The United States and Iran staged a military tit-for-tat in what could develop into a chain of retaliation, which must be broken at the earliest moment possible.
Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two military bases in Iraq hosting U.S. and other troops. Tehran announced that the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani by the United States. It also threatened severe revenge should the U.S. military fight back, and warned U.S. allies in the region for possible reprisals if they cooperated with Washington.
While Iran has justified its wave of attacks as exercising its right to self-defense guaranteed under the United Nations Charter, the missile attacks have certainly heightened tensions in the Middle East. If the exchanges of fire are to continue, it is feared to lead to a major showdown between the U.S. and Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country was not seeking "escalation or war." Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Washington was aiming to ease tensions with Iran.
If that's the case, both parties should first refrain from any provocative words and actions.
U.S. President Donald Trump called Suleimani a "monster," but questions have been raised even in the United States over whether the decision to slay the top Iranian commander was right.
There is growing anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran and Iraq, raising the risk for any impulsive language and behavior to spark contingencies. Washington should refrain from overreacting to the current circumstances.
Iran has claimed that its missile attacks were a retaliation on par with the U.S. killing of the Iranian general. However, intensive missile attacks could lead many lives to be lost, only aggravating the situation.
The international community should also call for the alleviation of tensions between Iran and the United States. The U.N. Security Council is said to be unable to issue a statement as the U.S. is at odds with China and Russia over the Suleimani killing.
European countries have shown understanding toward the slaying while Beijing and Moscow have condemned it. If the divide between major countries over their interests in the Middle East is left to deepen, it could lead to growing tension in the international community as well.
As Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the first three countries and the latter two should urge Washington and Tehran, respectively, to refrain from escalating the situation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering postponing his planned visit to the Middle East from its original schedule in mid-January, apparently in consideration of the worsening situation in the region. Some of the European troops stationed in Iraq are set to start withdrawing from the area.
In spite of the changing geopolitical landscape, the Japanese government is poised to deploy the Maritime Self-Defense Force to the region as scheduled. Now that the preconditions for the deployment have changed from the time it was decided, however, it is only natural to reconsider the plan.