Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s powerful head of its Al-Quds force, was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq hours ago, on US President Trump’s orders.
There are several likely predictions for the short term consequences among pundits, most as usual quite wrong.
Many on the pro Israel “fake right” as I like to call it, are excited about one of the likely outcomes the pundits are undoubtedly screaming about, and think this will be wonderful news for Israel. Far from it, and I hope we can avoid this “likely” option for Israel’s sake, as it will indeed not be wonderful news at all for Israel, but the contrary, and therefore I am happy to report that this chain of events is not as likely as some folks “in the know” tend to think. I will explain these aspects in due course, but first to the two erroneous predictions that are probably already being or will be shouted from the sensationalist roof tops.
One of course will be the “You have unleashed the Iranian Tiger”. This sort of thinking was already reported by the not so bright and wannabe tough guy Geraldo Rivera.
“This is huge,” Rivera said. “That does not mean that I believe that this was a smart move. We have been fighting bees. Bees have been swarming all over us. … What we have done is kill the queen bee. The hive is now busted open. I fear the worst. I think that what we have done is unleash the bees.”
There is no Iranian tiger, other than a paper one. Iran’s potential response, as I have written about extensively in the past, is not much.
Iran’s options in retaliation are limited. It can ask Hezbollah’s Nasrallah mainly, and other lesser proxies to act. Nasrallah can be requested to launch rockets at Israel. As I have discussed previously, he may or may not listen to such an order. So far he has shown great restraint in the face of repeated attacks because he knows, that the IDF, has done mostly one thing since 2006, and that is train for the second round with Hezbollah to make sure it will go very differently than the first round did, and under the current gov’t, the IDF is likely to be allowed to achieve this.
As I wrote in 2012, when the hysteria of Iran’s power was at it’s height (today more realize it’s impotence after years of having its forces attacked by Israel and the US among others in Iraq and Syria at will, those attacks promoting no direct nor significant retaliation):
Despite sensationalist headlines about WWIII and nightmare scenarios about the repercussions of a strike on Iran, there is realistically little Iran can do other then “order” Gaza terrorists and Hizbollah to lob missiles and rockets at Israel. There is no assurance, that Nasrallah, shrewd leader of Hezbollah, would obey such an order. The consequences for not doing so can only be loss of support and funding from the regime. This will happen anyways if the regime collapses, so Nasrallah may not wish to go down with his Iranian patrons (it would likely be dependent on the success of the Israeli strike). Though it suffered a terrible blow in 2006 at the hands of the IDF, Hezbollah knows it was lucky in the incompetence of the Olmert led government government and its inability to bring about a political victory in the Second Lebanon War. The IDF having learned its lessons, and with Netanyahu being no Olmert, Nasrallah knows all too well this round would be different. Israel launching any kind of attack on Iran includes planning for stopping any bombardment from Lebanon and the destruction of Hezbollah (at least from Southern Lebanon).
That particular article ends, with a dashed hope that the Netanyahu government will react appropriately to the now so frequent attacks from Gaza and Lebanon. More than 7 years later… not so much.
Hopefully, the Netanyahu government will ignore them and not entertain those terrorist groups in negotiations, and keep its eye on the ball… Iran. No operation should be started in Gaza or anywhere else without it being part of a larger part to finally tame this paper tiger before its unfortunate acquiring of Nuclear weapons makes it a very real tiger; and ironically finally brings about the possible “nightmarish scenarios” that everyone seems to erroneously fear now.
In a more thorough article later that same year, where I again urged Israel and the Netanyahu government to action (to no avail), I expound why Iran’s regime had been able to go unscathed for so long, and in part concluded:
But this ironic Olmert-Bush, Obama-Netenyahu pairing spared Iran
As is starting to be seen, a Trump-Netanyahu pairing can potentially have different consequences for Iran.
