The first and most obvious observation is that the events leading to the death of General Soleimani appear to have resulted from a serious miscalculation by Ayatollah Khamenei.
In particular, the Ayatollah’s encouragement of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, and his goading tweet “You can’t do anything!” aimed at the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military were particularly inept blunders.
President Trump is a leader who demands respect, who has a short temper, and who possesses a Celtic inability to forget a slight. It is with good reason that the national motto of the President’s ancestral homeland is Nemo me impune lacessit, ‘No one provokes me with impunity’.
Prior to his election, Trump promised two things: that the United States would be taken more seriously in the world, and that he would not give advance warning of American use of military force.
In taking out Soleimani, he showed that he was as good as his word.
During a campaign rally in April 2016, Melania Trump said of her husband, “As you may know by now, when you attack him he will punch back ten times harder”. If waving Kata’ib Hezbollah flags from the roof of the US Embassy in Baghdad was the “attack him” of that equation, then killing Soleimani was the “ten times harder”.
The problem for Iran is that they do not have a “hundred times harder” option that allows for the survival of the regime.
Aside from doing nothing, there are only three genre of response from Iran, and it seems likely that Iran will resort to one or more the following:
- A Symmetrical Response: An attack on the United States bases surrounding Iran;
- An Asymmetrical Response: An attack on civilian targets in the United States;
- A Diversionary Response: An attack on military or civilian targets in a country or countries allied to the United States.
The symmetrical response is more or less what senior Iranian figures have promised to make as we covered in an earlier article. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Deputy Commander for Coordination, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi made it clear that US bases in the Middle East were likely to be a specific target for reprisals. An Iranian official, General Gholamali Abuhamzeh announced that Iran has identified 35 targets for retaliatory action, including ships in the Straits of Hormuz and Tel Aviv.
A full-scale cruise missile attack on all the US bases surrounding Iran (‘hitting back one hundred times harder’) is another scenario that the United States must be considering just now, and would likely cause considerable loss of life and damage to facilities. The United States would undoubtedly respond with a devastating attack on Iranian military facilities across the country (‘hitting back one thousand times harder’), and would perhaps look to take out critical infrastructure such as power plants as well. Following such a scenario, it is hard to see the United States having the capacity or the will to take on the Iranian armed forces in a ground war however. While Iran has stoked considerable resentment in the country with its brutal response to the recent protests, it is unclear that there are any US proxies in the country of note that would have the capacity to do the US’s work for them. So scenario one, at least for a time, would probably lead at least to a temporary impasse.
One caveat to this is to note how United States’ technological advantage has grown since Gulf War II. Beyond reaper drones and killer robots, the US is experimenting with mass clouds of killer drones, which powered by artificial intelligence are able to be dropped from planes and congregate around a target or targets. What is equally clear is that public appetite for such tactics is very thin. We have come a long way from the time when the nobility put on their suit of armour and placed themselves in grave mortal danger to fight to the death on the battlefield. The use of autonomous and unmanned weapons of war, used without boots on the ground, makes civilian populations the obvious target for an asymmetrical response and removes a certain moral authority on behalf of the party using them. It also adds considerable moral hazard to the decision to engage the enemy.
A symmetrical response, however, would lead to considerable pain on both sides, but no real strategic advantage to either.
The possibility of an asymmetrical response, such as multiple Hezbollah terror attacks within the United States, is another that US officials must currently be weighing up. The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio stated that “I think it’s really important for New Yorkers to understand that we are now potentially facing a threat that’s different and greater than anything we have faced previously”, while Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf stated on 3 January 2020 stated that he had “convened senior DHS leadership last night and earlier this morning to assess potential new threats and component actions to respond to the constantly evolving threat landscape”.
Again, if Iran launches a major attack on the US homeland (‘a hundred times harder’), it will face an even greater response on Iranian targets (‘a thousand times harder’). US military superiority is such that the United States is more than capable of matching blow-for-blow-and-some any attack from Iran, and will have no qualms about doing so. Specifically, the United States would be likely to go after the Iranian leadership, senior mullahs, senior army commanders and senior public officials. Following an attack on American soil, there would no longer be any nuance in the American response. The United States would seek to inflict maximum pain on the regime, and would not be satisfied until regime change had been achieved.
