What will the Iranians do now? There are cries for revenge following the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, accompanied by red lights around the holy city of Qom. We are taking the threats seriously, as is proper, and we are pressing ahead with arrests of Iranian agents in Iraq, and air strikes against still other agents on the ground in Iraq.
The latest tweeted news from Iraq — subject to confirmation — is that Iranian-armed groups have seized control of Tahrir Square in Baghdad. And in Iran itself the demonstrations against the regime continue with chants of “Money for Iran, not for Syria, Gaza. Yemen and Lebanon.”
So Iran has some difficult decisions. They and their proxies, such as Hezbollah, promise revenge, but they have to decide if Trump has changed.
At the beginning of the Trump Administration, the Iranians feared the American president would challenge the regime. The Iranians have always been afraid of a direct conflict with the United States, and they were careful to farm out their strikes against Washington, D.C. and its allies to their proxies, from Hezbollah to Islamic Jihad. Trump wanted a deal, and for a while he was swayed by the likes of Rand Paul, who advised the president to pursue an agreement with the mullahs.
The effort failed. Ayatollah Khamenei did not, and does not want a deal with the Americans. Khamenei was stalling for time, hoping that the 2020 elections would result in a Trump defeat, and hence a more Obama-ish president. Meanwhile, attacks against us continued apace, reaching their apex with the killing of an American contractor in Iraq.
Trump had changed his mind; he saw the Iranian position accurately, and unleashed the American military against Iranians in Iraq. To the astonishment of the Iranian regime, it was not a case of tit-for-tat. Trump approved a full response, from drone attacks to air assaults, to the use of special forces and a rapid reinforcement of American strength on the ground. Soleimani and his buddies were killed. The Iraqi Parliament declined to throw out American forces, and, in polling results, 67% of Iraqis said they were in favor of maintaining security agreements with the U.S.
There is a lot going on, and a lot of confusion, much of it revolving around the notion that “war” between Iran and the United States has become more likely.
That is misguided. As Eli Lake tweeted, it’s misleading to say that the killing of Soleimani is the opening of a new war…It’s more accurate to say that it opens a new chapter in an ongoing war, a war that Iran declared immediately following the revolution of 1979. The new chapter is reminiscent of the older ones. An intermediary from Oman was told by the Tehran regime that Iran is not interested in having the Omanis mediate disagreements with America. The Iranian leaders said they would only seek revenge for the death of Soleimani.
One of the keenest observers of the situation, Omar Taheri, recently tweeted that all the Iranian bluster about the Soleimani killing should not distract us from reality:
Soleimani was a cog, OK a big cog, in an infernal machine that remains operational & must be broken. We must remain focused on our real goal: the dissolution of the Islamic Republic.
Ali Khamenei knows these things, and the mass repression of recent times shows he fears his own people more than any other thing. He has long feared that the United States would galvanize a monster uprising against him and his failed state, and the killing of Soleimani must have been a real shock. He was counting on time, and a miraculous defeat of Trump in November, to change his destiny, but the president has, at least for the moment, put paid to those hopes.
There will now be an effort to show that the Iranian people have rallied to the support of the regime. If you look carefully at the faces of the mob at the funeral celebrations all around the country, you will see the same faces over and over again. That is because the regime can count only on the support of their own: the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, bits and pieces of the army. Those unworthies will be on trains and buses from Mashad to Tehran, paid and fed by the regime, pretending to rally in support of the martyr. And the regime will beat its chest, threaten all manner of revenge, and continue with the old, proven methods of bringing pressure to bear on the West, above all taking hostages throughout the third world.