Post Mortem

Trump’s strike against Soleimani is a gambit and a gamble

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 1/4/2020 10:27:36 AM IST

 The American drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force, is a devastating blow to the Revolutionary Republic. It is also the first major step in Donald Trump's political comeback. Whether or not Iran tries to retaliate, the chances of a second term for President Trump have just risen significantly.

Far more than the death of the self-styled "Caliph" and founder of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his Syrian bolthole, this bold assassination of a deadly enemy of the United States in Baghdad Airport is both a gambit and a gamble. It will force Iran to reconsider its imperial designs in the region. Without the mastermind who extended Tehran's control from Damascus to Yemen, the mullahs' regime suddenly looks exposed.

Yet Soleimani was also the personal favourite of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Short of eliminating the Ayatollah himself, it is difficult to imagine a more direct attack on the Iranian clerical establishment. Soleimani's Quds Force is a corps of the all-powerful Revolutionary Guards, who act like a state within a state in Iran and answer only to the Supreme Leader, not the elected president. The fact that Khamenei has declared three days of national mourning for the dead general reinforces the gravity of his loss.

How could the Iranians hit back at the US and its allies? In Israel there will be nervousness about Hezbollah, the terrorist militia which controls Lebanon and answers to Tehran. It has some 10,000 missiles at its disposal, targeted at the Jewish state - enough to overwhelm even the formidable Iron Dome defence system. But the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has been preparing for such an eventuality for years. If Israeli intelligence suggests that Iran is indeed mobilising Hezbollah, the IDF won't wait to be attacked. It will destroy the missiles on the ground in a pre-emptive strike.

More likely is that Iran will step up its proxy war in Yemen, where Houthi rebels threaten the pro-Saudi government. Among US allies in the region, Saudi Arabia has a less impressive military record and its monarchical government less legitimacy than Israel's. The Kingdom's chief minister, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (MBS), has damaged his own prestige in the West both by hs conduct of the war in Yemen and by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and dissident. Whereas the Trump administration stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel, its attitude to Saudi Arabia under MBS is more ambiguous. In the past, Iran has shown itself quite capable of exploiting divisions in the Western camp and among the Sunni Arabs.

But the most obvious method of Iranian retaliation against the US is a return to international terrorism. Soleimani was killed, Washington says, because he is responsible for the deaths of some 250 US service personnel in Iraq, mainly victims of roadside bombs during the Shiite uprising more than a decade ago. He has been a thorn in the side of American troops and diplomats for more than two decades. Most recently, Soleimani is suspected of directing attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad. 

That is why the arrival of the Quds commander in the Iraqi capital prompted President Trump to issue the order to kill him. The murder in 2012 of the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi was a humiliation for the Obama administration and especially for Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State. Trump has sworn never to allow such a disaster for American prestige to be repeated. Hence the White House has presented the strike against Soleimani as a deterrent against aggression by Iran.

It is too soon to know how taking out Iran's most able general will play with the American public. But the likelihood is that most voters will support the President. The strike on Soleimani's convoy was a bolt from the blue, well-executed and without loss of American life. It was a powerful reminder that no attack on US forces or act of terrorism will go unpunished. Trump knows that Ayatollah Khamenei will seek to avenge this blow by embroiling him in another of the "endless wars" from which this President promised to extricate the US. Yet so far Trump has avoided the casualties that alienated public opinion. He prefers to use the latest military technology to damage his country's enemies. 

It is no coincidence that the President faces an impeachment trial in the Senate. This decisive action will solidify support among Republicans and many Democrats, too, will see it as justifiable on grounds of national security. If Trump's popularity rises in the wake of a conflict with Iran, impeachment could prove to be a costly mistake by Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats.

Iran has been at war with the West, more or less openly, for forty years. The apocalyptic ideology that has been part of the bloody legacy of the Iranian revolution will easily accommodate this latest defeat in its twisted narrative. General Soleimani will join the martyrology of Shiite extremism. But the reality is that the Iranian people desperately need to be liberated from the ayatollahs. It is just possible that the death of the most feared of their military henchmen will hasten the process of that liberation.

Daniel Johnson

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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