new decade. Just three days into the Twenties, top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad. Soleimani was considered by many to be the second most powerful person in Iran, and the assassination has plunged US-Iran relations to their lowest point since the 1979 hostage crisis. But could it lead to war?
Following the killing, the hashtag #WWIII began trending on Twitter. It’s important not to overreact: this will not be a “Franz Ferdinand” moment leading to another world war. It will, however, significantly escalate tensions between Iran and the US, risking a full-blown regional conflict unless calmer heads prevail.
President Trump has said he does not want a war. The US government argues that General Soleimani had been masterminding attacks on American forces in the Middle East, and was planning a series of “imminent” operations in the region before he was killed. Indeed, the Quds Force that Soleimani commanded has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United States since 2007.
Nevertheless, Iran is expected to retaliate. If this, in turn, provokes an escalation from the US then the two countries could become embroiled in a cycle of tit-for-tat actions and reactions. Without either side necessarily wanting it, such a dynamic could certainly lead to war (particularly if communication between Washington and Tehran has broken down).
How would this affect Europe? It is very unlikely we’ll see another ground invasion along the lines of the 2003 war in Iraq. Nevertheless, a US-Iran conflict could easily result in further destabilisation in the region (no doubt exploited by groups like IS and Al-Qaeda), Iranian cyber and proxy attacks globally, millions of refugees, and disruption of oil supplies and commercial shipping, not to mention the enormous cost in terms of civilian casualties.
Will Europe be dragged into a war with Iran? Was the killing of Iran’s top general legal? How should European countries respond? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions