Careful approach needed

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Careful approach needed

Iran’s missile attacks on military bases in Iraq hosting U.S. soldiers are setting off alarms in the Middle East. Early morning Wednesday, the Iranian Army fired more than 10 ground-to-ground ballistic missiles at two bases as revenge for the killing of Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander, by the United States. Responding to Iran’s counterattack — code-named “Martyr Suleimani” — the United States threatened to consider all available options. As the conflict that began with a U.S. drone attack is expected to escalate, it will certainly have an impact on our oil imports and the safety of Koreans residing in the region.

The crisis will not be confined to America and Iran after Teheran said it had 13 scenarios for its revenge. In that case, Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally facing Iran across the Persian Gulf, will likely become a major target of Iran. In the past, Iran conducted a cyberattack on Aramco, Saudi’s national oil company and the world’s largest listed company. Last year, Yemen’s Houthi rebels carried out drone attacks on two major oil installations in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have close ties with Iran.

If Iran strikes at Israel, that poses a big problem as Israel will surely retaliate with its cherished “an-eye-for-an-eye” principle. The crisis will immediately spread through the Middle East, although it would not easily develop into a full-blown ground war like the 2003 Iraq War — given the strong likelihood that the United States will bomb Iran through missiles and bombers from U.S. bases surrounding Iran. Nevertheless, it will be a protracted war.

Perhaps a larger problem is the possibility of terror and the impact on our oil imports. The Moon Jae-in administration must evacuate about 1,900 Koreans living in Iraq to prepare for Iran’s terrorist acts. However, 70 percent of our crude oil passes through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. And Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Arab Emirates are all located in the region within range of Iran’s missile attacks. That’s not all. Our oil tankers can be attacked or seized by Iran’s Navy scattered along the coastline.

Our government must devise effective ways to protect our oil tankers. Washington has already asked Seoul to send our troops to the Strait of Hormuz to safeguard American and other tankers from Iran’s attacks. If a war between Washington and Teheran escalates, the United States cannot afford to protect other countries’ tankers. That means we cannot but defend our ships on our own. On top of that, our government must help diversify our oil import sources.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 30
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