The escalation of the U.S.A – Iran conflict: My take in Milénio Stadium

by AHMED MOUSTAFA (c) Pexels

The Luso-Canadian media network MDC included my take on the recent tragedy of the death of 176 aircraft passengers in the middle of the U.S.-Iran conflict in their outlet Milénio Stadium. Read the full piece here…

My full interview from the article „89 victims from Ukrainian plane crash had ties with Canada“ by Joana Leal/MS (January 17, 2020, in: Miléno Stadium):

Milénio Stadium: Why did the Flight 752 crash and who are the responsibles for this tragic event?

Miriam M. Müller-Rensch: Without doubt these two questions are clearly linked and their answer is just as complex and open-ended as the still ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Iran itself which lies at the heart of the reasons for the shoot-down of 752: all of the 176 passengers killed aboard the Ukrainian jet were civilians, but their deaths occurred on stage of the theatre of an escalating military conflict. The overall circumstances of this tragedy, reasons and effects, lie beyond personal grief of the victims’ families – a fact which may even intensify feelings of loss and injustice.

Right now, one of the few things that we know for sure, is that flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian missile. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani himself called it a “disastrous mistake” on his Twitter account. However, it is not fully clear, whether the casualties were indeed “unintentional” or not – especially as the Iranian leadership until recently had repeatedly denied their involvement, while blaming technical failure for the plane crash. Investigations of the voice and flight data recorders from the 752 aircraft by UN aviation agency ICAO who will be supported by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) might give us new evidence for a better judgement of Iran’s affirmations of innocence. What we also know something about is the political situation in Iran at the time when the plane was shot down. Conflict between Iran and the U.S. had been escalating tit-for-tat since the official withdrawal of Washington from the joint nuclear deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in spring 2018.

In the first days of January the conflict reached a boiling point. Among other, less radical options to deal with Iran, the United States decided to target and kill Qasem Soleimani, a General of the state of Iran, but also the commander of the “Quds Force” which the United States recently declared a terrorist group. Iran’s reaction to Soleimani’s death had been surprisingly restrained when missiles hit U.S. military bases on Iraq with no fatalities. The Iranian government had given sufficient warning before their attack of a military target and their statements made it clear that no further military action would follow.

In this climate close to the brink of war, civilian flight 752 was shot – mistaken for a hostile missile, as Iranian officials have claimed. The biggest question which remains is why the Iranian government had not closed down Iranian airspace to civilian traffic in this aggressive political climate.

MS: Most of the victims were Iranians. Iran missed the target?

M.M.Müller-Rensch: As we still cannot say whether the plane was taken down on purpose or not, we should ask ourselves, what the death of so many innocent people, most of them from Iran and Canada, means for the Iranian government. When General Soleimani was killed, the conflicting parties inside Iran apparently rallied round the Iranian flag – a positive development for the dictatorial regime in Teheran which has been battling with opposition and discontent for decades, but even more so since U.S. sanctions hit the Iranian economy. So the situation for the religious regime had changed for the better after Soleimani’s death, delivering a justification for the regime’s anti-Western stance and rigorous policies towards their own population. The death of so many civilians, and especially Iranian and Iranian-Canadian citizens endangered this new won solidarity among Iranians towards their regime. So the tragedy of 752 clearly did the regime more harm than good, which speaks for an accident. Interestingly, the regime’s attempt to downplay the shoot-down as technical failure further deteriorated the regimes position. Now, the Iranian people are not only grieving, but are pretty angry with their leaders: more and more protesters are rallying on the streets, calling for justice and a change of the regime’s policies.

MS: After this tragic accident, what kind of consequences can we expect on the international level?

M.M.Müller-Rensch: Iran has signalled full cooperation and support for the investigations of the crash and admitted being responsible for the shoot-down. Tragedies like this have happened in similar situations, for example when the U.S. shot down civilian Iran Air flight 655 in 1988 by mistake. The major question we should think about now is firstly whether the tit-for-tat-escalation between Washington and Teheran could have been prevented and secondly what we can do to prevent similar incidents in the future from happening. The story between the countries goes way back, when Washington ended diplomatic relations with the new revolutionary regime in Teheran in 1979. Since then, the enmities between the two countries have turned out to be extremely long-lived. The nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and the European Union had been a first silver lining on the horizon. And then Washington decided not to trust Teheran and withdrew from the deal: One of the major reasons given was Iran’s de-facto expansionist foreign policy and the potential threat the increase Tehran’s influence in the Middle East would pose. But when Washington withdrew from the deal, it opened the door for Teheran to get out of the agreement as well. Without a nuclear deal there is not much else the international community can do to prevent Iran from arming their nuclear arsenal – except for military action.

In the prologue to their to a fro, both parties had step by step moved away from diplomacy and tended to ignore the rules of international law. We may never know for sure, but is very likely that by avoiding this tug-of-war with military violence, a war-like situation unnecessarily endangering civilians could have been avoided, too. Secondly, we have to be aware that the conflict between the U.S. and Iran is far from over – a conflict which still can damage both countries and their closest allies severely, if it expanded into a full-fledged war. Without doubt, another war would harm the warn-torn region of the Middle East beyond repair and endanger Europe as its neighbor. The week of flexing military muscles while ignoring possible consequences has ended with an outrageous tragedy and all parties involved better return to the negotiation table to lend their statements of sympathy at least a thin coat of credibility.“

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