Those who study the stars in the sky say that they carry the portent of major conflict or a calamity, between 24th December this year and 22nd February next year. That is when Mars goes into Aries, and it creates a dangerous pattern that leads to a major war. This happened at the start of World War I and then again before World War-II. Thus, if this prediction were to be true, where could the next big conflict start from? Would it be a sudden flare-up on the tense Sino-Indian front lines?
For that, the possibility seems low because China would be foolish to attack – not because diplomacy has worked, but as Indian forces are on a high alert. Moreover, the winters have set in and the conduct of any offensive military operations would be a nightmare for troops and their commanders. In 1962, the Chinese came in because Nehru and his team refused to believe that Mao and the PLA would ever attack India and when they did, the Chinese operations were unilaterally called off on 19th November 1962, before the harsh Himalayan winters set in.
A brewing war?
Thus, if not the Sino-Indian front, then where else is there a possibility of a conflict? It is in the Gulf region, which saw the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on the 27th of November allegedly by the Israeli secret service though Tel Aviv hasn’t owned up to it. And it won’t do later, as it never does. But three such covert attacks in one year could be a bit too much for the Iranian regime to accept.
The first was the killing of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani (who ran the elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard) in a US drone strike when he was in Iraq. Then, in early July came the mysterious explosion at a centrifuge research and development centre at Natanz, a few hundred yards from the underground fuel-production centre that the US and Israel attacked more than a decade ago with their sophisticated cyber-weapons.
Countless tweets have derided the tall claims of revenge on social media by Iranians who have disparaged the country’s intelligence services and security in failing to “prevent the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh
And now the killing of Fakhrizadeh, a shadowy figure often described as the Iranian equivalent of J Robert Oppenheimer. For this latest assassination Hossein Salami, the chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has sworn revenge, but Iranians mock the ‘resolve’ of their Revolutionary Guards on social media.
Countless tweets have derided the tall claims of revenge on social media by Iranians who have disparaged the country’s intelligence services and security in failing to “prevent the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist.” One even mocked the regime to say: “Just like you did after the killing of General Soleimani when you attacked an abandoned US military base but at the same time shot down a passenger jet full of innocent people,” referring to the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft, flying over Iranian airspace in January, which killed 176 people.
But we know that following the assassination of General Soleimani, there was a massive Iranian barrage of missiles and bombs on a US base in Iraq, and though the Iranian attacks did not cause any deaths — as Iran gave prior notice to Iraqi authorities, to avert large-scale fatalities — around 109 US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries from those Iranian strikes, as reported by the US Department of Defence (at the Pentagon).
The assassination of Fakhrizadeh
So what led to this assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had long identified as Israel’s enemy No 1, capable of building a weapon that could threaten his country of eight million in a single blast? Some say that Netanyahu believes that Iran’s covert bomb programme was continuing, under Fakhrizadeh’s leadership, and would be unconstrained after 2030, when the nuclear accord’s restraints on Iran’s ability to produce the required nuclear fuel as it wants, expires.
Iran now has more than 12 times the amount of enriched uranium permitted under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, which has also noted that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5% in violation of the 3.67% threshold agreed under the 2015 deal.
To critics of the deal, that is its fatal flaw. “The reason for assassinating Fakhrizadeh wasn’t to impede Iran’s war potential, it was to impede diplomacy,” Mark Fitzpatrick, a former state department nonproliferation official, wrote on Twitter. A former CIA head, John Brennan, tweeted that this killing was a “criminal act and highly reckless,” saying it “risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict.”
Brennan, who led the CIA from 2013-2017, when Barack Obama was president and Joe Biden was vice president, exhorted Iran to “wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage & to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits.” That view was shared by Ben Friedman, a defence specialist at George Washington University. The killing, he said, was “an act of sabotage against US diplomacy and interests” and would “likely help Iranian hardliners who want nuclear weapons.”
The pressure is thus already mounting within Iran for a response presumably on the orders of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, most likely through either the rogue elements of the Iranian military or an Iranian-sponsored militia anywhere in the Middle East.
Even if Iran holds off on a major retaliation, this killing of the chief of its nuclear programme will drive Iran’s nuclear program further underground. And if the Iranians retaliate, this will give President Trump a pretext to launch a return strike before he leaves office in January, leaving Joe Biden to inherit bigger problems than just the wreckage of a 5-year-old nuclear deal with Iran.
Robert Malley, who leads the International Crisis Group and was a negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, says that “it will in fact succeed in killing diplomacy” or the deal, aka the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). US President-elect Joe Biden has suggested in an article published earlier this year, that: “There is a smarter way to be tough on Iran.” But it seems that the hardliners in Israel and America were unwilling to wait till he takes charge on 20th January next year.
Even if Iran holds off on a major retaliation, this killing of the chief of its nuclear programme will drive Iran’s nuclear program further underground.
Fakhrizadeh’s killing could just be a final test of Iranian regime’s resolve, more so as the country’s patience has been exhausted and its economy crippled with sanction after sanction; and with Russia offering to back it, the possibility of a major confrontation in the Gulf region cannot be ruled out. US military officials said last week that they were closely monitoring Iranian security forces as Iran vowed to retaliate for Fakhrizadeh’s death, but that they hadn’t detected any usual Iranian troop or weapon movements.
Some 40,000 US troops in the region are already at a relatively high level of alert as Washington has ordered the USS Nimitz led aircraft carrier group back to the Gulf, though it insists this move had nothing to do with the assassination. In such a delicate situation, one wrong move could now set into motion a cycle that may be hard to contain.
This in turn could have serious implications not just for the Gulf but for the world’s energy supplies. That apart from threatening the safety of 8 million Indians living and working in the region could disrupt the USD 40 billion dollars worth earnings they repatriate to India annually. Thus let’s brace up as the prediction of the astrologers could just be proved right!
–The story earlier appeared on timesnownews.com (https://www.timesnownews.com/columns/article/portent-of-a-war/690430)