US, Iran fire could engulf region

US, Iran fire could engulf region

Representative image

The possibility of an all-out war between the US and Iran has receded somewhat, but tensions remain high in the Persian Gulf. How such tensions and mutual suspicions can easily trigger a dangerous incident was highlighted last week when Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, just minutes after it took off from Tehran airport. Apparently, the official who ordered the shooting down of the plane thought it was an incoming American missile. That error in judgement proved costly; 176 people on board the plane were killed. The incident underscores how mutual suspicions and war clouds warp perceptions of combatants, pushing them to make deeply flawed decisions. It also underscored the urgent need for the US and Iran to de-escalate tensions. They should begin by toning down their belligerent rhetoric.

Although the war clouds have receded, they have not disappeared altogether. Iran and the US could continue their fight through a cat-and-mouse game using their proxies or even trading blows in third countries. Over the past fortnight, they have used Iraqi soil to settle scores, showing little respect for Iraqi sovereignty. Afghanistan, which shares a long border with Iran, is understandably apprehensive that it, too, could be dragged into the US-Iran conflict. Iran could use the Taliban or the Fatehmiyoun Brigade, a Shia-Hazara militia that it fosters, to target American personnel in Afghanistan. Should this happen, the conflict in Afghanistan will escalate further. The fate of the ongoing US-Taliban talks hangs in the balance.

Afghanistan has issued statements stressing its neutrality in the US-Iran conflict. Will the two sides respect Kabul’s wish to stay out of their fight? Tehran and Washington must refrain from making Afghanistan their battleground. Not only will it fuel Afghanistan’s descent into civil war but also, it will bring them no advantage. It will trigger a flow of refugees into Iran and ignite conflicts in Iran’s already restive eastern provinces. Iran cannot afford this, especially at a time when Tehran is being rocked by powerful anti-government protests. As for the US, carrying out strikes on Iran from Afghan bases will worsen the conflict in Afghanistan in a way that will keep American troops bogged down there for years to come.

The international community must step up efforts to facilitate a process of dialogue between Iran and the US. An immediate halt to missile strikes is imperative. Just as the Iranian people are demanding more accountability from their leaders, the US Congress should rein in the White House.

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