The killing of Iranian al Quds head, General Qassem Suleimani, continues to be big news.
Politicians, talking heads, anyone who has an opinion on the subject is spouting off about why the killing was right or wrong, if it was a wise move or unwise posturing on the part of the United States and if the situation will or will not cascade into an all-out war. In fact, there are just about as many theories out there about the ramifications of killing Suleimani as there are variations of the spelling of his name.
Israel and Israelis are justifiably worried. They are a convenient target for Iran. Not only because the Jewish state is the biggest symbol of non-Arab, non-Islamic, Western life in the region but also because actions against Israel are the most effective rallying call and unifying tool for every other country in the entire Middle East. And an attack against Israel is an attack on the U.S.
My best analysis is that Iran will respond on many different levels and over time.
Their opening salvo was the twenty missiles shot at Iraqi bases that housed U.S. forces. But before making their move, in advance of the missile launch, Iran warned the Iraqis of their intention. That strike was just window dressing.
Over time, Iran will step back in terms of using its own armed forces. A full-scale frontal war between Iran and the United States is very doubtful. A direct strike from Iran and even from Iranian soil into Israel or to U.S. bases is also unlikely.
They will use their many and devoted proxies to attack U.S. interests in the region. Iran will not engage directly with either the United States or with Israel. Iranian leadership will follow that path not only because it is expedient and absolves them of direct responsibility — but also because it is a way of honoring the memory of their general, Qassem Suleimani.
Using proxies, training proxies, this was actually the role of Suleimani. He was tasked with the planning and execution of missions outside Iran using their proxies to strike at enemies of Iranian interests. He bolstered and trained the very groups and people who will now be called on to strike in his name, in his memory, in "defense" of his country.
Iran's most likely response will be calculated strikes by Hezbollah and by pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq — all, of course, with the assistance of Iranian advisers and weapons. Their fingerprints will be all over the attacks, the world will know who perpetrated those attacks, but they will have plausible deniability.
Israel will, most certainly, not be entirely forgotten. Israel will likely be on the receiving end of a barrage of rockets, maybe even drone attacks, from across their northern border — but not from Gaza. That's because as much as Iran would relish hitting, or at least inconveniencing Israel from top to bottom of their country, Hamas is undisciplined. Gaza is a powder keg that even Iran will not be able to control.
The important calculation vis a vis Iranian proxies is which action will make the biggest statement. But the action cannot be so larges as to tilt the momentum so that Israel or the United States responds with even greater force.
Israel's counter response to Iran's proxy response to the U.S. killing of Suleimani will be based on damage assessment. If missiles land in areas without significant damage but still big enough to make a PR splash in the Arabic and Persian press, escalated tensions will recede and revert to normal tensions.
However, should there any real damage — especially to human life — Israel will be forced to respond by ratcheting up the tensions. The United States will probably use the same calculus in deciding on their counter response. That is the rhetoric that President Trump has been using. It is one of the points he clearly made in his speech to the nation following Iran's attack on the U.S. bases — the attack in which, thankfully, no U.S. personnel were injured.
The person who would be most taken by surprise by the latest turn of events in the political/diplomatic/military game of tug of war between the United States and Iran is none other than General Qassem Suleimani himself. Qessem Suleimani thought that he was untouchable. Tall and proud, he conducted himself in a way that would suggest that he had no fear of being killed.
He would also be surprised — even shocked, that given his popularity, as was made perfectly obvious to all by the staggering number of people who participated in his funeral, that Iran would be satisfied by using only a few rockets to make their first move in revenge of his death. Add insult to injury, with rockets that caused little to no damage.
Iranian leadership is well aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why they are doing what they are doing. That is why I am certain that there is more to come. It will not be direct hits. Iran's next responses will be in the style of Suleiman. They will use Iranian proxies to attack U.S. interests, and other Western interests who have interloped in the Middle East. For Iran, they are all infidels and all trespassing on Muslim land.
Suleimani is dead, but the Iranian regime remains. The Iranians have a plan.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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