April 2, 2020

How Killing Iranian General Qassim Suleimani Changes the Middle East

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed Friday at Baghdad International Airport by American forces. A few hours later, here is what we can cautiously say about the implications of such action.

Iran’s calculations change

Iran, threats and all, does not wish to have a war with the United States – a war it would surely lose. So, its dilemma is as follows: Do you respond to the attack in a way that exposes you to the risk of escalation, or accept the blow and wait for another round when the time is more ripe for response (Trump out of the White House).

America’s prestige boost

In recent years (Obama and Trump years) America was losing its ability to impact Middle East calculations, because its leaders seem to want, more than all other things, to avoid confrontation. The killing of a figure as prominent as Suleimani sends a message that the decline in American’s prestige might be overstated. The US is still the most powerful country in the world and can take action that would rapidly restore its deterrence power in this region.

Iran politicized for 2020

The quick denunciation from Democratic leaders and candidates is going to make Iran a focal point of the 2020 election. Trump will attempt to make his act seem as American patriotism at its best (without being dragged into war); Democrats will cry that Trump is taking America into another Middle East war. This is a risky game for both. For Trump, because Americans do not like Middle East wars. For Democrats, because in a times of crises Americans tend to support the Commander in Chief (at least for a while).

Israel politicized for 2020

In this political debate over Iran, it’d not be complicated to guess whose side’s Israel on. So, again, it is Israel supporting Trump, and looking with suspicion at Democratic leaders. Again, it is Israel wishing for a Trump victory, because the leaders of the other party are going to let Iran have its way for fear of confrontation. In other words: Israel’s relations with the liberal wing of the Democratic party will keep deteriorating (with some Jews, who care for Israel’s security, caught in between a hammer and a hard place).

Israel prepares for war

Israel knows that 2020 is a dangerous year, and there is constant talk among security elites about the possibility of confrontation with Iran in the coming months. But the tone will now somewhat change. Up until now the assumption was that Iran might escalate its actions because of America’s lack of resolve; now the potential for escalation is growing, as Iran will be looking for ways to assert its power without going to war with America. Israel could be the victim of Iran’s frustration (and there should be no mistake, Israel will respond with vengeance).