New Middle East trouble

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New Middle East trouble

War clouds are gathering after the United States killed an Iranian heavyweight in a drone attack on Friday. After Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander, was assassinated, the Islamic state’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei vowed revenge for the killing. In reaction, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to destroy 52 major targets in Iran. The newly-triggered tension in the Middle East is likely to reach a flash point soon.

Trump should have been careful in removing an Iranian war hero through a deadly attack. His predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama also considered a similar military option yet declined after considering Iran’s possible reaction. This time, the United States went too far despite a siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Iraqis affiliated with Iran.

The possibility of Iran waging a war against the United States is slim. Yet it is naïve to think that Iran will do nothing. Iran will likely launch attacks on the United States by taking advantage of Shiite Muslims in Iraq and neighboring countries. The world has become more dangerous after the murder of Soleimani. The United States must exert efforts to calm the crisis instead of fueling its conflict with Iran.

Any crisis in the Middle East poses a problem for South Korea. Deepening insecurity in the region can lead to hikes in oil prices as seen in the trading of the Brent Crude at $69.16 per barrel for March in the London commodity futures markets — up 4.17 percent from the previous trading day. If conflict between Tehran and Washington grows, Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, and that would push up petroleum prices a lot.

The strait is very volatile, and our government is considering dispatching troops at the request of the United States as part of an international fleet. If the government decides to send our soldiers, South Korea could be mired in a war between Iran and the United States. Iran is not our enemy and can emerge as a huge market once economic sanctions are lifted. The Moon Jae-in administration should be extra careful about dispatching troops. It can learn from Japan, which decided to send its troops to the seas around Oman and the Gulf of Aden instead of the Strait of Hormuz.

The government must carefully weigh the impact of the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Some expect North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to turn low-key, while others anticipate North Korea to provoke the United States more. Whatever the case, a North Korean provocation does not benefit our security. In a worst-possible case, Trump could choose a military option. The Moon administration must persuade Pyongyang not to make any wrong turn.
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