The enmity between the United States and Iran was one of the historical holdovers that former United States of American President, Barack Obama, tried to reverse and to reset. And he actually did, just as he did with Cuba. Obama, however, did not reckon on a successor like Donald J. Trump whose ultimate ambition seems to be to reverse every worthy legacy, to wipe out everything for which Obama could well be remembered – and if possible – obliterate the records that Obama was ever President. Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal set the stage for last week’s incident.
Thus, the American ‘execution’ of Major-General Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, on January 5, 2020, was a shocking but not an unexpected sequence of a fast and steadily deteriorating relationship between the US and Iran. General Suleimani was having his day of reckoning for his two decades of being Iran’s most distinguished commander who had constituted the nemesis of US forces, especially during their invasion and occupation of Iraq during the early years of the Iraq War.
The Americans, therefore, held a grudge that the general had the blood of hundreds of US troops in his hands. He was the organiser of the Iraqi militia that was a thorn on the flesh of US troops, helping to forge the lethal improvised explosive devices that took a huge toll of the lives of US troops. Additionally, General Suleimani was the commander of the expeditionary forces of Iran, helping to set up the different forces in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, in addition to being the general cum diplomat. He was so well respected that he is credited to be the man who convinced President Vladimir Putin of Russia to intervene, lead and ultimately change the course of the war in Syria.
One of the riddles of the killing of General Suleimani is this: Why did Donald Trump, a man so risk averse in such matters as the use of military force abroad, a man who made ‘no more endless wars’ an American political sing-song, decide to eliminate the highest military officer of America’s most vocal enemy, knowing that it would be considered an act of war? Even the generals at the Pentagon were said to have been surprised that Trump chose the assassination of the general as his first option in a menu of alternatives. Indeed, General Suleimani was not the only Iranian officer whose execution was approved by Trump on the January 3, 2020. Abdul Reza Shahlai, an official of Iran’s Qud’s Force who is an organiser of financing for regional militias escaped his own fate in Yemen the same day Suleimani was killed. He was one of the most highly valued targets and the US had offered a $15 million reward for information about him. The US had accused him of attacking American allies, including a failed 2011 attempt to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
The drones and informants, who lay in ambush for Gen. Suleimani, were almost discouraged when his scheduled flight from Damascus, Syria, failed to arrive Baghdad at its appointed time. But they were assured the flight was not cancelled. The general and his entourage boarded the flight three hours late and arrived a few minutes after midnight and drove off in two SUVs with his comrade-in-arms, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a powerful Iraqi militia leader, along with eight other people. Two hellfire missiles blew the men and their vehicles into smithereens.
The only reason there is no war following the US missile strike is because none of the two countries want it. Mr. Trump didn’t want to be reminded of his tendentious charge in 2011 that President Obama wanted to attack Iran so that he could be re-elected. After the disaster that was Iraq, Americans no longer want to be involved in military adventurism in the Middle East.
Again, Iran is not as simple as Iraq. Iranian forces are spread out in several locations where they can militarily do a lot of damage to US interests and military bases. Even so, the Iranians smarting under severe economic privations from American economic sanctions do not have the self-confidence to engage the United States in all-out war, which would assuredly wreck their economy and make an already bad situation worse.
The hand of fate also came a long way. The huge barrage of missiles laid down on American bases in Iraq by the Iranians last week, had they met their targets, would have not gone without a reprisal and, incrementally, would have resulted to an all-out war. It was an irony of fate that the Iranian barrage missed the targeted American soldiers but blew a Ukrainian airliner out of the sky killing all the 176 passengers and crew, including a Nigerian working for Boeing.
Somehow, human instincts, prudent precautions, made the US troops to move into safe bunkers, thereby dodging the bullet, in what would have, indeed, been a massacre. We urge the Europeans and the Gulf Cooperation Council to persist in getting both sides to the conference table.