If there is universal consensus that a fuse has been lit, fear of its logical conclusion — a conflagration — lurks in every corner. The possibility of the ongoing US-Iran brinkmanship slipping into an enhanced armed confrontation in an oil-rich and volatile West Asia increased substantially on January 8. Tehran launched over a dozen ballistic missiles at two American military bases in Iraq in the first response to the assassination of its inspirational military commander General Qassem Soleimani in US drone attack a few days back -- an action personally approved by President Donald Trump. The Iranians struck soon after Soleimani’s funeral on January 7 -- an apogee of anti-US anger and denunciation, which was attended by thousands of emotionally charged mourners.
While the Pentagon confirmed the bases at Irbil and Al-Asad were hit, there was no report of casualties. Iran's Revolutionary Guards said the attack was in retaliation to the death of Soleimani on January 3. Cautioning other countries in the region, it struck an ominous note: “We are warning all American allies…that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted.” Such is the highly-strung nature of the situation that a Ukrainian passenger aircraft with 170 passengers on board which crashed soon after take-off from Tehran was being probed for any links to the ongoing tension.