Iran Vows Revenge on U.S. after Death of Military Leader

On Jan 2nd, Trump ordered an airstrike targeting and killing Major General Qasem Soleimani of Iran. A military drone destroyed the vehicle Qasam was travelling in as he and Iran-backed militia members were leaving the Baghdad airport. The attack is believed to have killed at least seven people including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who commanded the Kataib Hezbollah militia. Iran has threatened “Revenge” and the potential of a declared war with Iran escalated quickly.

What Provoked the Attack?

According to the Pentagon, President Donald Trump directed the U.S. military to take decisive defensive action to protect the U.S. personnel abroad by killing the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Quds Force was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by U.S. President Trump who said the general was “directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people”.

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Escalation Timelime

Relations with the U.S. and Iran have had a long history of controversy and disagreement, but the conflict has increased within the last couple of years. In May 2018, Donald Trump reinstated economic sanctions against Iran and threatening to do the same on countries that buy their oil. The sanctions were tighten even further in May 2019.

In May & June of 2019, multiple oil tanker explosions occurred, which the U.S. blames on Iran. The chain of events that led to the unprecedented airstrike began on Friday, December 27th, when more than 30 rockets were launched at a military base housing US troops in northern Baghdad, killing a U.S. contractor. The U.S. officials blame the Hezbollah militia for the attack along with approximately 10 other rocket attacks on U.S. bases and interests in Iraq over the last couple of months. On Sunday December 29th, military strikes by the U.S. in Iraq and Syria killed 25 militia fighters backed by Iran and wounded dozens more. Two days later on Tuesday, December 31st, the american embassy was attacked and set on fire by protesters.

The Department of Defense claimed that Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”. The Pentagon released a statement saying the strike on Soleimani on Thursday, January 2nd “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”

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Why General Qasem Soleimani Was Targeted?

The General Major has been referred to as an irreplaceable figure head and considered by many to be the 2nd most powerful man in Iran after the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. American intelligence agencies have been closely watching Soleimani for over a decade. Former C.I.A officer John Maguire made this statement in 2013: “Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today”.

How Does Soleimani Differ From Osama Bin Laden?

The unrest in Iran over the death of Soleimani is far different than the execution of Bin Laden. Bin Laden was a stateless terrorist leader that hid in the shadows, whereas Qasem was hailed as a heroic national figure by the people and part of the active military.

Iran’s Reaction

The people gathered in droves, both to picket and to attend Qasem’s funeral. The streets were packed so tightly that the Iranian news agency reported 50+ people died in a stampede during the funeral. Iran leaders made it clear that retaliation is to be expected. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals“. When Soleimani’s daughter asked President Hassan Rouhani, “Who will avenge my father’s blood?”, he swiftly responded with “We will all take revenge”. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister called the American air strike an act of international terrorism and stated “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,”. Iran’s state-controlled television referred to the assassination as the U.S.’s “biggest miscalculation” since WWII, also stating “The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay”.

This event created a martyr; an idol for the people to stand behind and gave cause to hate all Americans. Iran has now announced it is abandoning the nuclear weapon deal they previous committed to because of this assassination.

Since the killing of Soleimani another U.S. military base was attacked by a dozen missiles. Fortunately no Americans were killed, but continued escalation and threats have not completely detoured the Iranians. Even after boisterous threats on Twitter, the lack of American deaths during this “revenge” attack gave Trump the opportunity to initiate anti-war discussions and no additional escalation has been shown from the U.S.

How Other Countries Are Reacting

Playing judge, jury and executioner on a global stage is a risky proposition and most of the responses from other countries are contemptuous.

According to China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, the military adventurist act by the US goes against basic norms governing international relations and will aggravate tensions and turbulence in the region. Wang continued by stating “The United States should stop abusing the power of force” and that China opposes the use of force in international relations. He went on to say that he strongly condemned the flagrant action by the U.S. it is bound to have serious consequences.

