It is more like a game of cat and mouse … these conflicts are overt at one time, and covert at other times, between Washington and Tehran … They hide or fade in one period, and unfold clearly in other periods … Perhaps its first beginnings manifested since the year of 1979… The year in which the mullahs sat on the throne of Iran, after their revolution against the Shah Pahlavi regime…
There are many stations and crises that have taken place in this conflict, and most importantly are the positions drawn up by this conflict in more than forty years.
However, its first indisputable spark was the storming of the American embassy in Tehran about forty years ago, and the events and crises that accompanied it caused the conflict between Tehran and Washington to very high levels, in its gravity, dimensions, and nature, and thus its dangerous consequences that affected not the region only, but the entire world … and the main argument on both sides is to defend the higher interests of each of them.
But what is even stranger than that began in the year of 2003 , the year in which Washington’s forces invaded Iraq – and until today, is the transformation of the tracks of this conflict on the one hand, and changing its tools, strategies, events and results, and the theaters on which its events take place on the other hand.
These transformations, according to many followers, are new and dangerous complications at the same time, which gave the American-Iranian conflict new features and directions, just as it gave it the opportunity to join new parties, and expanded its circles regionally and internationally, which reflected negatively on many countries and groups on the one hand, and allowed the emergence of groups, currents and parties, which further aggravated the situation in those countries on the other hand.
There are those who see that the second chapter of the play of this long, complicated and bloody conflict, which recently exposed its events on the Iraq stage, and resulted in Washington bombing a camp for the popular crowd in Anbar, followed by a direct response represented by storming the Washington embassy in Baghdad, ending the scene in this theater chapter – according to what was drawn and directed by American scenarist and portrayed by the Iranian director – by an American bombing of a motorcade in the vicinity of Baghdad Airport, killing the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Major General Qasem Soleimani, and the deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Crowd Forces, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, and others, it is a living proof of what we mentioned in advance .
And before the two conflicting parties move to the events of the third chapter of the American-Iranian conflict, we can predict some features of its events and crises, through the Iraqi, Arab and international reactions, as well as the statements of the two conflicting parties.
Iraq ….. The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Committee vowed revenge for its leader, al-Muhandis , while President Barham Salih called for a voice of wisdom, restraint and the supreme national interest, in turn, the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, called to hold an extraordinary session of parliament after the killing of al-Muhandis and Suleimani, considering the incident violated the sovereignty of Iraq, and the reaction of the Iraqi parliament speaker, Muhammad al-Halbousi, was not far from his predecessors, when he warned of the repercussions of this process, calling on everyone to show restraint, while the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, directed the Mahdi Army and the brigade of promised day (Liwa al-Yawm al-Mawud) to be fully prepared to protect for Iraq, as for the Al-Nujaba Movement, it issued a statement pledging to respond to the American attack and translate the coming battle into a revolution. The Dawa Party’s position was not different from the previous one, when it condemned the operation and described it as foolishness, calling on the Iraqi government to reconsider its relationship with Washington, at a time when the religious authority (Marja) described the incident by ” arrogant aggression” , and considered it a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty, and a violation of international conventions, in light of the loud voices calling for legislation to end the American presence in Iraq as quickly as possible.
Iran… The Supreme National Security Council of Iran called for an emergency meeting to discuss the American raid that targeted Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, and the Iranian leader, Ali Khamenei, vowed to the United States of America a harsh response. For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani confirmed that Tehran’s revenge against the operation that targeted Qassem Soleimani, a leader of al-Qods Force, will include the United States of America, while the head of the Iranian Shura Council, Ali Larijani, has threatened to take revenge for Sulaimani . For his part, after losing his leader, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard spokesman, Ramadan Sharif, threatened to turn the current joy of the Americans into a consolation for them.
In Arab terms, the Secretary-General of the Lebanese Hezbollah , Hassan Nasrallah, condemned the killing of Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis and Qasim Soleimani, and called “the resistance” for revenge, while Hamas mourned the killing of Soleimani and the al-Muhandis and those with them, and the Houthis in Yemen pledged to revenge on the Americans, and the Lebanese President condemned this act .
America …. US President Donald Trump said that Soleimani killed and wounded thousands of Americans over a long period of time, and the Pentagon stated that the US military killed Soleimani under the direction of Trump to protect Americans abroad, and the reaction of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was identical to those who preceded him, when he said, that the news of the killing of the Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani raised joy and happiness in the Iraqi street, calling, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the citizens of his country to leave Iraq immediately, and he said that Washington wants the world to know that an imminent attack was preparing by Soleimani, and every possible information will be available in this regard , and he stressed that his country will continue to deter and respond to Iran when necessary.
