By Jonathan Davis
On Friday reports noted that, on the advice of his national security team using actionable intelligence, President Trump ordered a strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.
According to the administration and in particular Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the president ordered the strike in response to intelligence indicating that Soleimani was planning a major attack in the region against Americans and our allies.
Describing a “major attack” the IRGC Quds Force cheif was allegedly plotting, Pompeo said, “What was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region, his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans.”
“There would have been many Muslims killed, Iraqis, people in other countries as well,” Pompeo continued.
“It was time to take action,” Pompeo noted further, while also citing “dozens and dozens” of attacks by Iran and its proxies over the last few months.
“I can’t talk too much about the nature of the threats. But the American people should know that the President’s decision to remove Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives,” Pompeo later told CNN.
Well, this is certainly an escalation by the United State, no question. Soleimani was rumored to be the No. 2 guy in Iran, in line to succeed the Ayatollah.
But what’s next? Many analysts are predicting that this attack will lead to further escalations and even a proxy war in Iraq between the U.S. an Iran.
The unusual American attack on Sunday evening on the Shi’ite militia known as the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq has put the various militias that Iran has established in recent years in Syria and Iraq on edge and on alert. These are new and independent units unconnected to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but which certainly represent a fighting force.
Israel Hayom turned to defense experts to understand the significance of these forces. To what degree do they threaten Israel and how much do the US airstrikes indicate a shift in terms of its conflict with Iran?
According to Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, the former head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate’s Research Division and now a senior scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Iran is trying to sway the United States via attrition to lift economic sanctions.
“Iran is working by way of these militias to persuade the Americans that it’s not worth it for them to continue with economic sanctions. In Iran there are elements that want to take tougher action and there are moderate elements, and the bottom line is that Iran has activated these militias, which are lesser trained, quasi-military forces,” said Kupperwasser.
It is highly likely that the intelligence used by the U.S. to conduct the attack against Soleimani was tied to the activation of these Iran-linked forces, if one reads between the lines of what the IDF officer said and what Pompeo said.
But is Trump’s response going to escalate things in the Middle East? Will Iran double down on efforts to attack Americans and our allies in the region? Or will the Ayatollah take the message Trump just sent and back away from confrontation — at least direct confrontation?
The Iranian leadership already had domestic unrest to deal with, thanks to the imposition of sanctions that have cost the country more than $200 billion, according to President Hassan Rohani. A shooting war with the U.S. wouldn’t last long because Iran simply lacks the power (and money) to emerge victorious.
But a proxy war would do the trick. Iran could continue to fund and supply its proxies in Iraq without risking its own survival.
Or not. Trump just made it clear that direct action against Americans anywhere in the Middle East, even through proxies, will have deadly results involving ranking members of Iran’s governing elite.