06 January 2020

By killing general Soleimani, US got rid of a terrorist and offered Iran a martyr

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

The January 2nd 2020 morning drone attack, which killed General Qassem Soleimani, leader of Al-Quds Force, the foreign wing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, triggered and still produces a lot of emotion both regionally and internationally. President Donald Trump’s decision, less explained and quite modestly celebrated after its execution, is raising many questions on the reasons behind the decisions and particularly its consequences. There are many questions, but not due to the lack of information on the operation itself, but the stance of different state or non-state actors on this event. What’s unclear on the following developments is how this event will be regarded beyond the decisional factors or people craving for sacrifice’s meaning. And that could trigger possible attempts of regional officials to maintain continuity and stability of regimes they represent.

Image source: Mediafax

Predictions of an Israeli general

Only a few days before killing Qassem Soleimini, Israeli general in reserve, Yaakov Amidror, former national security adviser of prime-minister Netanyahu and former head of the Research Department of Israeli military intelligence, was saying that, in 2020, Israel will experience two major treats, both coming from Iran, however, materialized in Syria and Lebanon. 2020 was going to be “Iran’s year” or the “year of Iran’s stop”, and in order to neutralize these threats, they had to:

1. create Iranian capabilities in Syria, particularly close to the Israeli border;

2. consolidate Hezbollah capabilities in Lebanon and Syria, particularly on the arsenal of 100.000 missiles.

Israel could and had the right to act preventively. According to Israeli general, it was “an option imposed because others were getting to many equipment that if they are not attacked first, they will not be defeated ever.” And the decision had to be made because there is a fragile balance between “legitimacy and existential threat”, where the existential threat asks for decisions.

Only a few days after this prediction, some of the things he said actually happened. It was a preventive hit, it was Iran, it was considered that the threat was big (“what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well”, stated State Secretary, Mike Pompeo), but Israel was not involved, as the preventive –and punctual- strike was executed by US military forces against the one to materialize and highlight both threats the Israeli general was talking about.

Controversies of the presidential decision

If there is a Pandora's box that has opened up about possible consequences of Iranian general’s death, one can say, especially politically and legally speaking, there is one that has a long series of questions on decision’s moment, its opportunity, reason and estimations behind it or the risks President Trump has taken.

The restrained tone that followed this decision was unprecedented - not only because of its implications, but also because no one expected to come from a president who hesitated to take action - with a single Twitter message, illustrated with an American flag, it could be explained either by the desire to cool things down, or by becoming aware of its implications. There are two important questions to ask:

1. Why now?

2. What’s next?


For the first one, a first response could be the attack of Iraqi demonstrators, identified as a maneuvering strategy of pro-Iranian Shia militias over the US Embassy in Baghdad. The specter of a besieged US embassy, ​​close to being occupied by demonstrators instigated by US hostile forces, has most likely awakened memories old for decades, when the US Embassy in Tehran witnessed such incidents that led to the fall, of an American president, Jimmy Carter, by losing the election afterwards.

The instigator had to be punished. Its identification was not difficult, because any Middle East action or operation, military or para-military, which has a Shia combatant participation, had to be organized by General Qassem Soleimani. Not only by its enemies or Iran’s, but also its partners and friends or Iran’s.

The Iranian general has been a target for both the US and Israel throughout 2003. There have been many incidents during all this time, but also opportunities to eliminate him.

Therefore, why now?

Was the attack on the embassy the element that tipped the balance? A top Turkish editorialist also stated other questions. Has it been planned before? Who were the supporters and who were, possibly, those who opposed the decision within the Administration? Was it just president's decision? Were there any differences of opinion between US intelligence agencies and structures? Were short-and medium-term options considered to prevent any consequences? Can US policy against Iran change? Will US intervene to protect its allies in the region or beyond in the face of an Iranian attack? Has another country been involved in the planning, decision and actual execution of this attack? And if the answer to this last question is "yes", how much did elements outside the US Administration have a say in this regard?

The questions are mentioned in a newspaper controlled by the government of an allied US country.

We cannot answer for the ones these questions were addressed to, and some questions are asked to suggest answers. There are, however, some records, noted by most analysts from the international media:

-The death of the Iranian general is potentially more dangerous, due to the consequences it can trigger, than the previous, still violent, disappearance of terrorist leaders, such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Behind those two, there were terrorist groups prepared for revenge. The Iranian general is claimed by one country and, largely, by combatant majority in two other states;

- estimated consequences are not that positive for the US presence in the region, but are more satisfying for Israel;

- President Trump is free from “the weak aura against Russia”, after eliminating a high-rank collaborator of Russian forces dislocated in Syria;

- Far from calming the spirits in the region, claimed by the usual political-diplomatic phrase "the world is, starting today, a safer place", taking down the Iranian general produces an exodus of US civilian employees from Iraq  to the outside, as well a reverse one, of members of special forces sent in particular to military bases in Kuwait. States with interests and presence in the region warn citizens to leave or bypass Iraq, pro-Iranian groups send condolences and messages of revenge;

-the step US took, by eliminating military officials on their own terrorist list, but at the same time being high ranking officials in states  such as Iraq, which do not assume these definitions, also having relations with partnership with US, opens legal controversy, including within UN, on the use of drones for extrajudicial executions;