As for the position of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, it came differently when she described the assassination of the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, that it would raise the threat of escalation in the region. So was the position of the candidate for the US elections this year, Joe Biden, when he said that President Donald Trump threw a dynamic finger in a powder keg, as for the Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, he supported and blessed Trump’s move, and the opinion was disputed by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who warned of the repercussions of the process of killing the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qassem Soleimani, on regional conditions.
Here, the positions differ between supporters and opponents, and between blessing and warning, and it becomes more clear by returning to American ideological references. While Republicans bless this step, Democrats or some of them warn of its consequences.
Globally, the global reactions to the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis and those with them do not differ, except with the different nature of international relations itself , as we find Western positions in general blessed this step, while we find the position of the Russian-Turkish-Chinese alliance, criticizing this step and considers it a wick that will ignite a stronger crisis.
Here it is worth noting the very blessed position of Israel on this operation , as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut his visit to Greece, praised the assassination of Soleimani, and raised the security alert in anticipation of Iranian retaliatory operations, and Netanyahu said that Soleimani bore responsibility for killing Americans and many innocent people, and that he planned to implement other offensive actions, adding that just as Israel has the right to defend itself, the United States also has the right to defend itself.
Another position worth noting is the position of the Arab Gulf states in general, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular, as there is no doubt that most of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council welcomed the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis and those with them, and considered it an American step that deserves appreciation and praise, whether through official statements or, by implicit reactions, which can be read through the media of these countries addressing the issue.
More important than the attitudes of the Gulf states on this issue, and their reactions, is the threat to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular, and its interests in the region, as many observers see that Iran, with its direct entity, or through its arms in the Arab region, will try to avenge America by striking its interests and its allies in the region, especially since the geography of the place, between America and Iran on the one hand, and the difference in power and capabilities on the other hand, will make the allies of the United States of America, headed by Saudi Arabia, the first and most important goals that Iran and its arms in the region will seek to avenge against, especially since the Houthis expressly vowed to revenge for Soleimani, which brings to mind the incident of the bombing of the Saudi Aramco facilities, which despite the Houthis ’claim of responsibility, but the fingers of accusation were and are still referring to Iran in planning and carrying out that operation, and therefore, the threats of Iran and its allies to avenge for the leader of the Revolutionary Guards and his comrades will put the Gulf states in general, and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates and Bahrain in particular, in the danger circle .
Not only that, but the goals that Tehran may enter into its revenge list may affect the American bases located within the area covered by the Iranian ballistic arsenal, which are located in most of the Gulf countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other land and sea areas.
According to the latest statistics, America has large numbers of soldiers in its bases scattered in Asia, who reach nearly forty thousand soldiers, distributed among: Afghanistan (12,000), Qatar (10,000), Iraq (5000), Bahrain (4000) soldiers, Saudi Arabia (3000) soldiers, Kuwait (1800) soldiers, Turkey (1700) soldiers, Syria (1000) soldiers, Egypt (300) soldiers, in addition to Washington today sending about (3000) additional soldiers to the Middle East as a precautionary measure, which indicates two extremely important issues, the first is the gravity of the military situation in the region, in which Washington takes all precautionary measures to protect its interests in it, and the second, the multiplicity of options available to Tehran and its arms in choosing direct American military targets, to deliver painful strikes in revenge for the killing of Soleimani and those with him.
The question that arises in this case, will Tehran consider revenge for Soleimani from Washington, by targeting the latter’s bases, interests, or allies in the region, whether in Iraq, the Arab Gulf, or Afghanistan?
Although the satisfactory answer to this question is owned only by Tehran, the logic discovers that Tehran will not dare to take this step, because it is certain that the American response will be a deterrent and decisive, as Washington places under its advanced weapons vital Iranian strategic goals, and it has the ability and potential to cripple Iran’s military ability completely within hours only, and this gives a feeling that Iran is in a critical and unenviable position, because it has two options, the best of them is bitter, either to respond or not to respond to the killing of its Revolutionary Guards Commander, Qassem Soleimani, and if it chooses to respond and take revenge, it realizes that the American response will be tough and decisive and quickly, and destroy its military arsenal, and will eliminate its economy already crumbling, and will end its domestic policies, and erased its presence in the region and at the blink of an eye, but if it chose silence not to respond, then Tehran had accepted to continue and is aware that its pride had been insulted and humiliated.
Which options will Iran choose? This is what will become clear after the funeral of Qassem Soleimani on Sunday in “Tehran”.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Sheikh
Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies