It has been a dazzling week in the international arena. On Jan.3, the United States assassinated Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, escalating tensions to unprecedented heights in the Middle East.
The outcome of the U.S. military operation was completely unpredictable, as Soleimani was considered Iran's second most powerful figure. How Tehran would retaliate against that attack was crucial for the future of the entire region. Iran felt obliged to retaliate against the United States over the killing of Soleimani; Iran's reputation and the clout of its proxy network in Syria, Iraq and Yemen being at stake.
In the aftermath of the Soleimani assassination, both Washington and Tehran issued strongly-worded statements. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced that it had designated multiple U.S. facilities as military targets. The United States responded that it would retaliate heavily against any U.S. casualties.
When Iran attacked U.S. bases in northern Iraq on Jan. 8, the world thus held its breath. No one immediately knew what was about to happen. Tehran successfully targeted American facilities, but what followed was not as terrible as anticipated. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described his country's response as 'proportionate' and said that the conflict would end if Washington took no further steps. U.S. President Donald Trump announced that no American military personnel had died in the Iranian attack. The two countries seemed eager to avoid a military confrontation.
Here's the state of play, one week after the Soleimani assassination: The United States took out one of Iran's top military commanders, who oversaw its external operations. In light of the U.S. military operation's target and implementation, Washington's intention was to curb Tehran's regional activities. The United States successfully dealt a heavy blow to Iran's external operations. Having accomplished its goal, Washington avoided further escalation and survived the episode without damage.
Iran, in turn, failed to protect its second most powerful military and political figure from the United States. Over 50 additional Iranian citizens perished in a stampede during Soleimani's funeral. Tehran's response was limited to targeting U.S. positions in northern Iraq without harming any Americans. Some of Iran's rockets ended up in empty fields. To make matters worse, the Iranians unintentionally shot down a civilian aircraft and killed 176 civilians. They took responsibility and formally apologized to Ukraine. The Ukrainian government is due to submit a diplomatic note to Tehran to request compensation.
To summarize, Iran managed the aftermath of Qassem Soleimani's death extremely poorly. The United States airstrike claimed the life of a top Iranian official, but Iran ended up under fire for downing a civilian aircraft and having to offer compensation to Ukraine. The Iranians are far too preoccupied with damage control to confront the United States on Soleimani's death.
Qassem Soleimani's killing and Iran's continued failure to keep the situation under control offer some insights into the emerging balance of power in the Middle East. Iran finds itself having to suspend its external operations. Going forward, we have every reason to anticipate new developments in this area.
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