Trump was panting heavily, like Darth Vader on the Death Star. The mike was too close to his mouth. His laboured speech and strange look did not match the comforting words as he spoke to the American people. But the meaning was clear: the world sheriff had received a ringing slap in the face. First time ever, a regional power brazenly shelled a superpower’s air base, hiding not in the shadows of deniability. Trump was given two choices: to rush forward furiously berserker-style or to smile piteously and say: “It doesn’t hurt at all.” He chose the second option, which can only be approved.
This situation had mirrored the Syrian incident, when Trump fired Tomahawks (after having a beauuutiful chocolate cake with Chairman Xi), and the Syrians responded that the missiles missed the goal. This time, Trump was in the place of Assad. It was a powerful anti-climax: talking heads expected Trump to completely annihilate Iran. Let us hope that this embarrassment for the Lord of (half) the Universe will provide him a useful exercise in humility.
In both cases, the debacle was not the end of the story. After and despite Trump’s shelling, Assad regained 80 percent of Syrian territory. After Iranian shelling, there was a murky Ukrainian airliner disaster and riots in Tehran. Moreover, the assassination was not the beginning: the naval drills of Russia, China and Iran preceded it.
As this episode is behind us and has not led to a third world war or a large-scale regional conflict, we can carry out a short debriefing. The assassination of Soleimani turned out to be ‘worse than a crime, a mistake’, in Talleyrand’s adage. The Russians and the Chinese branded it with a rare word from Marxist vocabulary, ‘adventurism’.
Even Israelis, who rarely shy away from taking risks, gave a short sharp gasp when they learned (on short notice) of the coming assassination. Amnon Abramovich, a knowledgeable man, said Mossad toyed with the idea, and they could kill Soleimani any time since 2008; but considered it too audacious by half. Indeed Israelis had practiced more political assassinations than anybody since The Old Man of the Mountain, but the results were underwhelming. Who remembers the previous bosses of Hezbollah and Hamas? They were killed by Jews, but their successors were even worse for Israel.
There were no regrets in Israel. Netanyahu blessed Trump’s arms, and a leading journalist Ehud Yaari said Soleimani was the worst and most dangerous enemy of Israel since 1948. Still there was not a single attempt to claim the feat for Mossad. NBC said that ‘Intelligence from Israel helped confirm the details’, but there was no high preparedness for Iranian vengeance, for there was no place for vengeance at all: Israel didn’t participate in the assassination, by experts’ account.
While Israel prefers to stay on the margin, the Israeli lobby is much more aggressive. They want to fight Iran like a teenager wants petting. Long ago, in 2006, they convinced Israeli army to enter fight in Lebanon, intending to continue to Syria and Iran. It did not work out well. Since then, Israel Lobby wants war, while Israel wants to keep outside, while encouraging pro-war elements in the US.
The Lobby supported Mike Pompeo, a former CIA officer and now secretary of state, and he convinced the cornered president Trump that this assassination would improve his position with the voters, and even Adam Schiff, his chief Nemesis, would applaud as a good Israeli patriot and forget all about impeachment.
Nothing of the kind happened. Jingoist Americans would approve of any bomb strike, it’s true, but the Democrats are even more prone to war and violence than the Republicans. The more competent and authentic Trump voters had supported Trump, who promised to end unnecessary Middle Eastern wars. And here is such an affront. “Hillary Clinton would have bombed Iran even faster and more decisively, as she bombed Libya,” they murmured in consolation, but it did not console them completely. The Democrats – opponents of Trump – condemned the president, saying that Soleimani was, of course, an enemy of America, but now it was not the right time to kill him.
However, the main negative (for the US) consequences were the events in Iraq. Despite the fantasy that all Shia Muslims are pro-Iranian; many Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, have an anti-Iranian animus. They have a painful memory of Iran-Iraq war; and they prefer a secular state to the Iranian model. This difference of opinions could help the US to play its hand in Iraq for long time after its conquest. But all Iraqis, Shia and Sunni, pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian were indignant at the uncouth and rude way Trump disregarded the opinions of Iraqi authorities, killing the local hero Soleimani on their territory while he acted as intermediary between Saudis and their neighbours.
Muqtada al-Sadr, an important Iraqi Shiite leader who is considered rather pro-American and anti-Iranian, demanded that the American embassy and the entire American occupation army be driven out of Iraq. The Iraqi parliament also made a similar demand – to cease the activities of the pro-American coalition and proceed with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, though the Americans considered the parliament being tame and obedient.
The deputies were told by the Iraqi Prime Minister about the hidden causes of the internal crisis. As you may recall, last year there were riots in Iraq, and some four hundred protesters had lost their lives. On December 1, 2019 Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi had to resign. (In practice, he continues to “temporarily fulfil the duties of the prime minister,” and in that capacity, he spoke in parliament.)
