Late last week, President Trump authorized the radical escalation of America’s 40-year-long conflict with Iran. The January 3 drone attack at Baghdad International Airport was not aimed at deterring an “imminent” attack on Americans, as claimed. It was the preplanned exploitation of a pretext.
Haaretz has reported that Israel, but not the United States Congress, was briefed on the proposed drone strike days before it took place. Its purpose was to eliminate a senior foreign official the Trump administration had designated as an enemy. The killing of the commander of an Iraqi militia hostile to the United States was a bonus. The assassinations were an act of war that will inevitably evoke reprisal. Iran has already promised that it will exact “savage” retribution for the murder of a senior official of its government by the United States.
Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was the equivalent of the US national security adviser or the commanders of CENTCOM, SOCOM, and SOCCENT. All are now potential Iranian targets. In Iraq itself, the followers of Kataeb Hezbollah’s commander, Abu Mahdi (whose sobriquet was “al Muhandis” or “the Engineer”), will seek their own revenge. The fact that they are part of the Iraqi national security establishment and armed forces is not irrelevant. Kataeb Hezbollah is likely to be joined in its campaign against US forces and officials in Iraq by other patriotic militias, including some historically hostile to both it and Iran.
The Iranian government seldom makes decisions in haste. It is the heir to one of the world’s longest and greatest traditions of politico-military statecraft. It will make considered judgments as it calculates and plans asymmetric responses that hurt Americans without provoking a large-scale conventional war with the United States. If Tehran miscalculates, which is a very real possibility, the now open but low-intensity warfare between the United States and Iran will escalate. Those, like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and former US national security adviser John Bolton, who have long sought a war with Iran will get one. So will everyone else.