Kenya and other US allies could face further security threats from terrorist groups following the killing of a top Iranian military commander on Friday, experts warned in the aftermath.
On Friday, the US military headquarters, Pentagon, confirmed Iran’s Lt-Gen Qasem Soleimani had been killed at an Iraqi airport on orders of President Donald Trump.
And Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State embarked on a series of calls to his counterparts in ally nations across the world, arguing the action was part of Washington’s efforts to curtail Iran’s “aggressive threats” done through the Iranian Quds Force that Gen Soleimani commanded.
“[The US is] thankful that our allies recognise the continuing aggressive threats posed by the Iranian Quds Force. The US remains committed to de-escalation,” Pompeo said.
But what would allies face in the aftermath? Some observers said Soleimani’s killing could avenge for his murders in Iraq and Syria, but it left open the debate on who else should be punished.
“You live by the gun, you die by the gun. Soleimani, with the help of Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, Houthis and Iraqi Shia militias, killed at least one million Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni Sunnis,” argued Farah Maalim, a former Deputy Speaker of Parliament, referring to the Middle East wars in which Iran assigned proxies.
But Maalim argued that other leaders in Saudi Arabia, a US ally, had equally killed civilians and ought to pay for it.
A report by the International Crisis Group on Wednesday warned of bigger consequences for the world as Iran and the US bickered inside Iraq.
One immediate consequence on of the attack was the slight increase in oil prices, even though economists said it was unclear if they would continue to rise.
Kenya, being an oil importer, could be prepared to pay more for fuel in the coming weeks.
“For Kenya, my view is that global oil prices will likely rise and this will affect our oil imports bill and economic growth,” Dr Kemoli Sagala, a research scholar on governance and strategy at the University of Nairobi told the Nation.
“There is always the prospect of proxy retaliations on US interests in the region and the conflation of Israel and America. Kenya has been a soft target in the past … but it is too early to tell,” he added.
Experts said the actual threat on US allies could be the rising possibility of terror attacks, either in revenge against US interests or from groups benefiting from US’ distraction.
Dr Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank on foreign policy, said the world should be prepared for an Iranian response, especially on the US or anywhere it has interests.
“We’d better be prepared for all sorts of Iranian retaliation against US diplomatic and military personnel around the region or world, given his symbolic and actual role. Make no mistake: any war with Iran will not look like the 1990 Gulf war or the 2003 Iraq wars. It will be fought throughout the region with a wide range of tools against a wide range of civilian, economic, and military targets. The region (and possibly the world) will be the battlefield.”
Soleimani was top commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, formed after the revolution in 1979 to ‘protect Iran’s Islamic political system.’
As the leader of the Quds Force for the last 22 years, the celebrated soldier served as the head of Iran’s equivalent of the CIA, leading Iran’s military strategy in the region and across the world.
His main duty, a CIA report indicated, was to counter Iran’s enemies abroad, which included targeting US interests or those of their allies.
Kenya, Lebanon, Syria, Germany Israel and Bahrain were some of the countries he focused on.
Nairobi, one of Washington’s allies in The War on Terror, hosts the biggest diplomatic mission on African soil and routinely collaborates with the US on counter-terrorism measures.
Since 1998, Kenya was targeted by terror groups opposed to the US or Israel.
At the moment, Iranians do not have an ambassador in Nairobi. Former envoy, Dr Hadi Farajvand, left the country in 2019 under a cloud of controversy for trying to free Iranian terror convicts in Kenya.
Though Iran later appointed a replacement, he is yet to present his credentials.
Meanwhile, terror convicts Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi, are currently serving a 15-year jail term, following their arrest with bomb-making material back in 2012.
A police report filed in court showed they confessed that they planned to attack US, Israeli or Saudi interests in Kenya and had hidden the explosive material at a golf club in Mombasa.
But there is more. While Soleimani had been implicated by the US for directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq, he, at some point, collaborated with the US against ISIS in Iraq.
That relationship later ended but observers say his death could help in reviving ISIS.
Sam Heller, a Senior Analyst on non-state armed groups at the International Crisis Group, warned the US could lose out key local collaborations against the terror group, endangering the world once more.
“The US’s killing of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis will have many grave consequences region-wide. One likely-seeming result: the end of the US- led Coalition role in Iraq, which enabled Iraqi forces to pursue ISIS remnants. ISIS is poised to benefit.”
ISIS, which sprouted out of the Syria conflict, before its leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in 2019, had grown networks with a faction of Al-Shabaab in East Africa, which have numerously attacked Kenya.
On Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who appoints the commander of the Revolutionary guards, warned of “revenge” against the US, a call echoed by Iran’s allied groups, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq.
The Iranian regime and its key leaders Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have been sanctioned by the US, blocking companies from doing business with them, except on essential humanitarian goods.
When a previous round of sanctions, imposed in 2012, was lifted in 2016, Kenya’s tea exports to Iran surged, and according to the East African Tea Trade Association, Iran bought about Ksh. 28 billion worth of Kenyan tea in 2017.
When Trump restored sanctions in 2018, Kenya’s exports fell, affecting a total of 17 per cent drop in exports, according to the Kenya Tea Development Authority.
Though Iran has a tea market of about 80 million people, and had been the fifth buyer of Kenyan tea, sanctions meant traders in Tehran could not find banks to complete their payments through the dollar.
The continued escalation of hostilities, experts argue, could further ruin tea sales abroad, which had reached a high of Ksh. 140 billion in 2018.
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