The targeted killing of Iranian war leader Qassem Soleimani, in response to attacks on Americans in Iraq and in order to interrupt plans for further attacks, unleashed a flood of reactions from almost every corner of the world and all over the political spectrum. American reactions were sharply divided, mostly along party lines. And the controversy produced what many believe to be the single most craven tweet in recent history, from Hollywood actress Rose McGowan:
“Dear #Iran, The USA has disrespected your country, your flag, your people. 52% of us humbly apologize. We want peace with your nation. We are being held hostage by a terrorist regime. We do not know how to escape. Please do not kill us. #Soleimani”
Somewhat less embarrassing but entirely formulaic were the responses of the various Democratic presidential candidates, almost all of whom said President Donald Trump’s action was “reckless” and likely to lead to further escalation, or even war. J Street, the anti-Israel lobby masquerading as pro-Israel, said: “This highly dangerous step, taken without congressional authorization [actually not required—V.R.], could trigger a disastrous escalation costing the lives of thousands and lead our country into a devastating new war of choice in the Middle East.”
A great many reactions took the form of “don’t tug on Superman’s cape because you don’t know how it will end.” Even though Iran is anything but Superman—the United States is roughly a zillion times more powerful militarily—these commentators argue that Iran has numerous avenues to damage the United States and Trump isn’t competent to deal with the consequences.
There’s no doubt that Soleimani’s replacement will mount some kind of revenge attack, and it will at least be intended to kill people. But the American home front is unlikely to bear the brunt of it (McGowan needn’t worry); it is likely to be aimed at U.S. troops in the Middle East, Israelis, or both. Indeed, the Israel Defense Forces was immediately placed on alert, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew home from Greece early to meet with his Cabinet.
Despite this, practically everyone in Israel applauded Trump’s action. Even the editor-in-chief of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, Aluf Benn, saw it as a good move for Trump, both politically and strategically.
This is likely because Israelis have seen the steady advance of Iranian influence in the region from up close, and are concerned that the regime is not far from reaching its goal of creating a “Shi’ite crescent” through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. At the same time, Iran has destabilized Yemen, which just happens to control a strategic choke point at the outlet of the Red Sea, and from which it can harass its Arab enemies, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The strategy—Soleimani’s strategy—has been to create and support Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria which, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, will ultimately take control of those countries and do Iran’s bidding. Soleimani brilliantly took advantage of the rise of Islamic State and the chaos in Syria to increase Iran’s power, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of displaced people.
His goal was to eliminate American influence from the Middle East, acquire the oil resources now in the hands of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, destroy Israel and establish a Shi’ite caliphate across the region. Ultimately, the acquisition of nuclear weapons would make any challenge to Iranian hegemony impossible. And who knows what longer-term objectives, in Europe or even North America, he might have had?
The destruction of Israel is essential to the Iranian plan. Israel is seen both as an outpost of the United States and the West and as an illegitimate Jewish sovereign state in a region that according to Islamic ideology must be 100% Muslim. The ayatollahs want to lead the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. Hence there are both strategic and religious reasons for Iran’s enmity to Israel.
The Obama administration believed that by appeasing and paying off the Iranian regime it could prevent direct attacks on Americans and establish a working relationship with Tehran. But the Iranians ran circles around the U.S. negotiation team (led by the less-than-bright John Kerry), achieving a deal which not only did not prevent them from getting nuclear weapons, but guaranteed that within a few years they could proceed with their program.
It reduced the strength of U.N. resolutions limiting their development of ballistic missiles, removed sanctions—most of the text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a list of sanctions to be nullified—and provided an influx of cash that could be and was used to finance the terrorist militias. It also provided a weak, easily bypassed inspection routine that could not be depended upon to prevent cheating.
Another part of the Obama strategy was to try to buy cooperation from Iran by weakening Israel, to the point that it would be indefensible (this policy was first enunciated in the 2006 “Iraq Study Report” to which Obama confidant Ben Rhodes contributed).
The administration thought it could “bring Iran into the family of nations” this way, but the Iranian regime’s goals were to dominate, not to cooperate. The misunderstanding was massive and fatal. (And what is unclear about “Death to America”?)
The recent series of attacks against American forces and interests in the area, that culminated in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, was intended to break America’s will and precipitate a withdrawal from Iraq and Syria. And this time it was the Iranians who miscalculated; Trump was not prepared to tolerate the deaths of any more Americans, and he understood well the political consequences of “another Benghazi” or “another Iranian hostage crisis.”
Israel has been fighting a quiet war against Iran for several years, trying to prevent its buildup in Syria, its introduction of precision-guided missiles into Lebanon, and other strategic activities. Israel has been almost entirely alone in this fight.
Now, in one blow, Trump removed a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, numerous Israelis and other Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Arabs and non-Arabs in several nations of the Middle East. Trump interrupted the Iranian plan to dominate the region, perhaps permanently. The Iranian-controlled militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria will be orphaned. Who knows, maybe the next step will be to put an end to the Iranian nuclear weapons project.
It is even imaginable that the removal of Soleimani will be the trigger for the replacement of the medieval regime of the ayatollahs by the Iranian people, and the return of Iran to the civilized world after more than 40 years of darkness. May it come to pass!
Victor Rosenthal was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., lived on a kibbutz through the 1980s and returned home to Israel in 2014 after 26 years in California. He writes at the Abu Yehuda blog.
This article was first published by AbuYehuda.com.