From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much.
Mains level : Paper 2- International relations
The recent targeted killing of Commander of Quds Forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by the US raised the tension in the region to a new high level. The imminent blowback from Iran could have several consequences for the rest of the world including India.
Different from past killings
Though the U.S. has carried out many such targeted killings in the past but this case bears two important differences to the past killings.
Unlike Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr, Gen. Soleimani was a state actor.
Unlike the above mentioned two, he was not past his prime.
Roles played by Gen. Soleimani
He was the founder-commander of Iran’s Quds Force-formed for extra-territorial operations.
He enhanced Iran’s influence in the Arab countries by leveraging the disarray in the region.
Arab countries with a significant Shia population such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen came under Iranian influence.
What could be the fallouts
Tit-for-tat between Iran and the U.S. could easily go out of hand and precipitate into a major confrontation.
Both countries have domestic compulsions- there are elections due in both countries.
These compulsions limit options for both countries to low-intensity skirmishes.
The fact that the killing was carried on the Iraqi soil also assumes significance.
The incident could increase the problems in Iraq which is rocked by three months of youth protests against undue foreign interference by both Iran and the U.S.
The event is also likely to re-polarise the Iraqi society along sectarian lines.
In the worst-case scenario Iraq could turn into the new Syria.
Potential fallout for India
Global oil prices have already seen a 4% rise in within hours of the incident.
India has already faced difficulty in maintaining relations with both countries because of the U.S.-Iran cold war.
While we want to be on the right side of the U.S., our ties with Iran apart from being civilisational have their own geostrategic logic.
With conflict turning hot, its adverse impact on India could magnify.
High oil prices will definitely increase our import bill and increase difficulties in supplies.
Safety of an estimated 8 million expatriates in the Gulf may be affected.
Iran could influence the U.S.-Taliban peace process in Afghanistan which in turn increases India’s woes.
After Iran, India has a large number of Shia population and some of them could be radicalised due to the event.
The event, if turn into a wider conflict between the two countries, could have many consequences for India from soaring oil prices and maintaining the balance between the two countries to the safety of expatriates in the Gulf.
An ongoing armed conflict between the Syrian government and the rebel forces within Syria.
It started in the spring of 2011 with the context of Arab spring.
To understand the conflict let us know the historical background of Syria. So, where is Syria?
Syria is one of the Arab Nations which shares its borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq.
Damascus – capital of Syria.
Syria became independent in 1946.
Democratic rule was ended by a military coup in 1949.
The military rule ended in 1954.
From 1958-1961 Syria and Egypt were part of a union called as ‘United Arab Republic’ with Cairo as capital and Gamal Abdel Nasser as President.
In 1961, Syria seceded from the Union after the Syrian Coup d’êtat – uprising by the Syrian Army officers.
The country was named as Syrian Arab Republic.
But the government was weak. Why? Due to the influence of United Arab Republic and a military coup happened in 1963 and 1966.
That’s pretty complex! But UPSC is famous for asking about the details. What happened then?
In 1970, in another coup General Hafez al -Assad, the Minister of Defence seized the power.
He became the P.M of Syria.
In 1971, he was declared the President of Syria (until his death in 2000).
Syria was a single-party state.
Syrians could approve the President by referendum until the government controlled multi party 2012 election.
The Syrians could not vote in multiparty elections for the legislature.
The ascension of Bashar Al-Assad and the Shia-Sunni conflicts
Son of Hafez al-Assad – Took over as the President of Syria after his Father’s death.
The Syrians wanted democratic form of government but, ah well!
The Assads belong to minority group Alawite (an offshoot of Shia which constitutes 12% of the total population).
They controlled Syria’s security services which generated resentment among the Sunni Muslims (majority in Syria).
Phew! That is a very complex history. What happened next that finally led to the war? It is important to cover the story comprehensively for an IAS Aspirant.
Well, the discontent was high against the government in poorer areas among Sunnis + High poverty and drought.
Socio-economic inequality increased after free market policies initiated by Hafez al-Assad.
Bashar continued those policies and only the minorities (Shias) and Sunni merchant class benefited through that.
Standard of living deteriorated + High youth unemployment rates.
Then there were a few violation of human rights and eventually an uprising!
In 2010 the protests from Tunisia spread across the Arab world. In 2011 Tunisia and Egypt experienced revolution. Libya had its own civil war. The Tunisia and Egypt revolution inspired the Syrians to protest against their government.
Wow, that escalated quickly. So how did the protests turn into an armed rebellion?
March 2011 – The initial protests were aimed at democratic reforms which started in Damascus.
Till April 7, 2011, the protesters demanded democratic reforms, release of political prisoners, more freedom, abolition of emergency law and an end to corruption.
On April 8, 2011, the protesters demanded Bashar’s resignation and protests spread across major cities in Syria.
On 4th June, 2011, the Syrian security forces guarding on the roof of a post office fired at a funeral demonstration.
The protesters set fire to the post office and killed the security officers and then seized weapons from a police station.
The soldiers who refused to kill the protesters were executed and that led to the inclusion of soldiers into the protests to protect the protesters.
And that led to the formation of the Free Syrian Army
Formed by 7 Syrian officers who defected the Syrian armed forces. The other soldiers joined them.
The aim was to bring down Assad government.
Then the fight started between Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Armed Forces.
The people protested one side, the Syrian Kurds, FSA, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) started armed rebellion against the Syrian government.
ISIL controlled a third of Syrian territory and most of its oil and gas production.
This led to a major twist in the Syrian civil war.
Due to the civil war in the country huge scores of people died and many were displaced.
Many people fled from Syria to other nations as refugees.
This led to a major migrant crisis in the Middle East.
UPSC will probably grill you down to your guts on how this issue will complicate situation in the middle east. These are the current themes doing rounds as the news evolves and you need to keep a tab on these developments for the IAS Mains.