A giant question mark hangs over the Middle East as the world waits to see what action Iran will take to retaliate for the long-overdue killing Friday morning of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike ordered by President Trump.
President Trump made the right decision in ordering Soleimani killed in Iraq. I’ve been arguing for four years that we ought to take out this dangerous enemy of the United States, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and wanted to kill many more. Thankfully, his killing days are over.
Since the Iranian terrorist general was planning more attacks on Americans, Trump was left with a stark choice: kill Soleimani now or wait for Soleimani to kill many more Americans in the future. Like every nation, America has the right – indeed, the obligation – to defend itself against its enemies.
Trump has done what President Obama should have done years ago. But Obama was so determined to reach a nuclear deal with Iran that he quite literally let Iran get away with murder with its own forces and the terrorist groups it supported.
The Iranian regime respects strength. Weakness only encourages Iran’s leaders to engage in more terrorism and killing. While the U.S. attack Friday certainly angered the regime, it must have also given Iran’s leaders newfound respect for Trump and for the United States.
We don’t know what Iran or one of its proxy militias will do next. They could attack U.S. forces or civilians in the Middle East or elsewhere, attack Israel, strike out at shipping in the Persian Gulf, take action against Saudi Arabia, engage in cyberwarfare against American targets, or take any number of other hostile actions.
The Iranians and their militia allies might also try to kidnap Americans and hold them for ransom – a favorite terrorist tactic. This explains why the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad urged all Americans Friday to leave Iraq – a prudent step.
But whatever they do, top Iranian officials have stated clearly that they will strike somewhere, at a time and method of their choosing.
Most importantly, we don’t know if Iran’s next move will set off a chain reaction of attacks and counterattacks that will subside after a short time or lead to what President Trump has called “endless wars” – like the war that continues to rage in Afghanistan, 18 years after the U.S. invaded that country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Iranian leaders clearly feel obligated to do something to strike at the U.S. to avoid looking weak, but I’d be surprised if this escalates into a full-scale U.S.-Iran war. Iran went through a long a destructive war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988 – and American forces are lot more powerful than those of Iraq back then. Leaders of Iran don’t want to go through that kind of nightmare again.
The killing of Soleimani – who commanded the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – unquestionably strikes a serious blow to Iran’s efforts to extend its influence in Iraq and throughout the Middle East through terrorism and other military actions.
The U.S. has designated the Quds Force as a terrorist organization, making Soleimani one of the top terrorist leaders in the world. While no one is irreplaceable, terrorist leaders are not interchangeable – some are more effective than others. Soleimani was clearly one of the most dangerous and effective.
Past targeted U.S. killings of terrorist leaders have hurt their organizations, but there has always been a new leader to take over. This happened when the U.S. killed Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It also happened most recently when U.S. forces attacked ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he committed suicide when he was cornered.
Soleimani’s replacement is believed to be Iranian Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani. But he is not
the charismatic leader or the strategist Soleimani was. Qaani will have to earn the respect and fear Soleimani had built up over the years through his ruthless terrorist murders.
The death of Soleimani now offers a great opportunity for Iraqis to push back against Iranian influence in their country. The remaining Islamic Revolutionary Guards-Quds Force militia commanders in Iraq are not as confident as they were with Soleimani standing next to them taking selfies. Soleimani was their muscle and their credibility. But no more.
The terrorist general’s death also creates an opportunity for those in the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces who feared Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah terrorist militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in the U.S. drone strike Friday. Now the Iraqis can push back and go after the remaining militia leaders like Hadi Al-Amiri and Qays Khazali.
The strength of the pro-Iranian militia leaders came from Soleimani and al-Muhandis. The skills of the remaining militia leaders pale in comparison.
If Iraqi leaders want to rid their country of Iran’s malign influence, now is the time to arrest Al-Amiri and Khazali and make clear there is no place in Iraq for militia leaders who kill innocent civilians.
By boldly attacking Soleimani and al-Muhandis and several other terrorists gathered with them, President Trump made it clear to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that the U.S. is not afraid of him and his brutal regime. Khamenei must now realize that no one in his government is safe from the U.S. if Iran continues its role as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
That’s a very positive development for the Middle East, for the U.S. and for the world.