He said that the United States demanded that he give them half of all Iraqi oil to compensate for the reconstruction of Iraq, which suffered a lot – first from the American invasion and occupation, and then from the militants of the Islamic State. He said he refused to do this and gave the order for reconstruction to China, who did not demand such a large fee. (While the story is not fully verified, Abdel-Mahdi indeed visited China just before the riots).
According to the prime minister, Trump was annoyed, saying it’s a pity, that President George W. Bush did not take all Iraqi oil as trophies and in payment for liberating the Iraqi people from the villain Saddam Hussein; and if the prime minister does not change his mind, the people will overthrow him.
And what would you think – indeed, an uprising soon started in Iraq, and the protesters began to die from sniper bullets. “They were third-party snipers – the American marines, they killed both policemen and demonstrators,” the prime minister said. He added: “When I first mentioned the third force — the snipers — I received a call from Washington and was threatened with death. Therefore, I resigned.”
After his speech, parliament quickly voted for grounding and subsequent withdrawal of the pro-American forces. (It is a pity that the Ukrainian Maidan did not hear this speech, for they also suffered from ‘third party snipers’).
This was the biggest damage to Trump and the United States from the killing of Soleimani. If the Americans will withdraw, it would be possible to say that Soleimani, by his death, achieved what he could not achieve in his whole life, namely, to drive the Americans out of the region. After all, after leaving Iraq, they could not have stayed in Syria.
However this desired result – the end of the American occupation – is still far away. The US began to send embarrassing signals: “We are leaving”, “It was a mistake – we are not leaving”, “We are leaving, and we do not need your oil, but you will regret it.” These three responses were received by the Iraqi authorities in three days.
According to some indications, the Americans are going to strengthen their presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, the northern third of Iraq. They may try to tear it off, make it “independent” from Baghdad and completely subjugate it. And Kurdish militants always fall into an Israeli or American trap.
To sum it up: Iran took a bold and risky step, striking an American military base. Many expected the US response to be scary. But in this case, the risk paid off. The Iranian leadership avenged Soleimani, showed that it can strike at the Americans, undermined American prestige in the region and in the world.
In life, unlike boxing, knockouts are rare. The United States will not disappear, Iran will not disappear, and Iraq and other participants in the events will not disappear. But in this round, the Iranians win on points.
Russia played its game cautiously – it did not speak out in vain, and did not allow the enemies of Russia in Washington to blame everything on it. Russia condemned the killing of Soleimani. At the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, the commander of the operation of the Russian armed forces in Syria, Alexander Chaiko, paid the last respects to General Qassem Soleimani and laid two wreaths: from the Russian Armed Forces and from the Russian Armed Forces in Syria (on the photo).
Russia appreciates its allies, as Soleimani’s soldiers and Russian soldiers fought side by side. While the US despises its former allies – after all, Soleimani was also their ally during the fight against ISIS, but this did not help him. The alliance did not help the Kurds of Syria (the Kurds of Iraq are already preparing to step on the same rake).
Therefore, in Iraq, they are increasingly talking about the possibility of concluding allied relations with Russia when and if the Americans leave, and even try on the S-400, this symbol of Russian support.
The Ukrainian airliner
The Ukrainian airliner disaster immediately had changed the tune of the MSM. It became the new Iranian ‘atrocity’, to condemn Iran for. Only alternative media remembered the US forces shooting down the Iranian airliner during the tension in the Gulf. But even the Unz Review authors did not remember the cruel fate of the Libyan airliner shot down by Israelis. It went completely down the memory hole.
Iran promptly admitted that the passenger jet had been misidentified as a cruise missile flying over Tehran and shot down by mistake. This quick admission had caused some observers to refer to a secret deal between Iranians and the US. The crash could not be investigated with such a speed. However, perhaps Iranian authorities wanted to have this story over as soon as possible.
There were riots in Tehran following the disaster; the rioters condemned the government and called for death to the leaders. Probably you won’t be surprised to hear that the UK Ambassador had been detained among the rioters. He did what Mrs Nuland did in Kiev: encouraged the rioters.
One of the more potent weapons of the Empire is their reservoir of potential rebels. You name a country; they have their own rebels ready to rise. Now, there are plenty of dissatisfied folk everywhere; but unaffiliated rebels have hard time, as we see now in France. The rebels approved by the Empire revolt while keeping their eyes on a Nobel Peace Prize or on Yale grant.
It is still possible that the chain of events started by killing of General Soleimani will end with an American victory over Tehran, and the domino of Moscow and Beijing will fall, while Israel will rise and rise. However, nothing is predestined. We still are masters of free will.
This is true regarding President Trump. Iranian developments won’t help the embattled president. If he will begin withdrawing his troops home from the Middle East before the elections, he will regain trust of his voters; the US won’t be conceived an illegal occupier; and he will be re-elected. As far as we understand, there are two streams within the US administration regarding the withdrawal. Probably a single best decision of Trump would be to dump Mike Pompeo to the heap where John Bolton had found his refuge. But will he?
Israel Shamir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published at The Unz Review.