Just over Seventy-Five years ago in September 1944, the British and Irish forces attempted an airborne coup to conquer a strategic bridge at Arnhem that offered a passage between Holland and Germany over the Rhine. This was a few months after D Day and the inland offensive was progressing slowly. If another bridgehead could be formed inside enemy lines this would have divide the defenses. The plan the brainchild of Field Marshal Montgomery. was imaginative, daring and simple. Send a large 35,000 airborne troops flown from England and dropped behind enemy lines with the mission to seize and hold nine bridges across the Rhine.
The German forces initially destabilized quickly reacted and mobilized several armoured divisions. The allies held on for nine days but with only rifles and a few mortars they were defeated. Had it been successful it would have not only shortened the war and that could have ended before Christmas 1944 but permitted the allies to reach Berlin before the Russian and have avoided the partition of Europe and the Iron curtain. This epic battle was depicted in a film called “A Bridge Too Far” hence the title of this article.
The recent article, “Home Alone” was redacted over the Christmas holidays following an enraged letter of President Trump to House Leader Nancy Pelosi as a result of his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The purpose in its reaction was to analyze and decompose the mechanics in the constant boasts of the President and demonstrate how he uses every action, reaction or opportunity to boost his popularity to be re-elected. We were conscious that he must have been scheming something dramatic to awaken the public somehow drowsed by the holiday libations, but never an act on this scale. This where the title off this article its in.
A US drone targeted a convoy in the vicinity of the Bagdad airport killing Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, the elite National Iranian armed forces. Whereas this forms the front news, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces and five others, including the PMF’s airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda. No doubt they were meeting to plan some activity in the region, but this is an unstable region and both the US and Iran are guilty amongst others.
Predictably, reactions have been pouring in from around the world. Whereas Iran stated that it considers the assassination of Qassim Soleimani to be an “act of war” US politicians were divided across party lines with some Republican politicians mainly praising the attack, while some Democrat politicians said it was “reckless,” warning that it’ll likely raise tensions in the region. True to form, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Trump “deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively” while Syria has strongly condemned what it calls “treacherous American criminal aggression” that killed Iran’s top general and others, warning that it constitutes a “dangerous escalation” in the region. Whereas Europe in general expressed a fear of mounting tensions in the region, it is interesting to note the sober reaction of the two global adversaries. Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the killing and said it would increase tensions throughout the Middle East while China lectured that it was “highly concerned” and calls for all sides, especially the United States, to exercise “calm and restraint.” It is worth noting China, an economic ally of Iran carried last month with the navies of Iran and Russia their first-ever joint manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean. In Iraq, a country with US military presence and in deep political crisis different echoes ranging from demands for the US to depart to hopes that Iran would stop meddling in Iraqi politics were heard.
But may be, the “bon mot de la fin” belongs to a US fresh-congresswoman Ilhan Omar raised the question as to whether Trump is using the conflict with Iran as a distraction for his challenges within the US. Former Democratic Party chief Rep. Debbie Wasserman went even further: “What I think is going on here, frankly, is that this action was taken more in President Trump’s self-interest rather than our national interests,” “That’s outrageous and I think that has a lot to do with what this attack was about.” I doubt they ever heard of “Koumoundouros voice” but they would be amused to read “Home Alone”.
The question is the use of drone to strike and kill Iranian general (and many others) legal? The President justifies this killing as an act of both self-defence and deterrence, while the US Department of Defence backs him up in stating that Soleimani’s Quds Force is a US-designated terrorist organisation. There is no doubt that the US by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear accounts and imposing exacting sanctions on Iran and its trading partners provoked attacks on tankers and a Saudi oil facilities, for which Iran is held responsible even if it was carried out by proxies. The shooting down of a US drone within or in proximity of territorial waters was ignored. So, there is some reason for exasperation.
However, killing an enemy general in an undeclared conflict and this in a foreign country is not the exercise of warfare but an act that could precipitate war in the whole region. According to Noha Aboueldahab, a Brookings Fellow, whereas the Pentagon statement stresses that “the aim of this operation was to deter future Iranian attacks against Americans and US interests, the legality of this type of preventative or pre-emptive self-defence is far from clear in international law. Her rationale is that it can be used and abused recklessly. Another question arises:
Was this attack proportionate? As UN human rights expert, Agnes Callamard said, it would appear as far more retaliatory for past acts than anticipatory for imminent self-defence”. What degree of information regarding the scale of planned attacks was there to justify a blind strike that killed a senior Iraqi military man and five other people? Obviously necessary precautions were not taken.
The Eastern countries who were masters at assassination were always careful to avoid collateral damage in their assassination. It is as if the agents trying to murder Sergei Skripal in Salisbury had used a bazooka and killed innocent bystanders in the process. One cannot escape the thought that this ill thought act has regressed the standards of warfare to barbaric levels deprived of chivalresque code of conduct.
Unquestionably, the rise in the oil prices reflect the expectations of rising tensions in the region. The Iranians have already put in place a new chief for the Quds and given the deeper repercussions of such escalation in the Gulf region, it is highly dubious that this “surgical operation” will indeed deter Iran and its proxies from their previous plans and more importantly from retaliation”.
Let us hope that this attack was not a “Bridge Too Far” and will not precipitate a series of rising escalations.