The military confrontation between Iran and the United States has been dominating the headlines over the past few days. But now that de-escalation seems to be happening, who came out on top?
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
America assassinated a top Iranian general and the leader of an Iranian-backed Shia militia in Iraq.
General Qassem Soleimani was a national hero in Iran and a symbol of Iran’s successful “forward defence policy”. This has involved decades of work cultivating, financing and arming allies in places such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen and Palestine with the goal of spreading Iranian influence and fighting Iran’s enemies.
The Americans had a particular grudge against Soleimani because of the role he played in targeting American forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And the only military response America has received from Iran (so far) was dozens of ballistic missiles targeting U.S. bases but without any casualties. And credible sources suggest that the Iranians deliberately avoided killing any American soldiers out of fear of escalation.
The U.S. has also made it clear that they will not leave the Middle East despite Iranian demands and a vote in the Iraqi Parliament, and President Donald Trump has even asked NATO to play a more direct role in the area.
So on the military front America clearly came out on top, but on the political front they may end up being the losers if they adhere to the Iraqi Parliament’s vote to leave the country, and if other nations in the region become uneasy about hosting their military bases.
As for President Trump himself, he will feel that he has delivered a bloody punch on the nose to Iran without sustaining a heavy blow in return, which may well boost his popularity at home in an election year.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
General Soleimani’s death was a heavy blow to Iran which was evidenced by the extraordinary scenes of national mourning that took place all over the country.
But Iran will take some solace from those very scenes which they will feel was the most spontaneous outpouring of support for the values of the Islamic Republic in generations.
Iran also conducted the first direct military strike on a U.S. army base since World War 2, and they did so without any response from the U.S.
And Tehran have said that that was only the beginning of their response so let’s see what happens in the days, weeks and months to come.
But it is in the political, rather than the military arena, that Iran will seek to make the Americans pay. They have already pressured the Iraqis to expel U.S. forces from the country and no doubt they will also pressure other Middle Eastern nations to do the same.
The Iranians are patient and measure success or failure in years rather than over the short-term. So just like they have turned potentially disastrous situations in the past to their advantage (the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan), they may well get their revenge on the Americans in a long, drawn-out way.
On the other hand, expelling U.S. forces from the region will be a tough task given that many nations depend on the Americans for their security and actually fear Iran more.
Also, Iran’s failure to launch a deadly and destructive military strike on the U.S. will have disappointed many of Iran’s supporters who will feel that the Islamic Republic must fight harder to prove its resistance credentials.
And the poor state of the Iranian economy – with no sanctions relief in sight – puts Iran in survival rather than offensive mode.