That all considered, short of requesting quasi military or terrorist action by Hezbollah and some lesser proxies (in Iraq or elsewhere) Iran has little options available to retaliate. Not against Israel and not against the USA. Direct military action would be limited to launching some ineffectual ground to ground missiles, which are likely to be shown to be as useless as the aging Scud missiles famously used by Sadam Hussein against Israel to no real effect.
On the contrary, the anti-missile technologies that the West counts on is ages more advanced than those famous Gulf war era patriot missiles. Israel’s airspace especially, is the most protected on earth in this regard (due to it’s capabilities and small territory), while the USA while less protected overall due to its massive size, is too far for Iran’s missiles, and by a massive margin. US bases in the area could be targeted, however, this would not be a wise choice by Iran as it would shed light on the impotence of their medium and long range missile capacity, which today is false touted and feared by western pundits.
So this leaves with the conclusion, that Iran, as usual can do little, and will do nothing in retaliation. However, while I have stated this to be the case (correctly) in prior incidents, this one has a different feel.
And this leads us to the second common prediction going around. Those who know Iran’s inherent military weakness may think there will be no reaction at from Iran, either because the blow will have cowed it into submission or because of fear of an escalation leading to war with the US. I think they too will find themselves in error.
The blatant targeting of one of Iran’s most powerful leaders, a veteran in the halls of power in Tehran for decades, and leader of Iran’s most feared and prestigious organization, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s shadowy Al-Quds force… cannot go unanswered by the regime. The loss of face will be too much for them to bare, even if they risk further embarrassment by showing a weak response. Especially in light of how many unanswered blows have already been taken.
The likely answer in this case, therefore is for Iran to make some sort of retaliation, but try to show that it is measured, proportional, and not looking for an escalation. The regime will in this way try to save face, but hope to not spark an American reaction.
This may mean some small scale naval action in the straits like Iran has done previously, perhaps seizing of western ships, a light or symbolic attack on a US naval vessel, or lobbing some useless medium range missiles to targets in Iraq or Sunni Gulf states (and nominally US allies). A terrorist action abroad is also a possibility but less likely as it is exactly the kind of thing in today’s political climate that would warrant a strong US response.
If the your faithful, far seeing and humble Lighthouse keeper has painted a correct picture of what will happen in the immediate or near future, then one may think there is no option but war. This leads to the third common prediction that will be floating out there. Some believe that Iran is weak, AND that it will react (as I do), and this will lead to war… a war they are very eager to see.
The thinking goes as follows. If Iran this time will react, as the regime will feel it has no choice, and it’s reaction will be ineffectual in military terms, but certainly noticeable, then the US, especially under a Trump administration, will surely unleash its military wrath in retaliation right? A retaliation of a scope that either already could be considered a state of war, or certainly will force Iran to respond in kind, however desperately, with the escalation ending up in a state of war… however one sided or not that may look like.
Though one would be forgiven for thinking that, and in fact may end up being the case, I for one doubt it, at least in the short term. For some reason, Trump has proven to be quite a dove. Though he loves generals, and loves to appoint them to positions they may or may not be right for (as I noted in my pre-inauguration assessment of the incoming Trump administration), and certainly respects and loves the troops, he is very weary of sending them to war.
Something about Trump’s focus (or over-focus) on economics (and a very simple and peculiar notion of national economics at that), love of negotiation (and the threats that go with them), weariness of what entering a quagmire in the middle east has meant for previous administrations, especially during a first term (he wants a second), and or a sincere compassion and drive to improve the lot of the average Joe and to not send him off to war if it can be avoided, seems to drive him in these matters. Be it North Korea or Iran, Trump is not easily pushed into military action, even though the escalation that he ends up having to stop is one of his own starting.
Trumps likes to wield all the levers at his disposal to jawbone what he believes are benefits to the US, and knows that for threats to be effective they must be believable and backed up with substance, but it seems clear that he prefers to lose some of the gung-ho cowboy aura he makes great effort to build up if it will keep him and the US from being pushed into war. Because of this Trump peculiarity, I believe, even in the face of some small scale Iranian retaliation, Trump will find how to de-escalate the situation, something the Iranians will happily oblige him with since unlike the rest of the world, they know very well the Iranian tiger is just a posturing and starving kitten.
