Iran’s 9/11 Moment with US Killing Soleimani: What to Expect Next?

It’s a very difficult choice for the leaders in Iran & the US, but the White House has already crossed the Rubicon.

Updated
Opinion
6 min read
General Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite al-Quds force and architect of its regional security apparatus, was killed following a US airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport on Friday, 3 January.
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Snapshot

1. For the people of Iran, the news of killing of their hero, Gen Qasem Soleimani, is certain to come as a terrible shock and infuriate them to frenzy.

2. Iranian Foreign Minister Zawad Jariff has called it an act of ‘international terrorism’. It is the 9/11 moment for Tehran.

3. Is this a planned move by President Trump to revive and re-build the Islamic State or is it a direct provocation to Iran to declare a suicidal war on the US?

4. Will President Trump, who has repeatedly pulled back from the brink of ordering a strike on Iran finally go the whole hog?

5. Will the NATO forces join the US when it has struck the first blood? Most unlikely.

When I went to Tehran in December 2015, I saw these huge billboards of a General smiling down on the people of Tehran in a benign way, all along the streets from the airport to the city centre. I asked my Iranian guide, who was taking me to the International Conference on Terrorism that the Government of Iran was hosting, as to who was that? He said very proudly, that is General Qasem Soleimani, our national hero who is fighting the war against the ISIS in Syria.

What surprised me was that his pictures seemed to dominate next only to that of the two Ayotallahs: the founding Ayotallah of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ruholla Khomeini and the present leader, Ayotallah Ali Khameni. More importantly, his image was being actively promoted by the regime as a national hero and that the common man in Iran knew that he and his paramilitary force, the al-Quds, were fighting the ISIS in Syria. This was a time when the Gulf Kingdoms; Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait were all hiding their involvement in Syria. And so was Turkey.

Killing the Man Who Fought Off the ISIS

So for the people of Iran, the news of killing of their Hero––Gen Qasem Soleimani––is certain to come as a terrible shock and infuriate them to frenzy. They all believed that the ISIS was evil and fighting it was the duty of every civilized nation. They believed in the rhetoric of President Obama who had declared his intent to put an end to this scourge on humanity.

The conference that we were attending was actually meant to tell the world that real terrorists were those that were destabilizing nations by carrying out sectarian killings, the Sunni forces that were killing Shias in Iraq and Alawaites in Syria. Iran, through this conference, stretched out its hand of cooperation to any country that would fight this savage force called the ‘Daesh’ or the ISIL or ISIS an acronym given by the Western media.

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets the family of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani.
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets the family of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani.
(Photo: AP/PTI) 

But the Iranians soon realized that the West had different priorities and finally their trusted friend Russia was the only country that would join hands with Iran in defeating the Daesh.

The Pentagon has revealed that President Trump had directed them to take out Gen Soleimani and the targeted attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Mahindis, the Iraqi-Iranian Military Commander and head of the Popular Mobilization Committee (Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi) who closely fought along with the Quds force against the Islamic State forces.

Provoking Iran to Start a War

What does it say when President Trump orders the killing of the two most powerful enemies of the Islamic State and before that pulls out the American troops that were fighting the Islamic State and lets President Erdogan of Turkey to move his troops into Syria to eliminate the Kurdish forces that were fighting the ISIS?

President Donald Trump, left, talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President Donald Trump, left, talks to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

And the Turkish backed ‘Free Syrian Army’ fights the Kurdish Defence forces and gets thousands of ISIS fighters imprisoned under Kurdish control to escape from their prisons.

Is this a planned move by Presidents Trump and Erdogan to revive and re-build the Islamic State or is it a direct provocation to Iran to declare a suicidal war on the US? A move that several Republican Senators and the former National Security Advisor of Trump, John Bolton were frantically hoping. And so were Benjamin Netanyahu, the beleaguered President of Israel and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who desperately needed someone to distract the world’s attention from Jamal Khashoggi.

Iran’s 9/11 Moment

It is clear as daylight that Iran has to react and retaliate to the US for the targeted killing of Gen Soleimani. Iranian Foreign Minister Zawad Jariff has called it an act of ‘international terrorism’. It is the 9/11 moment for Tehran. Iranian leaders are unlike President Trump and will be slow and deliberate in their action. What means will they adopt, their own military and air force, or their proxies––the Muqtada al-Sadr force in Iraq, or the Hezbollah in Lebanon?

Will they attack the US troops in Iraq, or its bases in the region and directly up the ante or will they target its allies––the Saudis and Israelis and take in a lesser hit?

For Tehran, it’s a choice between a rock and a hard place. It avoided war with the US for all these years despite continuous provocations by President Trump who walked out of the JCPOA (the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5 + Germany) and then re-imposed harsh sanctions, declared the al Quds force and its chief Gen Soleimani as ‘international terrorists’ and finally ordered his killing. Iran is now pushed to the wall and has to fight back.

Will any of Iran’s allies stand by its side? It has none excepting Russia and President Putin will be happy to supply it with arms and ammunition and aircrafts but will be loathe to join the war.

Can Trump Afford to Declare War on Iran?

First and foremost question is whether an ‘Impeached President’ or one who is awaiting Senate trial for impeachment is authorized to declare war? That’s what most Democrats in the Congress seriously doubt, while the Republicans would have no such qualms, especially when a good war is in sight.

Will President Trump, who has repeatedly pulled back from the brink of ordering a strike on Iran finally go the whole hog? It means going against his campaign promise that America has no business fighting costly wars in faraway lands and that he would get all his troops back home. When he is about to launch a re-election campaign and get the last of the American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, does he really need another war and put boots on the ground either in Iraq or Iran?

Will the NATO forces join the US when it has struck the first blood? Most unlikely. President Trump is not a coalition builder unlike his predecessor and is a lone ranger and doesn’t need allies.

Either way, it’s a very difficult choice for the leaders in Tehran and Washington, but the White House has already crossed the Rubicon and there is probably no way it can turn back. War seems imminent and it will be unlike any that the US has fought in the region, so far. The Tigris and the Euphrates valley and the mountains of Alborz will see a lot of bloodshed in the years to come and the men will never learn what the mountains know, as Daliah Lavi famously said.

(Ravi Joshi was formerly with the Cabinet Secretariat and is now a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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