Last Friday, January 03, a US drone strike killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC).
Soleimani was one of the most powerful figures of Iran. Now, we are on the brink of war. In the worst case, we might already be in a state of war and we just don’t know it yet.
What exactly happened? Let’s boil it down.
Long history of discord
US-Iran conflict dates back to the 1950s, with the US supporting a coup to remove Iran’s prime minister in power to reinstate monarchy in the country under the leadership of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who is on the side with the West. This political unrest culminated in the 1979 Iranian Revolution which abolished the Iranian monarchy and transformed Iran into an Islamic republic led by Ruhollah Khomeini also known as Ayatollah Khomeini.
After the monarchy was abolished, Shah Pahlavi was admitted to the US for cancer treatment. Iran demanded that the Shah return to stand trial for the crimes committed during his reign. The United States during that time denied Iran’s demands and this further sparked enmity between the two countries. This worsened when Islamic revolutionaries hostaged 52 Americans in the US embassy in Tehran demanding for Shah.
The hostage crisis led to the US imposing sanctions and cutting ties with Iran, eventually even declaring Iran’s military force — the Revolutionary Guard — a terrorist organization.
Fast forward to 2018, President Trump withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear deal where Iran agreed to limit its nuclear work in exchange for lessened economic sanctions.
Trump instead chose to pressure Iran by reimposing and adding more sanctions, he argues that this way, Iran will forever be disabled from developing nuclear weapons. With these sanctions, Iran experienced the slowest oil production since the 1980s, spiking up oil prices and fueling protests which led to violence in the country.
The week prior to the death of Soleimani was filled by an exchange of attacks between Iran-loyal Iraqi militants and the US forces. This is primarily due to Trump continuously executing economic pressure in the country. Trump is demanding Iran to comply with a list of demands which would effectively result in Iran letting go of its most important strategic programs. Refusing to compromise, Iran chose the path of intensified escalation.
Earlier the week of Soleimani’s death, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei taunted Trump by saying he “can’t do anything.” In response, we are now in this situation, with the man behind Iran’s military strategies killed in the most recent attack of the US.
What happens next
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh revenge” for the death of Soleimani. However, their options are quite limited.
It is suspected that Iran’s first step might be the expulsion of US forces in Iraq. However, this isn’t an easy decision to make.
This is because both the Iraqi government and Iran-backed forces rely on US airpower to combat the Islamic State which in spite of having been weakened the past years continues to be a potent threat. Without US support, the Islamic State can use the weakened militia as leverage to gain back their power.
Iran and its allies may also seek ways to kill Americans in their region. It can also use diverted attention to the US as a way to refuel anger towards the nation.
With an escalation of this level, there is almost no way that Iran would remain passive. Right now, no one knows for certain what will happen next. We might have to brace ourselves for yet another war.