No US attack on Iran – GOOD for Israel
If I am correct, Israel still has the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Bibi came to power in large part due to his correct understanding of the Iranian nuclear threat and his criticism of leftist governments who failed to do anything about it. He has been in power for a record number of years in Israel, and still he has been unable to order a strike of any kind (despite my repeated articles calling for just that!)
What am I talking about you ask? Why would an American attack Iran be bad for Israel?
Well, Israeli common knowledge about America, the UN, Geo-politics and Israel itself is riddled with some very dangerous fallacies that keep getting perpetuated and are accepted at face value without thought or analysis. This is a long subject in its own right (I treat some of it in this thorough article about the 2019 election), but for present purposes, two examples will suffice.
Israelis tend to think that that a silly UN vote in 1947 created the state of Israel, where in fact the gradual settlement, expansion and defense of the modern Jewish Yshuv and the land of Israel (very often against international law and certainly against the ruling power’s law), and subsequent victorious war of Independence against much of the Arab world and parts of the British military after Ben Gurion’s declaration of Independence, culminated in the establishment of the modern State of Israel. The above-mentioned article discusses this in greater detail.
They also tend to think that Israel exists, and has survived her wars, due to American support, and often think that solely due to American support. As if US had sent the marines to fight Syria, Jordan and Egypt and their allies on behalf of Israel as opposed to simply placing an arms embargo on Israel during most of the wars while the soviets would do the opposite, and ramp up their arming of their Arab allies.
Americans are great friends of Israel, and the current administration is undoubtedly a great friend but it will not reign forever. During most of Israel’s successful early advancing and expanding history American administrations were quite antagonistic to Israel. Not to delve fully into this issue here, but the fact is that for much of Israel’s history, it’s leadership and people have felt that they cannot take the actions necessary for a successful defense of her people and interests due to US pressure. The US, rightly so, guards her interests and they are not identical to Israel’s.
In today’s Israel, no threat looms larger than Iran’s atomic ambitions and her expansionist support for militant and often terrorist proxies which surround her. The atomic bomb, in the hands of Shiite jihad, easily conjure up images of a second holocaust. The destruction of this existential threat is an absolute necessity, and if it comes by the hand of Israel’s superpower ally, the idea that the US (once again!) saved Israel from extinction will dominate popular thinking for years and perhaps decades to come. Israelis will retreat further into political impotence, and the policies of appeasement. The word of her ally, the US, under administrations be them like Trump’s, Obama’s or worse, will be law.
Hoover, the still prevalent perception of an Iranian tiger, is great opportunity for Israel. Under Netanyahu, this has started to happen in in Syria almost at will. But the opposite is true as well, and failure to attack Iran in its own turf, and to strike at the real threat, the regime and its nuclear infrastructure, reinforces the image of terrifying Iran that can be messed with only at the fringes lest they get angry. And if the US finally breaks this glass wall, Israel will shrink, perhaps for generations if it once again thinks that America saved it from nuclear extinction.
This is Bibi’s opportunity to ensure his re-election and save Israeli from the nuclear threat, and restore Israel’s once massive power of deterrence and her IDF’s aura of invincibility. Imagine all the massive illusion of Iranian power, that has been built up and talked about for years, being shattered by the IDF…even when America wavered. The small country, that will do what it takes to ensure its survival! Another Six Day War, another Entebbe. It’s there for the taking.
America for its own interest may bomb Iran, and perhaps should (another discussion), but it would be way better for the west in general and certainly for Israel if the IDF did so instead. A joint action would be… in the middle, not as good as one, and not as bad a the other. So I hope my predictions that an imminent US attack is not so imminent is correct, and there is still time for Israel’s day in the sun.