With the recent state-sponsored assassination of Iran's Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Qud's force, a specialized unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for military intelligence and unconventional warfare, it is important to look at the bigger picture, particularly, the relationship between Iran and the world's two other dominant geopolitical forces.
Let's start with this recent development:
Let's start by looking at the relationship between Russia and Iran. It is clear that diplomacy between Russia and Iran is relatively healthy, in fact, this important high level meeting recently occurred:
Here is a press release from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the assassination (thanks to Google Translate):
"On January 3, a telephone conversation took place between Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State M. Pompeo.
The situation was discussed in connection with the assassination by the US military of the commander of the special forces of the Iranian "Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps" K. Suleymani during an attack on Baghdad airport. Sergey Lavrov emphasized that the targeted actions of a UN member state to eliminate officials of another UN member state, moreover, on the territory of a third sovereign state without its knowledge, flagrantly violate the principles of international law and deserve condemnation.
The Russian Minister pointed out that this step by the United States is fraught with grave consequences for regional peace and stability, does not contribute to efforts to find solutions to the complex problems that have accumulated in the Middle East, but, on the contrary, leads to a new round of escalation. Moscow urges Washington to abandon illegal power methods to achieve its goals in the international arena and solve any problems at the negotiating table." (my bolds)
Now, let's look at what China has to say about the assassination as reported in this opinion piece from the Global Times (the Chinese Communist Party's daily newspaper):
Here's a key excerpt:
"One certain thing is that the US action will cause much more anger and hostility than fear against the US in Iran and areas that support Iran. Since the war in Afghanistan, the US has killed many senior officials and even leaders of its deemed rivals. With the high price it paid, did Washington successfully deter those in the Middle East who hate the US? The answer is apparently no. Anti-US forces have been growing all the time.
From the US assisting Israelis in fighting and negotiating with Arabs, to its support for the "Arab Spring" to helping Israel and Sunni regimes confront Shia regimes, the US has always had enemies in the Middle East.
Washington has underestimated the serious political consequences of killing Soleimani. The warning of "a harsh retaliation" by Khamenei is more than just a threat, but represents the sentiment and voice of Shia society in the Middle East. Even if the Iranian government doesn't retaliate, how about some regional forces?
The US is too powerful. Facing a challenge, it tends to believe the use of force is the best choice. But the use of force can only lead to death. It cannot transform people's will.
It's fair to say the US Middle East policy is a failure. Washington today cares more about how to woo American voters to support the current government. It has little interest in working out a long-term solution to the Middle East problem, but is more willing to conduct short-term operations." (my bolds)
If we look further back to June 2016, Russia and China agreed to a "Declaration of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China on the Promotion of International Law", a declaration that seems aimed directly at American global geopolitical interventionalism as quoted in part here:
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China reiterate their full commitment to the principles of international law as they are reflected in the United Nations Charter, the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. They are also guided by the principles enshrined in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. The principles of international law are the cornerstone for just and equitable international relations featuring win-win cooperation, creating a community of shared future for mankind, and establishing common space of equal and indivisible security and economic cooperation.
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China share the view that the principle of sovereign equality is crucial for the stability of international relations. States enjoy their rights on the basis of independence and on an equal footing, and assume their obligations and responsibilities on the basis of mutual respect. States have the right to participate in the making of, interpreting and applying international law on an equal footing, and have the obligation to comply with international law in good faith and in a coherent and consistent manner.
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China reaffirm the principle that States shall refrain from the threat or use of force in violation of the United Nations Charter and therefore condemn unilateral military interventions.
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China fully support the principle of non-intervention in the internal or external affairs of States, and condemn as a violation of this principle any interference by States in the internal affairs of other States with the aim of forging change of legitimate governments. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China condemn extraterritorial application of national law by States not in conformity with international law as another example of violation of the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States....
The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China share the view that good faith implementation of generally recognized principles and rules of international law excludes the practice of double standards or imposition by some States of their will on other States, and consider that imposition of unilateral coercive measures not based on international law, also known as «unilateral sanctions», is an example of such practice. The adoption of unilateral coercive measures by States in addition to measures adopted by the United Nations Security Council can defeat the objects and purposes of measures imposed by the Security Council, and undermine their integrity and effectiveness....
In line with their relationship of strategic partnership, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are resolved to further enhance their cooperation in upholding and promoting international law and in establishing of a just and equitable international order based on international law." (my bolds)
We can pretty much assure ourselves that Iran and its proxies will respond in some fashion. What is more frightening is the prospect that China and Russia will back Iran and that the situation will escalate far beyond a conflict between Washington and Tehran. All that Washington has accomplished with this assassination of a key Iranian figure is to once again stir up a hornet's nest with its "big stick" policy.