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Fallout from the U.S.-Iran face-off

Silence of Saudi Arabia is understandable. As the de facto capital of the Muslim world, it cannot adopt a policy that will put to risk its custodianship of Islam’s Two Holy Mosques.

Macabangkit B. Lanto



The face-off arising from tensions between the United States and Iran had serious unintended ramifications. The deadliest was the shooting down by a surface-to-air missile of a Ukrainian commercial airplane killing all 176 passengers. Initially, Iran denied involvement only to admit it later on. Their reason — they mistook it for an American cruise missile.

But should Iran take all the blame? In law, we have the so-called “proximate cause” of a crime or the “primary cause from which an injury results… without which the injury would not have occurred.” The proximate cause of the tragedy could be traced to the drone attack that killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. In war, it’s the civilians who suffer the most.

The crisis unraveled crucial policy position and alliances among Muslim states.

Muslim leaders were struck with anosognosia. They forgot or intentionally shelved off the Islamic concept of Ummah, which welds Muslims into one brotherhood — like the human body, where the pain of the pinky is the pain of the entire body. Their legs could have literally wobbled in the face of a bully President Trump.

The silence of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and other Arab countries was deafening. They seem oblivious to what was happening to their neighbor Muslim state. They failed to manifest through words or actions that they are Muslims first and Sunnis, Shiites, Syrian second.

The first call for unity among Muslims did not come from the desert land of Arabia where Islam was born, but from the faraway land of the Malays. Nonagenarian Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, has showed more mettle than younger Muslim leaders. Braving any adverse repercussion on its political or economic interest, he called for the unity of all Muslim countries in the face-off. It was a small comfort for Muslims that at least a voice was heard expressing concern for a beleaguered Muslim state.

Turkish Recep Erdogan, who in the past has been positioning himself as a potential heir to the legacy of Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser for a Pan-Arab State, failed to rise to the occasion. This is understandable in the face of world power giant US, which can mobilize its political and economic resources to make life hard to unsympathetic countries. In the extreme, it can affect regime change.

Baghdad was furious. Its right to air space and sovereignty were wantonly trampled upon by the US when the drone attack on Major General Soleimani was committed in Iraq. In fact, it had become the theater of the crisis. It started when an American civilian contractor was killed, followed by a retaliatory attack by US on its suspect Kata’ib Hezbollah, and the siege of the US Embassy by Iranian militias, culminating in the assassination of Soleimani. All these happened on Iraq’s soil. No wonder the Iraqi Parliament convened immediately and passed a resolution driving away the Americans.

The silence of Saudi Arabia is understandable. As the de facto capital of the Muslim world, it cannot adopt a policy that will put to risk its custodianship of Islam’s Two Holy Mosques. Its alliance and amity with the US are deeply rooted. It is presently engaged in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen where the Houthi rebels are openly bankrolled with funds and armaments by Iran. In fact, some critics of the Kingdom theorized that with its alliance with the US, it has indirectly established detente with Islam’s arch-enemy, Jewish Israel.

Significantly, likewise the League of Arab States patterned after the United Nations has not convened nor was there any word of concern from its Secretary General about the crisis. Nor was there a word from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It is a big letdown for Muslims.

The United Nations? Its inutile. The US has long realized that the mandate of the UN is a pipe dream that doesn’t deserve its budgetary subsidy.

This crisis will adversely affect the unfinished campaign against the violent Islamic States (IS). They still have remnants and strategic cells in Iraq, Syria and clandestinely in other parts of the Middle East. Bullied and desperate Iran might resuscitate the flagging IS.

What is in store for the Middle East and the world after this crisis? The result of the impeachment versus Trump could be a game changer in power politics in the region. We can only wish World War III will not ensue.


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