Speculations about external causes for Wednesday’s Ukraine International Airlines flight crash outside Tehran may ramp up pressure on Iran, Valdai International Discussion Club Program Director Oleg Barabanov told TASS on Thursday.
"Speculations have it that the Ukrainian aircraft did not crash for technical reasons but as a result of a missile strike, though it is unclear who could have launched the missile. If this theory becomes popular, it will lead to a dramatic turn of events and the air crash will gain psychological importance in terms of future pressure on Iran, particularly from the United States," the expert pointed out.
When speaking about the possibility of Iran’s strikes on facilities belonging to the US and their allies in the Middle East, Barabanov assumed that the United Arab Emirates could become a target. "If it happens, the whole region will explode," he emphasized.
"If we leave Iraq out, then the nearest US bases are in Qatar and Turkey. However, Tehran maintains rather constructive relations with the two countries, while Saudi Arabia is Iran’s rival in the Islamic world along with its supporter, the UAE, that is in confrontation with Qatar. There is a proxy war going on between them, first and foremost, in Libya," the expert explained. "There is a US air base near Abu Dhabi in the UAE. That said, not Qatar but the UAE is likely to become the next target for Iran," Barabanov added.
He pointed to rather close cooperation between Qatar and Iran. "There were reports that after General Qassem Soleimani’s killing, the Qataris contacted the Iranians, probably in order to talk them out of a retaliatory strike on a US base in Qatar," he said. According to the expert, senior Iranian officials stated that if the US conducted another strike on Iran, Washington’s allies would suffer, "but they named Israel and the Emirates, not Qatar and Turkey."
Tensions around Iran
Tensions in the Middle East escalated following a US drone strike near Baghdad's airport on January 3, which killed General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force. Iran targeted Iraq’s Ain Al-Asad air base and a facility in Erbil, which house US troops, in retaliation for the attack.
Following Iran’s strikes, US President Donald Trump said in an address to the nation that "the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime." "These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior," Trump pointed out, adding, however, that "the United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it." Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi, in turn, told TASS that Tehran believed its response was enough in terms of retaliation, and did not plan to take further military action.
A Ukraine International Airlines flight en route from Tehran to Kiev crashed outside the Iranian capital on January 8. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadim Pristaiko, the crash killed 176 people, including citizens of Iran, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany and the United Kingdom.