Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security

The year 2020 started with a duel between the US and Iran. The surprise drone attack by the US on Jan. 3 to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, who was major general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commander of the Quds Force, ratcheted up the scale of tension in the Gulf to the highest level.

Alas, an unknown collateral damage was, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman planned Jan. 12-15. His effort to mediate between the US and Iran appears irrelevant faced with this gang-style rude fight between Trump and IRGC.

Obviously, fears of the World War III were overblown. No major powers would join Iran to blow up the world. But certainly, the proxy war which has been coldly fought for years between pro-US and pro-Iran camps in the Gulf and wider Middle East was suddenly transformed into a direct confrontation between the US and Iran.

Fortunately, we have been saved from falling into the abyss of an all-out war, at least for the time being. Ironically it was largely thanks to the unexpected restraint exercised by the most unrestrained person, and by the rationality of the people most renowned for their irrational fervour, i.e. Mr. Trump on the one hand and the Iranian old guards of revolution centered on IRGC, on the other.

Soleimani’s funeral processions held major cities in Iran with the mobilization of millions of people appeared to be a sectarian ritual in which believers strive for a glimpse of the corpse of a saint.

Of course, Soleimani is no saint in the eyes of those whose towns were besieged, whose houses were burnt and whose family were shot or starved to deaths by the hands of militias led and supported by Soleimani in Iraq and Syria.

He represented unhealthy and gloomy relationships between Iranian regime and neighboring Arab states. His footsteps before his assassination, Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad, illustrate this. Why was he there? The fact that Soleimani, who was barred from traveling abroad by UN Security Council sanctions, was allowed to enter and leave freely in these countries was the clear manifestation of inability and connivance.

By decapitating the center of the command structure of its adversary by just one smash of a strong hit, the US showed the true and dreadful face of the superpower which still maintains unmatched military and technological capabilities. Mr. Trump wickedly betrayed expectations not only by his foes but friends as well, on his supposed inability to trigger a gun, which proved to be false.