- though planned to be only a severe warning to Iran, the strike of the "MQ-9 Reaper" drone may be the trigger for an escalation that neither party wants, at least declaratively, but that lead to uncontrollable explosion. The general's achievements in promoting Iran's offensive agenda are outweighed by the symbolism that made him a heroic landmark for several tens of millions of Shia Muslims. It is less relevant to the region that the rest of the world, although not unanimous here, considered him a terrorist and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US military and thousands of citizens from several states. For millions of Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemeni, mostly co-religionists, but not only, General Qassem Soleimani was the hero of the day;

-phone talks of State Secretary Pompeo with counterparts from the region and Europeans were and were not enthusiastic answers to the option presented by the US Administration on operation’s reasons and the opportunity:

-the new EU head of European affairs, the Spanish Josep Borrell, called on all actors involved "to be restrained and show responsibility ";

-the French president also asked “restraint”, meanwhile

-the British Foreign Office secretary, Dominic Raab, stated that “situation’s de-escalation” would be key

Hereof the definition that there should be no pressure between partners – right? - made by the US secretary to the European allies: "The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well".

Europeans do not seem that convinced about it.

Turkey, the NATO ally, expressed "concern" and called for "avoiding unilateral steps that would jeopardize region’s stability", while Russia defined the operation as "an adventurous attempt that will raise local tension." A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson used the same terms as the British one;

- to make things even more difficult, the Representative Chamber’s president, Nancy Pelosi, states that the incident “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America — and the world — cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return”.

What’s next?

Paradoxically, it seems that the answer is easier this time. There is already an undeclared war in the region, not so visible, besides those still undeclared bloody and endless ones. The main fighters just stab each other, threaten, and ask different friends and supporters to strike where they do not want to be seen. So far, they have not crossed the threshold of a direct confrontation.

This time, things are different. General Soleimani was a close relative of Iranian supreme leader and people’s favorite. His disappearance cannot be left out in the cold because he was the successful image of Tehran regime in the region. How will things evolve? Here one can speculate or analyze, to use a more confident term on the accuracy field’s developments review, given the available public information.


Then, how will Tehran react? Most likely, indirectly, according to Soleimani’s doctrine. They can hit classic targets, close to proxy groups: embassies, civilian institutions, oil infrastructure. When? Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in a year, or three. Potential listings with objectives considered Iranians are being circulating on the media.

These lists may stop where the real ones start. Subsequent developments may be opposed to those intended by the US Administration and President Trump, when it is concluded that taking down the general will end Iran's involvement in the region. And the attacks on diplomatic representations. Or against American contractors at different companies in Iraq.

Following the 2003 US intervention in Iraq, which besides taking down a dictator, it was considered that it will block Iran's ambitions in the West, Tehran became a regional power, while US troops witnessed dramatic decreases. Similarly, among the consequences of General Soleimani’s death, forced we may also see the forced departure of 5000 US military, still inside the Iraqi borders. Even the 1,000 dislocated in Syria may not feel very comfortable. Iraqi politicians who ensured their future on the American presence are starting to become a minority. And the Mahdi Army, belonging to the cleric who became a politician, Muqtada al-Sadr, is tightening its ranks.

Certainties that concern

There is a concerning tone in most public statements following the Baghdad attack. In the US, among Congress members, in Europe, in Asia. White House and Israel officials are among the few who say that everything was a calculated, decisive operation that can change the Middle East situation for good. But in Jerusalem they tooK interdiction measures near the borders, the army stands at attention, the population is trained to be prepared.  

Lately, Iran has been experiencing problems due to living standards decrease following US sanctions. The regime started to lose more and more supporters, and Tehran's voice was becoming less and less heard in Syria, for example, covered by Turkey and Russia initiatives. The Iranian state-theocratic construction solidity hides cracks that could be extended.

After deciding to take down General Qassem Soleimani, President Trump helped the Khamena ayatollah in restoring national cohesion, has offered a symbol to show to the crowds.

If in terms of Israeli general's prediction the existential threat was easily explained, and his decision to fight it was covered lacking alternatives, Trump's decision seems unplanned, although the political, military and diplomatic maneuvering space the US has is much bigger. The unpredictability is seen, in this case, as force element, sending the Tehran regime the message that there are no red lines for President Trump to cross. The only problem is that, with this decision, by creating martyrs the crowds identify with the events can be out of control.

This is how statements concerning tone could be explained. The Tehran and Baghdad regimes are and will be interested in stability after General Soleimani's disappearance. The confrontational rhetoric stops, however, when it comes to survival. But will they do, however, when they will have to face some masses who have just been offered a martyr?  

The situation was synthesized by one of the US Congress members, Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democratic representative in the House of Representatives, who characterized General Soleimani as "an enemy of the United States, with American blood on his hands," but continuing, rhetorically: "But the question we've grappled with for years in Iraq was how to kill more terrorists than we create ... That's an open question tonight as we await Iran's reaction to Donald Trump's escalation, which could ignite a regional war, with still no strategy from the administration.”

As former participant at the 2003 Iraq campaign, in a war he defined as “he didn’t agree with – but he was proud to go”, congressman Moulton probably knows better than anyone that when it comes to Middle East conflicts, the only certain thing is the beginning.