“…it can be argued that the challenges emanating from this sequence of events have the potential to be turned into golden opportunities to clip the Islamic regime’s wings in the Middle East and beyond.”
The United States’ spectacular and audacious January 3rd drone attack on Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force (the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard), followed by Iran’s cautious, measured retaliatory missile strike on U.S. bases in Iraq without human casualties, and then the shooting down of a Ukrainian commercial airliner by the Iranian air defense system have all been interpreted by many analysts and political commentators as a dangerous escalation of hostility between the United States and Iran. Contrary, however, to doomsday scenarios deployed by Democrats and aligned pundits on networks such as CNN and MSNBC, it can be argued that the challenges emanating from this sequence of events have the potential actually to be turned into golden opportunities to clip the Islamic regime’s wings in the Middle East and beyond.
As the head of the Quds Force and the architect of the Islamic regime’s regional security strategy, Qasem Soleimani was instrumental in masterminding sectarian division designed to create a Shiite crescent across the Middle East. Through mobilizing and organizing Shiite militias in Middle Eastern countries (particularly Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen) Soleimani oversaw the slaughter of many Syrian, Iraqi, and American soldiers. His demise, however, has been excoriated by Democrats in the United States. Former Vice President Joe Biden has even gone further by suggesting that by killing Qasem Soleimani, President Trump has: “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”
Contrary to Democrats’ boisterous condemnations of the elimination of Qasem Soleimani and his henchmen (which they have deplored as a dangerous and reckless undertaking that would expose U.S. interests to attacks by the Islamic regime and its proxies in the region), it can, instead, be argued that the extermination of Soleimani has, in fact, established a strong deterrence against attacks on the lives of Americans either by the Islamic regime or its proxies. This line of reasoning can be corroborated by two major developments following the drone strike. First, despite bellicose statements of condemnation and threats from Iranian officials to unleash decisive retaliations against U.S. bases in the region, the Islamic regime’s cautious and somehow measured missile response indicates the regime’s realization of the potential consequences of killing Americans. This explains why Iran eschewed inflicting human casualties on U.S. forces in their response to the Soleimani strike. The Iranian leadership has come to the painful realization that the Trump administration will not tolerate the loss of American lives. Had any Americans been killed, the United States would likely have responded with devastating military force, the sort of force that might, very well, have threatened the very survival of the Iranian regime.
Despite the Iranian regime’s history of recklessness and surreptitious terrorist activities, Iranian leaders are rational and would never mount a bloody military action against the United States that could drag them into a war, which could culminate in the disintegration of their very government.
Furthermore, the Islamic regime can no longer hide behind its proxies. The Trump administration has conspicuously signaled to Iran (and the rest of the world) that the Islamic regime would be held accountable for any actions taken by the regime’s proxies. This might also explain the watering down of rhetoric of retaliation by the regime’s armed allies in Iraq and Lebanon. Subsequent to the cautious January 8th missile attacks on U.S. bases, the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who had been vocal in opposing the presence of American forces in Iraq, declared the end of the crisis and called on all Iraqi militia units to cease military actions against the United States. al-Sadr further called for a closing down of extremist voices of rogue elements within those paramilitary units.
While the killing of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (the deputy leader of Hashd al-shaabi, the Shiite militia in Iraq sponsored by the Iranian regime) have been interpreted as providing a glue that can unite Iraqi and Iranians together in opposition to the United State, it can also be argued that the deaths of these figures might, in fact, pave the way for Iraqi patriots to regain their sovereignty through purging their country and their government of Iranian influences. During the last six months, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been demonstrating against both corruption and the Iranian influence in Iraq, and these demonstrations have continued even after the killing of those figures. Under the banners of “Keep Your War Away [from Iraq]” and Iraq Should Not Become a “Playground” for confrontations between the United States and Iran, Iraqi nationalists have found a golden opportunity to justify and advance their cause for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty.
The January 8th downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by Iranians missiles has also generated a compelling argument for those who believe that an irresponsible, incompetent, and inept regime in Tehran should never have access to nuclear weapons.
The January 8th downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by Iranians missiles has also generated a compelling argument for those who believe that an irresponsible, incompetent, and inept regime in Tehran should never have access to nuclear weapons. Whether or not it was an intentional missile attack on this commercial airplane necessitates further investigation by international investigators. As of now, it is not clear whether—in anticipation of possible American counterattacks to the missile attacks earlier that morning—the regime intentionally shot down the airplane. Perhaps also it was shot down in an effort to portray the United States as the culprit for this tragedy, thus potentially triggering a propaganda war against the United States. Since there was no American response to the regime’s retaliatory missile attacks, the Islamic regime encountered a perplexing post-attack environment, which might explain the government’s delay in revealing the truth. However, due to mounting evidence and international pressure, the regime did eventually claim responsibility.
In doing so, Iranian military officials have asserted that they had anticipated a U.S. counterattack, and, therefore, Iranian military units were on high alert. If this were the case—as has been suggested by Iranian regime officials—then why did the Iranian government elect not to close their airspace to civilian flights (a basic expectation during conflict)? Why did Iran’s Civil Aviation organization and military officials for three days adamantly dismiss the allegation that Iran was the one behind the downed airliner as illogical rumors and Western propaganda?
The reaction to all of this on the part of the Iranian people has created a formidable challenge for the regime. Protesting against the regime’s pattern of manipulation, deception, and concealment of the truth has caused Iranians to take to the streets in Tehran (and other cities) with slogans targeting the very foundation of the regime, as well as its top leadership. These protests have—to a large extent—tarnished the hard work on the part of the government in staging and coordinating huge demonstration to turn Qasem Soleimani into a national hero following his death. Indeed, left-leaning media outlets including CNN sedulously strove to capitalize on the staged demonstration in order to question the legitimacy of the U.S. drone attack on Soleimani. However, in recent demonstrations in Iran, demonstrators not only aimed their indignation and resentment at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but they also tore down banners depicting Soleimani, defacing posters with his likeness in several cities—a turn of events which has arguably disappointed many in the Democratic Party, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Perhaps most importantly, however, as Sadegh Zibakalam, a political scientist at Tehran University, has pointed out, signing a new nuclear agreement with the United States could put an end to the regime’s ability to use anti-Americanism as a legitimizing force to argue for the necessity of its own continued existence.
The bold and decisive action taken by President Trump in taking out Qasem Soleimani can be characterized as a bulwark of deterrence against any temptation on the part of the Iranian regime to kill Americans. Under the Trump administration, the era of appeasement (the hallmark of the Obama administration), which had emboldened the Islamic regime, is over. The killing of Soleimani on Iraqi soil has also provided greater latitude and justification for Iraqi nationalists to expunge their own government from Iranian influences. Furthermore, the display of ineptitude and incompetence in downing a civilian airplane will reinforce justifications on the part of the United States and its allies for why they believe Iran must not have access to nuclear weapons.
This chain of events inevitably ought to enervate the Islamic regime’s position on the world stage, but it will not automatically force the regime to crawl to a negotiating table to sign a new agreement on nuclear weapons; the Islamic regime may, instead, be gambling on delaying the signing of a new agreement with the hope a Democrat wins the presidential election in the United States. This could allow the regime to relapse back into meddling in the policy of neighboring countries. Perhaps most importantly, however, as Sadegh Zibakalam, a political scientist at Tehran University, has pointed out, signing a new nuclear agreement with the United States could put an end to the regime’s ability to use anti-Americanism as a legitimizing force to argue for the necessity of its own continued existence.
Sirvan Karimi is an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, York University.