Iraq’s government is outraged by what it views as a U.S. violation of its sovereignty. Iraqi prime minister referred to the strike as a “flagrant violation of the conditions authorizing the presence of U.S. troops.” Iraq may look to expel U.S. forces from the country in response. With no military presence in Iraq, the United States will find it hard to sustain a presence in Syria.

Russia said the attack was a “murder” and a “reckless step” by the U.S. Russia has repeatedly condemned the U.S. airstrike. Russia will likely improve their position in Syria and broader if U.S. forces are driven from the region.

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The Likelihood of War with Iran

Homeland security issued a terrorism advisory bulletin indicating the seriousness of this threat.

Major Escalation

Soleimani’s killing marks a major escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran. The lack of a Judical process in this matter leaves the decision open to interpretation based on the perspectives of the individual or country. The assassination of a honored figure because based on intent is on the line of debate regardless of your stance in the matter. From Iran’s perspective it would be similar to a targeted assassination of the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which the U.S would definitely consider an act of war.

Where is the Line

While immediate escalations have seemed to slow in the days following Soleimani’s death, this conflict needs some form of resolution. The U.S. wants Iran to cease all efforts to create nuclear weapons and put an end to terrorist activities. Iran wants U.S Troops out of the region. Are we willing to bring our troops home? How can Iran aid in the reduction of terrorist activity? Where will the compromise fall and will it be enough to calm the people and prevent further escalation?

What Will War Look Like

Regardless of your feelings about this action, it has been perceived as an act of war and will undoubtedly have reproductions. This event will spark a continuation of an ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Iran. It will most likely extend the long cold war and concerns of threat will not subside any time soon.

Military Forces

While videos of middle east militia throwing shoes at targets may have comedic value, the truth lies somewhere between footwear ammunition and nuclear weapons. Fortunately Iran does not posses nuclear weapons, but they do have armed forces and strong allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel & Yemen. Iran’s forces are now being led by Brigadier General Esmail Gha’ani.

Missile Technology
Iran does posses drones capable of air to ground attacks which are able to cover strike zones throughout the middle east. Iran also has the capacity to develop, test and build ballistic missiles.

Militia Throughout the Region
Allied forces in other middle east regions afford Iran to ability to use those militia groups to attack U.S interests in those area. The
Iran backed militia groups that could be called upon include the Houthi Rebels in Yemen, the Shia Militia in Iraq and Syria, the Hezbollah Militia in Syria and Lebanon and the Hamas Militia in Israel.

Naval Power
Compared to the destroyers and other big naval ships owned by the U.S., Iran’s Revolution Guards use hundreds of small boats to target American vessels with missile launchers and mines in what is referred to as a swarm attack. The naval battle will be off power vs subterfuge.

Chemical and Biological
The status of Iran’s chemical and biological activities are unknown, recent intelligence estimates a lower likelihood that Iran maintains significant chemical and biological weapons.

Retaliation from Iran will most likely come in one or more of these forms:

Attacks on Military Bases
Iran and surrounding countries are desperately looking to drive U.S. presence out of the region. Attacks on there facilities are likely to continue until we pull our troops out. These attacks will certainly cause escalation, a magnitude of war and will most certainly cause more of a U.S. presence along with targeted attacks on Iranian militia.

Many countries in the middle east are know for using terrorist attacks to make a point, including Iran. While the government of Iran may not initiate a terrorism attack themselves, militia groups are likely to react on their own accord.

The bulletin from the National Terrorism Advisory Board on January 4th warns that Iran is a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and awareness needs to be heightened regarding terrorism activity within the U.S.

Cyber Attacks
Cyber attacks are happening all the time and Iran has already been involved in cyber threats within the U.S. The National Terrorism Advisory System stated that Iran has a “robust cyber program” capable of disrupting U.S. infrastructure. Cyber attacks will most likely be targeting towards national infrastructure or regional municipalities. Along with infrastructure, espionage and a disruption in the U.S. economic system should also be expected. Since Iran is not considered a power house in terms of war threat, cyber attacks seem the most likely recourse.

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