(January 3, 2020 / JNS) The American airstrike assassination of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad early on Friday follows a major miscalculation on the part of Tehran in the decision to up the ante against the United States.
While the extent of Iran’s response is not yet clear, military planners in the region, including in Israel, will need to prepare for the most severe scenarios. Even though Iran may seek to launch a calculated retaliation, which would exact a price without going to war, no one can be sure of where events will go next.
Indications of Iran’s intent to escalate in the region were already apparent in late November, when U.S. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command responsible for the Middle East, warned that Iran was planning a major attack on the scale of its cruise missile and drone assault on Saudi oil fields in September.
Hours before the American airstrike on Soleimani’s vehicle in Baghdad, American Defense Secretary Mark Esper repeated the warning that Iran is planning further strikes on the United States and its regional interests, and said that America will take preventive action to defend the lives of its forces and civilians.
The intensification had been gradually brewing, with an American contractor killed in a rocket attack that was launched by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia on a military base in northern Iraq on Dec. 27. America’s reply was crushing: An airstrike on the militia’s bases in Iraq and Syria on Dec. 30, resulting in dozens of casualties, including Iranian officers. That was a warning Iran failed to heed.
The Iranians sent militia-supporting mobs to attack the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31, representing an Iranian attempt to keep up the pressure on America while maintaining plausible deniability.
Soleimani was involved in all of those incidents, and his arrival in Iraq on Friday was an indication of his intent to continue to activate his influence to the detriment of American forces.
He has spent years building a multinational terrorist army and destabilizing the region. In fact, he was the right-hand man of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reporting directly to him and tasked with implementing Khamenei’s radical vision of Iranian hegemony in the region.
Soleimani built proxy forces that are deployed in Iraq (home to some 100,000 armed Shi’ite militia members), in Syria and in Lebanon (home to the most heavily armed non-state terror army in the world).
Soleimani provided significant assistance to Gaza’s terror factions, enabling them to fire rocket on Tel Aviv, as well as to forces in Yemen, which fire missiles at Saudi cities. He fed Iran’s proxies with advanced weapons, training and cash, and drew up their doctrines and missions.
He also ordered a long series of armed attacks on U.S. interests and bases, as well as against the civilians, armies and strategic targets of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.
‘Designed to prevent operation Iranians were planning’
Soleimani was working to surround Israel with missile bases and terror groups, and was ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction. He was hard at work building a war machine in Syria, after helping Syrian President Bashar Assad win the civil war—a war that prevailed as a result of mass killings and countless war crimes against Sunnis in order to rescue the pro-Iranian Damascus regime.
Soleimani’s goal was to spread Iran’s radical Shi’ite agenda throughout the region, neutralize American influence and intimidate states that stood in his way. He brutally repressed Shi’ites in Iraq, who were fed up with their Iranian-influenced corrupt government. Under Soleimani’s directive, militias in Iraq turned into death squads, mercilessly gunning down hundreds of protesters on Iraqi streets—meaning that many Iraqis will not be upset to see his departure from the scene.
In their choice to step up attacks on the world’s top superpower, Soleimani and the Iranian regime made a number of critical errors in recent weeks. Attacking Americans in Iraq was one; Khamenei’s taunt of Trump on Twitter, saying that the U.S. president was powerless to act in Iraq was another; and the mob attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was a third mistake, which touched on a highly sensitive American nerve. The U.S. establishment has painful memories from the embassy siege in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 2012 attacks on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
The Iranians displayed a major miscalculation in failing to understand how the U.S. would view these incidents, and when Soleimani arrived in Baghdad—apparently to plan more attacks—the miscalculation only grew.
“The highly vigorous American response points to the fact that from the U.S.’s standpoint, the Iranians crossed a red line, and it seems the Americans had intelligence that the Iranians were going to cross further red lines,” Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, told JNS.
“The American response is a warning to the Iranians, but also it is designed to prevent the operation that the Iranians were planning,” added Amidror, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies. “Since we do not know how the Iranians will respond, the assessments are not important. We must assume that the Iranians will respond, and we have to be ready for this response.”
That readiness should include intensive intelligence-gathering activity with a major focus on identifying Iranian preparations to strike. The Iranian response might well include attacks on Israel.
“We have to be ultra-cautious,” emphasized Amidror, “because no one knows how the Iranians will response.”
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