So not a great option for Iran.
Which leaves the diversionary response. Iran hitting out at US allies, such as Israel, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia would have a galvanising effect on the coalition forming against Iran. While the UK and Saudi Arabia are neither as formidable or belligerent as the United States, both are perfectly capable of launching multiple missile strikes on Iranian targets, and would unquestionably have the United States’ support in doing so. These four countries are likely to act as one under such a scenario. Furthermore, they would attract a large global coalition of the willing: there are plenty of countries around the world with their own motivations for seeing the back of the Iranian regime.
Furthermore, a diversionary response will make the Iranian regime look scared to take on the Americans.
So again, a dead end for Iran.
US commanders will be aware that the Iranians are capable of withstanding tremendous suffering, while remaining confident of ultimate victory. While Sunni Islamism is a success ideology encouraged by victories and browbeaten by defeats, Shia Islamism is the opposite. It thrives on a back-to-the-wall fight for survival. The Shia Islam is to Sunni Islam what Protestantism is to Catholicism: antifragile.
So, while it may be that senior Iranian figures are pathologically incapable of not responding, oddly enough, a meek response from Iran would put the US in a quandary. Certainly, the last thing the Trump administration wants is for Iran to play a waiting game. If they were to continue upping the pressure on Iran, the US would be in danger of alienating allies and supporters. While the Trump administration would rather not have war, they would also be very concerned about an Iranian regime biding its time, waiting to strike back at some indeterminate point in the future.
Those saying that Trump has done Khamenei a favour by removing his great rival are misguided. The Ayatollah’s trolling of Trump (“You can’t do anything!”) and the death of Soleimani makes the Ayatollah look misguided.
Khamenei finds himself sandwiched between the rock of inaction and the hard place of a military response. Once his people become aware that he goaded President Trump into killing the man the people idolised, it will hardly strengthen popular opinion of his leadership. This was a class one misjudgement.
The best option for Iran is meaningful internal reform and the pursuit of improved relations with its neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Israel. These countries enjoy a standard of living that most European nations could only dream of, and an obscene amount of influence over the foreign policy of Western nations. The United States would be happy for Iran to join the club of prosperous allies in the region, but what prospect of this while Iranians raise their decades-long chant of ‘Death to America! Death to Israel!’
Whatever scenario unfolds, it is clear that President Trump’s resolve is absolute. If the Iranian regime hits back one hundred times harder, then the United States will find a way to hit back one thousand times harder. This is the character of the US Commander-in-Chief.
If the Iranian regime doubts the resolve of the US and its allies, then they are toast.
As something of an addendum, multiple sources have pointed to the fact that Europe is riddled through with Qatari, Iranian and Turkish intelligence operatives, and whole networks of supporters sympathetic to these regimes. As the Alan Bender affidavit demonstrated, multiple figures high up in government, including the British Government, are in the pay of these regimes. Even if the Iranian regime tomorrow were to change, these networks would remain in place.
What are intelligence services doing about it? Where are the prosecutions and mysterious resignations? How to respond?
As a Cambridge University professor recently put it, ‘If you see it, call it out!’
As was discussed elsewhere, the United Kingdom needs national leaders who will:
- Not do the bidding of Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India, Iran, Qatar, Turkey, or any other foreign state;
- Not do the bidding of the bloated bureaucracies of European or international organisations;
- Not do the bidding of big corporations or deep-pocketed lobbying firms;
- Not do the bidding of the trade unions and those permanently dependent on the public purse;
- Not do the bidding of dark money and civil society lobbying groups;
…but rather, men and women of sound judgement and pure motives who will stand up for the general welfare of their nation.
Everyone else should be called out, rebuked, prosecuted, extradited or repatriated.
When British leaders with heart and guts start fighting for the people, the people will have their back and will rally to their cause.
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