For the past few decades, Iran and the United States have been locked in a political dance in which both states attempted to control the domestic, regional, and international politics of the Middle East. From the US using its allies to implement strong-arm tactics, like sanctions against Iran, to Iran inciting anti-American riots in Baghdad, to both states backing opposite sides in war-torn countries such as Syria and Yemen, the two countries have favored using other nations to further their interests instead of using direct force against each other. However, the recent assassination of the powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and his entourage in Iraq by the US military has moved this decades-long conflict between the two states from a proxy war into a new stage of outright aggression.
America’s New Stance and Iran’s Reaction
Purposefully or not, the Trump administration made two policy-changing decisions in green lighting the Soleimani assassination: The first was to kill a top military leader, and the second was do so without subtlety. By using an American drone, posting an American flag, and issuing a triumphant statement touting the mission’s success, President Trump left absolutely no doubt as to who and what country was responsible for Soleimani’s death. The Iranian general was not a rouge outlaw like other American targets eliminated on foreign soil—he was a prominent military official of a sovereign government that the US was not officially at war with. As a result, this fatal act of American aggression will be responded to by the Iranian government directly and not just through members of Iran’s vast proxy network. Maj. General Hossein Dehghan, the military advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, stated in an CNN interview shortly after the assassination that reprisals would come straight from Iran itself and not from allied militias or proxy operations in the area. “Mr. Trump has taken direct action against us- -So we take direct action against America.” Three days after this statement, more than a dozen ballistic missiles launched by Iran hit US military bases in two Iraqi cites west of Baghdad. While these attacks and public verbal threats are clearly directed towards the US, this does not mean that other countries, both within the Middle East and without, will not be targeted or drawn into the escalating conflict. It should come as no surprise that states like Turkey, Germany, and even China weighed in on the issue by urging state and non-state actors alike to remain calm despite the current situation. All parties are concerned that this new stage of aggression could set off a chain of events in which Iran targets American allies as a way to cut off resources and injure US holdings. Because of proximity and past actions, Israel and the Gulf States should expect to be targets of Iran and her allies. As such, they should prepare for when those attacks, either direct or indirect, come to their borders.
The American assassination of Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani is a turning point in the conflict between the United States and Iran. For decades their power plays within the Middle East were confined to diplomatic procedures and the actions of proxy members. However, now that an act of direct aggression was made by the American government towards such a high ranking Iranian military official, the United States and its allies can expect Iran to answer in turn with equal, if not more, aggression. In the words of one American general, “The game has just changed. Expect chaos ahead.”
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