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Escalating US-Iran tensions pose risk for Ethiopia!

Escalating US-Iran tensions pose risk for Ethiopia!

Tensions between the United States and Iran have always had the potential to boil over into a full-blown war. The killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in an air strike last Friday on orders of United States President Donald Trump has renewed fears of war between the United States and Iran. Iran’s declaration that it would avenge the assassination of its most powerful military commander and would no longer adhere to limits imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal as well as President Trump’s threats that the U.S. would hit Iranian military targets and sites important to "the Iranian culture" if Tehran were to retaliate have escalated the tensions between the two adversaries. As the specter of a destructive war looms over the Middle East and the vast strategic lane straddling the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, regional countries like Ethiopia are liable to get caught in the crossfire. Given Ethiopia’s burgeoning relationship with Arabian Peninsula nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and its close ties with the U.S. it’s prudent to make preparations for the possible fallouts of the rising political temperature. Considering Ethiopia’s proximity to the Middle East it is incumbent on it to work in close cooperation with Horn of Africa nations in adopting a common position aimed at thwarting the threat of a proxy war in the region. This is a task awaiting not only the Government of Ethiopia, but also other political forces and analysts conversant in geo-politics and international relations.

As Iran vows to exact revenge and the U.S. sets out to protect its citizens and interest Ethiopia needs to act in concert with the international community to de-escalate the tension. Iran’s decision to abandon its obligation under the nuclear deal has ominous implications for the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. As Ethiopia is located smack in the middle of the Horn of Africa—a perennially unstable region where some of the countries therein are openly hostile to each other and the likes of Al-Shabaab continue to operate with impunity—it’s only proper to take precautionary measures lest it gets sucked into an unenviable position. At this a critical juncture Ethiopian political forces must take it up on themselves to tone down their rhetoric and instead focus on how the country’s foreign and national security policy responds to such rapidly evolving development as well as on collaborating with like-minded states on proposing concrete steps intended to defuse the soaring U.S.-Iran tensions. Failure to do so can entail dire consequences for the national interest.

Aside from safeguarding its security and overall interest at this perilous period, Ethiopia shoulders a solemn responsibility to ensure that the Horn of Africa does not turn into a battleground for a proxy war. This goal cannot be achieved where the country is as divided as it is now. That is why Ethiopians need to work together towards this end. Ethiopia cannot enjoy peace if the restive Horn is not at peace with itself. As such the political elite ought to realize that the grave development unfolding in Ethiopia’s neck of the region makes it imperative on their part to refrain from ratcheting up the disagreement among themselves. After all they can carry on their tradecraft if and only if the country is peaceful and stable. Ethiopians will pay a heavy price if we are unable to stand as one in averting the danger coming our way.

If the tensions between the U.S. and Iran are not de-escalated soon and provocative actions intensify on both sides the prospects of World War Three will be starker. Unless both soften the war of words between them an alignment of forces threatening the global security architecture may well arise. Many fear that President Trump’s first tweet after ordering the assassination saying, “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!” could lead Iran down a precipitous path. They also worry that countries which have an economic interest or a military presence in the Horn of Africa and allied with either side could engage in a dicey confrontation. The political actors of Ethiopia have an obligation to urge the government to act in concert with other peace-loving nations in bringing a swift resolution to the conflict between the U.S. and Iran. This requires of them to bring the fevered temperature of the body politic a few notches down and navigate skillfully the tricky regional geopolitics. Given it’s at such testing times that the true mettle of politicians is measured they need to be guided by the long-term interests of the country. Persisting with the short-termism and scheming that has characterized Ethiopian politics for decades while faced with the specter of a destructive war in the region is not only naïve, but also entails disastrous downsides.     

Ethiopia’s domestic politics has always been a source of instability. Its “modern” politics, which goes back to no more than half a century, ails from lack of rationality and farsightedness. It would not be an exaggeration to state that ever since its emergence such backward and undemocratic practices as peddling hateful rhetoric with the express purpose of sowing ethnic and religious discord between a people enjoying a common psychological make-up and shared values, ignoring the lessons which ought to be learnt from the toll exacted by past mistakes, sacrificing the national interest on the altar of political expediency, organizing/perpetrating the killing and displacement of defenseless citizens to advance vile political agendas, denigrating the proud history of the nation and the heroic feats of different generations, and turning one’s back to national reconciliation efforts have been its hallmark. The raft of domestic and external challenges confronting Ethiopia calls for a display of prudence and collaboration on the part of everyone. It’s then that the country’s very survival can be assured. The escalating U.S.-Iran tensions pose a risk for Ethiopia which Ethiopian political actors need to respond to with astuteness.