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Iran crisis: Is World War III Really at our Doors?

One of the hottest topics in the news cycle is the reckless order from US President Donald Trump to conduct an airstrike on Iraqi soil right at the beginning of 2020.

The result: the ultimate assassination of high-ranking Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. This caused many international reactions and a pledge for revenge from the Iranian Ayatollah regime. Naturally, panic rose and many fear the start of a new nuclear conflict. Aside from endless memes, opinionated relatives on social media and breaking news every day, what is really happening in Iran? Is World War III really on the verge of breaking out? The answer is not so simple.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump

A brewing crisis

Relations between Iran and the United States haven’t been at their best moment. Especially after President Donald Trump pulled out from an ambitious nuclear deal back in 2018. This long-awaited deal would’ve put Iran’s nuclear program under control in exchange for lifting sanctions on its economy. As a result, tensions have arisen and diplomacy hasn’t proved effective against a hardliner like Trump.

These freezing relations have gone worse since the end of last year. But why? Many critics put the blame on Trump’s current impeachment process. This is not a crazy idea. After all, Trump himself suggested that president Barack Obama’s’ strategy on Iran was just a political stunt. However, conflict with Iran really took off at the end of 2019, after massive protests in neighboring Iraq reached the US embassy in Baghdad.

General Qasem Soleimani
General Qasem Soleimani

The escalation

At the end of last year, Iraqi protestors sieged the US embassy in Baghdad in what had started as protests against airstrikes in the region. Their motivation: the death of many militia fighters caused by these airstrikes. The United States claimed that Iran was supporting this violent siege. As a response, on January 2, Trump ordered a drone strike that ultimately killed high-ranking Iranian general Qassim Suleimani. In return, Teheran threatened the US with ‘fierce revenge’, later materialized by a similar airstrike that targetted two US military bases in Iraq, on January 7.

Even though Trump initially promised not to respond, the conflict has been far from over, since both parties continued with threats. On one hand, Trump threatened to target Iranian cultural sites and on the other, Iran warned military actions against Israel and the UAE (both US allies) in the event of another attack.

Unfortunately, this escalation has already brought civilian casualties. Just hours after the Iranian airstrike, a plane from Ukraine International Airlines was shot down near Teheran’s International Airport. This cost the lives of all 178 passengers and caused strong reactions from world leaders like Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Iran initially denied any involvement in the accident, but later confirmed that due to a human error, their military was responsible. 

So, what happens next?

Many people fear that this conflict could escalate to unexpected proportions. This is not surprising since many world leaders fear that an emboldened Iran could go even further. But how so? The key relies on the nuclear deal. Many fear that, amid these growing tensions, Teheran would abandon its commitments and continue with its nuclear program. But is this really possible? Not in the short term. The tore-down plane has been a game-changer in this escalation. So far, what seemed as international indignation has soon become massive protests against the already unpopular Iranian regime.

But what about Washington? Is there another intervention coming? It will be all on Trump. So far, he has faced strong criticism over his decision both at home and abroad, and many have put the blame on his recklessness to cause an ‘unnecessary crisis’. This has motivated his Democratic opponents to limit his war-making powers. On the other hand, his European counterparts are not too keen on escalating, since an open conflict would jeopardize their diplomatic efforts to reach a deal with Iran. So now Trump risks isolation.

Yet, the US President has hardly toned down his rhetoric. Following the most recent protests in Teheran, he voiced his support and continued with his usual inflammatory twitter rants, this time also in Farsi. So in the end, are we approaching a worldwide conflict? It will all depend on two factors: how both parties react, and how both Trump’s detractors and other world leaders avoid further escalation. What’s completely sure is that this conflict is far from over. After all, uncertainty is the common currency in Donald Trump’s era.

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