The Iranian bottleneck after Soleimani’s assassination

Al-Quds Al-Arabi – Jan, 20, 2020

The rules of the game have changed’, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said hours before the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani. The choice of the phrase by the defense minister of the most powerful country in the world was not accidental. It was, in one way or another, a true description of what the future of US-Iranian relations would be like, and the region in general. US military aircrafts continue to carry hundreds of US troops daily to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, although the US and Iranian sides have ended the crisis, first with a carefully crafted tweet by Zarif and a second tweet by Trump written quietly and deliberately.

The atmosphere is generally calm. Nothing can upset this calm except the Iranian financial crisis that grows day by day and that plague deepens by a Ukrainian plane. In addition, the streets of Iran are once again filled with hundreds of thousands of angry Iranians. The Iranian regime has been living through the worst days since its establishment in 1979.

What has happened in recent weeks and the ensuing changes and moves between Tehran and Washington is the result of erroneous assessments of Iran and the US harsh turnaround that has changed the balances, leading to the failure of the Iranian regime’s strong-willed plans prepared by the hand of SoleImani. To clarify the picture for the honorable readers, we need to delve deeper into the Iranian plan by exploring the lines of Soleimani’s personal movements before his assassination and those of his militias in the region in general. The results are as follows:

Parliamentary action

The most experienced Iraqi militia was selected to carry out a precision missile attack on one of the US military bases, ensuring that human casualties would not be significant (as happened with the K1 attack in Kirkuk). On this basis, Washington should respond to this militia with a calculated air strike, as was the case in the cities of Al-Qaim and Al-Bukamal. Subsequently, the Iranian lobby within the circle of Iraqi politicians will be called upon to peacefully oppose Washington in Baghdad through a sit-down protest in front of the US Embassy and promote a parliamentary movement that will lead to issuing a decision for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. This decision will not only be left on paper but will be reinforced by military actions led by Soleimani himself by organizing precision strikes on American bases called “Resistance to American Occupation”, in order to put Washington in front of three options:

The first option is to accept the reality and withdraw from Iraq, which will open the way for the Iraqi government to open its doors to China, which will pay billions of dollars for Iraqi oil that will end up filling in secret Tehran’s empty coffers, helping it breathe until the next US election.

The second option is the immediate confrontation and conversion of Iraqi territory into a new Afghan quagmire, destroying Trump’s image in the run-up to the elections.

Third option: Opening a secondary negotiating channel with Tehran, the first outcome of which would be lifting oil sanctions.

This plan initially went well. But Trump surprised everyone. And the first to be surprised was Soleimani himself, who built his moves in the area on two principles:

The first was that Washington desperately needs his services to face all Sunni groups in the region. This point is emphasized by the protection Washington has provided to him despite the fact that “his head was on the Israeli assassination table for the last fifteen years”, as confirmed by former Israeli intelligence chief General Amos Yadlin days ago.

The second principle was based on Washington’s fear of the cost of Iran’s response to his assassination, especially with the existence of a US president who has consistently argued for the past four years that he is a person who does not like military escalation, even if pushed. to it. These principles were a reason Soleimani had such confidence to move between three Arab capitals in a day without fear or caution. But the rules of the game really changed.

The scene of the next moves

After that, Tehran has been forced into a dark tunnel that can push it to rearrange its papers in general. Soleimani’s plan in Iraq has become dangerous in the light of Trump’s threats, which have been taken seriously. These fears prompted Iranian Revolutionary Guards to give explicit instructions to Iraqi militia commander al-Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbī (PMU) and other Iranian-backed Iraqi militias to come to Tehran and be warned not to make some stupid move that will deepen the Iranian wound with American strikes at 52 sites, as Trump threatened in one of his recent tweets.

This calmness makes more sense for the Iranian regime, especially after the loss of one of the most important symbol of the extreme military lobby surrounding Khamenei. This makes the diplomatic lobby led by Zarif the most important and most influential at this stage. But the history and equation inside Iran and the region generally confirm that this calm is temporary and that the possibility of returning to military insanity is only a matter of time. Most likely, the geographical area of ​​Iraq will be the theater of subsequent movements.

Last summer in an article published here in the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper entitled ‘Peace and War Options in the Arabian Gulf‘, I pointed out that Tehran and Washington are on the brink of abyss with dangerous plans and moves that could lead both sides to slip into direct war. This scene is closer than ever today. Despite the experience of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh*, which confirmed that Tehran always chooses its expansion projects to the detriment of the people, regardless of their importance, the general atmosphere confined the Iranian regime to a two-exit bottleneck: the first is to accept the reality and head to the negotiating table with its wings broken and the second to go to a war that will leave nothing as it is. Between deep wound and political pragmatism many scenarios may await the region.

* Founding member of Lebanon’s Islamic Jihad Organization and number 2 in Hezbollah‘s leadership.