What are the long-term consequences of Soleimani’s death?
BY SHABNAM NASIMI
So, it happened. Iran struck back against the United States for its killing of Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani on 3 January – and while it may not so far be “severe “exactly, it was undoubtedly swift and it was bold. There have been very few military commanders in the world who had enjoyed the level of freedom Qassim Soleimani had. For the last 20 years, Soleimani’s actions had been Iran’s foreign policy.
No man in the world was directly involved in more conflicts, in more countries, over a longer period than Soleimani. As the public face of Iran’s regional ambitions, Soleimani was like a Middle East viceroy, trotting around region, giving orders, masterminding small and large ops from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon to Yemen to Afghanistan.
Trump’s inaction after numerous Iranian attacks throughout 2019—against regional oil tankers, a US drone, and Saudi Aramco—led Khamenei to believe, understandably, that Trump was all bluster. Khamenei’s open taunting of Trump proved a miscalculation.
Soleimani wasn’t a US ally in the fight against ISIS. His complicity in Assad’s mass displacement/murder of millions of Syrians including via repeated chemical weapons attacks, and patronage of Iraq’s violent Shia militias fuelled the Sunni radicalism that helped spawn ISIS.
Soleimani was a polarizing figure in Iran: Beloved by the regime (both hardline and “moderate” factions), admired by Persian/Shia nationalists for his fight against Arabs/Sunnis, and loathed by many Iranians tired of living under a police state.
Some of his aura or reputation was probably overblown, but he really was indispensable to Iran, he was not on a mission, he WAS the mission, the architect of Iran’s expansionist regional policy, the indispensable upholder of the Islamic Revolution, keeping it alive for Khamenei.
Only one question now matters – what next?
While many are predicting WWIII, the last 40 years of Iran’s history reflect that what’s paramount for the Islamic Republic is its survival. Tehran can ill-afford a full-blown war with the US while facing onerous economic sanctions and internal tumult, especially without Soleimani.
What is now clear is that we have entered the next stage of this most volatile, and dangerous, of dramas. But both sides remain defiant while the stakes have nonetheless been raised. The onus is now on the United States. Iran has been clever. It has struck a US target head on but it has taken no American lives, which it could easily have been sure of doing in any number of ways. And the world will now look to him, hoping that he responds with calm and reason.
Few nations can match Persia in the depth of their civilization. Now Britain and others have a chance to reach out to former enemies and partners and highlight that the era defined by one man can end and that the menace caused by present leaders in Iran needs to be confronted. The death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese and more can stop. The policy embodies in one man can end. This is a chance to change direction.
For the UK, everything that is happening in the world, from the growth of China to a destabilised Middle East, shows how badly we need an overseas policy review so that we can begin to understand, in a strategic way, what may unfold in the coming years, and align our power to meeting those difficult challenges.
Shabnam Nasimi is a Conservative commentator and the Director of the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan. Follow her on twitter: @NasimiShabnam