The killing of Qassem Soleimani
Major General Qassem Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s strategy for hegemony in the Gulf and the Middle East, the military commander and the diplomat behind the moves that led to its success in the survival of the Assad regime in Syria, the transformation of Hezbollah in the power broker in Lebanon, the penetration and territorial implantation in Syria, Iraq, Yemen through the use of insurgent Shia militias, and the Iranian partner of Russia in Syria.
The killing of Qassem Soleimani, the most powerful Iranian military commander, the long-serving head of Iran’s Quds (“Jerusalem”) Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), will have a major impact on the conflict between Iran and the United States and the situation in the Middle East.
It was a long due military move by the US, after President Trump decided not to respond to the Iranian attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf in May 2019, the downing of an American drone in June 2019, the attacks against two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, and the decision to withdraw most of US troops from Syria.
President Trump’s policy in the region has been seen by the Iranian leadership as a lack of political will by the US administration, in spite of the aggressive rhetoric of the President. Ayatollah Khamenei has often derided Trump’s bombastic rhetoric. 'You can't do a damn thing!' Iran's supreme leader declared, just after Donald Trump threatened to make him pay a 'big price' for the US embassy attack in Baghdad.
It is clear that Qassem Soleimani was in Baghdad in order to orchestrate the attack on the embassy, as the US accused him, possibly in the hope to repeat the famous occupation of the American embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979, when 52 American diplomats were taken hostage for 444 days.
Otherwise, what was he doing at the Baghdad airport in a car in the company of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Iran's man in Baghdad, deputy leader of Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Al-Muhandis was among the five PMF leaders who participated in person in the attack on the US embassy.
Ayatollah Khamenei vowed a "harsh" response to the assassination of Soleimani. The importance of Qassem Soleimani for the Iranian regime and for Khamenei personally (he called him “a living martyr of the Revolution” long before his death) can be judged by his decision to have three days of national mourning and the popular demonstration in his memory in the streets of Tehran.
Iran has a wide range of options to retaliate against the United States: military bases in Iraq itself, in Qatar, Saudi Arabia or Bahrein, military and civil naval traffic in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean or the Red Sea. It can also use its terrorist infrastructure around the world, as it proved by the foiled attacks in Europe during 2018, or the 2012 attacks, in cooperation with Hezbollah, in Asian, African and European countries.
However, the Tehran leaders have to take into consideration a possible escalation by the United States itself, which could provoke a war in not the best conditions for the regime.
As Israel was also accused to be part of the “conspiracy” in the killing of Soleimani, and Iran would like to retaliate for previous air attacks against its bases and proxies in Syria, some attacks could be staged also against the Jewish state, most probably from Syria.
Unfortunately, most of the leaders of the Democratic Party have criticized Trump for this targeting killing of a person responsible for the death of numerous American soldiers and civilians and of America’s allies in the region.
They should remember that Democrat President Jimmy Carter lost his bid for the second presidency because of the fiasco of the Tehran embassy hostage crisis. This is also probably one of the main reasons President Trump has had the courage to challenge the Iranian regime at this moment.
A number of international leaders have called for restraint and de-escalation following the targeted killing of Iran's top general, ordered by US President Donald Trump, as Iran's allies warned that the killing could spark conflict. As if Iran was innocent of the violence and the political instability which shake the region these last years.
Although this author has been critical of President Trump’s Middle Eastern policy, and his disastrous “flirt” with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un on the nuclear file, which clearly influenced the Iranian leaders’ behavior on this sensitive issue, there are sufficient reasons to applaud his decision to target General Soleimani.
- Soleimani had to be killed, and pity the US did not permit Israel to do it in 2008, because of his major impact on everything that happened in the Middle East in the last decade against US interests (and clearly also Israel's).
- Good that it was done in Baghdad in the company of Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, so that all those who have eyes and are not hypocrites (like some European leaders), understand that Soleimani was the mastermind of the attack on the embassy.
- Possibly it will encourage the huge popular movement in Iraq which opposes the Iranians.
- Trump had no choice but to order a major strike against Iran after a series of errors and negative moves in the Middle East which transformed him, and the United States, into a lame duck in the eyes of the Iranian leadership, including Soleimani, who had the hubris to arrive to Baghdad to continue his preparations for attacks against American interests in Iraq and beyond.
- Soleimani is not only an important symbolic target but the real strategist and tactician of the present Iranian activities in the Middle East, so he is a major loss for the regime.
- If the American strategic weakness continued, in any case, the US would lose Iraq and Syria, weaken its allies and strengthen not only the hegemony almost achieved by Tehran but also the Russian predominance in the region.
- It is quite sure that Trump decided to target Soleimani by instinct, without weighing all its consequences, but in the end, it was the best operational and strategic solution.
The fact that President Trump warned Iran that if it retaliates for the killing of Soleimani, it will face U.S. attacks on 52 targets, a number he said was symbolic, matching the number of hostages held by Iran in 1979, when 52 American diplomats and citizens were held for 444 days, only shows that he is aware of the trauma of this enormous event on the American psyche.