WASHINGTON, DC: Iran blinked in the standoff with the United States last night. Launching an ineffective barrage of missiles from Iran at American bases in Western Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Hitting empty airfields or not hitting their target at all.
This was a thinly disguised faux ‘retaliation” for the killing of Qasem Soleimani by an American airstrike three days ago.
Primarily for domestic Iranian consumption, Iran had to trumpet to their people that they had retaliated. But they did so in a way to assure there would be no additional retaliation from the United States. They forecast to the Iraqi’s that the missiles were coming. The Iraqi’s then telling the American troops, who were already aware of the incoming threat.
It signals an end to the immediate cycle of violence. It allows for a sense of de-escalation while allowing Iran to save face with its own people with a cosmetic airstrike that notably killed no Americans. Iranian media has trumpeted Iran’s decisive action. The rest of the world knows better. Iran blinked.
Iran: Stepping back from the brink of destruction
Diplomatic language from Iran immediately afterward indicated a willingness to refrain from additional escalation. President Trump took the opportunity this morning, as Defense Secretary Mike Esper did yesterday, of making clear that negotiations with Iran could begin at any time. Without preconditions.
As Esper also said yesterday, America doesn’t want to start a war with Iran, but it is also totally prepared to finish one decisively if war comes.
But the reality is that Iran has blinked in this confrontation. Stepping back from national suicide. This is the moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis where the Russian ships with nuclear components stopped short of the American blockade of Cuba. Iran had to do something, but they could not risk the inevitable devastating American response.
Soleimani’s death is devastating to Iran
The reality is that the killing of Qasam Soleimani is a crushing blow to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the long term plan for Iranian hegemony from Persia to Lebanon. Soleimani controlled Iranian Quds force activities in Gaza with Hamas. In Lebanon with Hezbollah. His IRGC and Hezbollah forces turned the tide of the civil war in Syria in Assad’s favor. He directed an alliance of pro-Iranian militia groups in Iraq.
He directed operations with the Houthi rebels in the devastating war in Yemen.
His death is more than a disruptive force. It is a body blow to Iranian aspirations across the Middle East. It sends a powerful signal to the region, especially Iran. But also to North Korea, the Taliban, Russia, and China. It sends a message to our allies as well. America will take decisive action to protect its interests.
Taking out the IRG command structure and militia leaders
The airstrike that killed Soleimani has left Tehran in shock and disarray. Their bellicose rhetoric notwithstanding, this has been a serious blow to the command structure within Iran and is a destabilizing force for the Ayatollahs. Not only was Soleimani blown to pieces, but two of his senior deputies were killed as well. Top generals in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Two leaders of the leading pro-Iranian militias in Iraq were killed in the airstrike as well. Including the leader of the militia that laid siege to the American embassy the day before. Two more leaders of two other pro-Iranian militias were blown up the next day in an airstrike on their motorcade. The US government denied responsibility, but if it wasn’t them, it was certainly Iraqi special forces. At any rate, dead is dead.
The entire spectrum of leadership for these militias has now been largely decimated. The remaining pro-Iranian militia leaders, including Muqtada Al Sadr, are in hiding, fearing that they are next. They have good reason to think so. (Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr bashes Trump as ‘son of gambling halls’)
In Tehran: A leadership in disarray
Within Iran itself, the leadership around Ayatollah Khamenei is in shock. They can appoint a replacement for Soleimani, and they already have. But they can never replace the charisma he had. The stature he commanded. His replacement is a long time aide, a Brigadier general.
But it was Soleimani alone who had command of the full range of Quds force activities. He had the relationships. The strategic vision.
Taking out Soleimani, and his top two generals, as well as four leading pro-Iranian militia leaders, is a powerful signal to Iranian allies throughout the region. If I was Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, I would be fairly nervous about any hasty actions against Israel. Russia and Assad in Syria were so unnerved by Soleimani’s demise that Vladimir Putin met with Assad in Damascus to assure him of Russia’s continued support. (Putin visits Assad in Syria in wake of Suleimani killing)
In Tehran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is in tatters. Soleimani had just directed the merciless slaughter of over 2000 Iranian civilians by IRGC forces during demonstrations throughout Iran in November. He was the second most powerful man in Iran, and the most fearsome. His death leaves more than a vacuum. It opens a glimmer of hope that the police state apparatus has been weakened. That there is disarray in the leadership.
Game changer: A decisive victory for America
Iranian rhetoric will continue to be bellicose. America will continue to ratchet up the sanctions. Iranian behavior will almost certainly be more cautious in the months to come. They will need to be. Iran now knows that under Trump, retribution will be fierce and swift. American troops will not be leaving Iraq anytime soon. Disturbances in Iran are sure to escalate, as the regime becomes weaker and weaker, at home and abroad.
But make no mistake. In this latest confrontation, Iran has blinked. The road to de-escalation is open. Whether Iran takes it is up to them. Trump has made clear that American policy toward Iranian aggression is unwavering.
Iran’s tepid response to Soleimani’s demise is a clear signal that they are not ready to escalate a situation they know will lead to their destruction. Donald Trump has emerged from this situation immeasurably stronger. Soleimani’s death has stunned the Iranian regime. The signal of American resolve has been clearly received.
Not just in Tehran, but in Pyong Yong, Damascus, Moscow, and Beijing as well.
Lead mage: A U.S. service member patrols in Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps/Jason W. Fudge)