Junk Explained: What’s Happening With Iran, And Will It Lead To World War III?

2020 is off to a roaring start.

Donald Trump

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Only days into 2020, World War Three was trending on Twitter. It’s an ominous way to start the decade — so how did we get to this point? It all centres on Iran and their conflict with the United States — but it’s having international ramifications.

What Happened Last Week?

On January 3 (US time), America assassinated one of the most powerful people in Iran.

Major General Qasem Soleimani was killed when the United States fired three missiles at Baghdad Airport. For more information on who Soleimani was and why he’s so important, it’s worth checking out these handy guides from CNN or the BBC.

In summary, he was head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, and controlled Iran’s proxy forces across the Middle East. He was widely beloved in Iran, and millions of people apparently gathered at his funeral on Tuesday. He also played a big role in spreading Iran’s influence across the Middle East.

America accused him of being a terrorist, claimed he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of troops, and said he was plotting “imminent” attacks. Doubt has since been cast on this.

The strike did come after the death of an American contractor in an attack in Iraq, for which the US blamed a militia group with Iranian connections.

After the news of the assassination broke, President Donald Trump tweeted out a picture of the American flag, invoking the intense nationalism they seem to be obsessed with over there.

Trump warned — on Twitter, because where else — that if Iran retaliated the US would strike back “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” (to be clear, the capitals are from Trump, not from me). But Iran did anyway.

On Wednesday they fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing US troops. There were no casualties.

One Iranian politician couldn’t help himself, taunting Trump by sharing an image of their own flag.

Some American officials suggested Iran deliberately avoided killing anyone so they could send a message to the US without escalating things further — to avoid looking weak without provoking another response.

But America’s top general believes Iran did try to kill US troops in the attack, and it was because of their defensive strategies that there were no casualties.

Anything else?

Shortly after the missile strike a Ukrainian airplane crashed after taking off from Tehran. All 176 people on board were killed.

Over the weekend, Iran admitted they shot down the plane after mistaking it for a missile.

Passengers included 78 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukranians, 10 Swedes, seven Afghans, four Britons and three Germans.

Immediately after the crash Iran tried to blame mechanical failure, and flatly denied any responsibility. They changed their tune after countries, including Australia and Canada, received intelligence saying otherwise.

Hundreds of protestors have since taken to the streets in Iran, angry at their government for lying.

So… Is This The Start Of World War Three?

Despite what Twitter thinks, probably not.

That didn’t stop the World War Three memes from flowing in.

Seriously though, since the strike neither country has declared plans for any more military action.

When it comes down to it America has the most powerful military force in the world — and while Iran has strong ties to China and Russia, the Iranian Foreign Minister said they “do not seek an escalation or war”.

American politicians are also trying to stop Trump from doing any more damage.

The House of Representatives has approved a resolution which would force Trump to get approval from Congress before entering into any more conflicts with Iran. This still needs to pass the Republican-held Senate.

So, Why Is Trump Obsessed With Iran?

Even before he was elected Trump was a bit obsessed with them, as this great video from The Daily Show highlights:

Relations between the two countries have gotten pretty nasty under Trump, particularly after he withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Agreement last year.

Under the deal Iran agreed to get rid of most of its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions being lifted. Following Soleimani’s death Iran has announced they will no longer commit to this deal, which the US has already abandoned.

Iran vs America — A Quick History

There have been a lot of twists and turns in the relationship between Iran and America — the ABC does a great explainer here.

The TL;DR version is that before the 50s, Britain more or less controlled oil in Iran — and made a lot of money off it. But in 1951 Iran elected a new Prime Minister, Mosaddegh, who kicked the British out and took back control of their oil fields.

The UK and the US didn’t like this, so they secretly organised a coup to get rid of him and put Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in power — the last Shah of Iran. The US helped fund the Shah’s autocratic regime, turning a blind eye to the economic collapse and human rights abuses taking place under his leadership.

In 1979 protests sparked a revolution, and the Shah fled to America. Iranians demanded he return to be prosecuted. Instead, America provided him with asylum and he underwent cancer treatment there.

Pissed, hundreds of students stormed the US embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage and demanded his return. The crisis lasted 444 days.

The relationship has never really recovered.

Immediately after Soleimani’s death, Trump referenced the hostage crisis, warning Iran that if they retaliated the US would next hit 52 important cultural sites (which is actually a war crime, by the way).

Is It Right To Be Making Memes About War?

At their best, memes are utilised as a tool for political discussion as well as a collective coping mechanism.

But as people are rightly pointing out, while we in the west make jokes the people in the Middle East — where the bombs are actually falling — are facing the real consequences of the conflict.

And it’s easy to rely on dark humour to make jokes when you’re not still coping with the trauma of the last war to hit your country.

What Does This All Mean For Australia?

The Australian Defence Force is located very close to the American base, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison said all ADF and diplomatic personnel in Iraq were safe.

We have about 450 military personnel based in Iraq, and ScoMo says we won’t be pulling troops out after the attacks.

As a side note, in the midst of Trump’s tweet storm — which consisted mostly of threats to “hit” Iran — he took time out to solidify his relationship with Australia by calling our Prime Minister to chat about the bushfires.

So, yep, still allies and all that.

Based on the events of the last week, it might be worth keeping all our heads down until 2021.