Iran After Sulaimani- A Multi-pronged retribution.
The assassination of Sulaimani on Friday shook the international system. Now, the people of Iran and Iraq, caught in the terrible power play of regimes and empires wait anxiously for the coming events which will literally determine their very existence. All eyes are now on Iran, who has publicly and repeatedly stated its desire to take revenge for the killings.
Today, Sulamani is being laid to rest, after days of parading his body around in an effort to demonstrate Iranian’s grieving in massive numbers for Sulaimani. Sulaimani’s funeral is as much a show as a form of retaliatory message from Iran to America. When sensational images of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was shown weeping dramatically he wasn’t so much crying for Sulamani the man, but Sulamani the brilliant military strategist and leader who was almost single handedly led Iran’s hegemonic objectives in the region. Sulamani is now synonymous with the Iranian regime, as his remains are paraded by regime loyalists and hardliners as a final act to generate a demonstrable show of support for the regime.
The question now is what measures will Iran take to avenge the execution of this important man? Undoubtedly, Iran is now honor bound to hit back at the US. Will this retaliation take the striking form of the horrific events of September 11? Will we see Iranian suicide bombers attacking important American buildings and sites? Perhaps cultural sites in America will be targeted in order to turn Trump’s now much criticized threat to target 52 non-military locations in Iran, including ancient historical sites. Some of the speculations are interesting, some are wildly inaccurate, most are permeated with a high level of confusion and uncertainty. What will Iran do?
To add to the tensions, earlier today Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Spokesperson Ali Shamkhani stated that Iran was entertaining 13 possible retaliatory scenarios, indicating that any form of response by the Iranians will be a multi-pronged approach intended to cause maximum and long term damage to American interests.
The Iranian revenge will be well thought out, undoubtedly. It is highly unlikely that Iran will resort to a high profile attack such as September 11. It will however, rely on proxy groups, patron-client relations and conflict ridden locations across the region to enact its revenge. This revenge will come in providing arms, withheld to date, and increased funding to Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy force in Lebanon, has already issued an open threat in their attempts to avenge Sulaimani. Lebanon will play a crucial role here, being the base and the launching ground for attacks towards Israel- one of the most important American allies. The Palestinian plight will be enhanced as increased clashes are encouraged with Israel- who has shown a historical tendency to lack restraint in its responses. Hezbollah has been empowered, through direct Iranian support, to the tune of $700 million per annum, to become a power actor in the region. Its power is about to rise substantially as Iranian coffers are about to be opened more generously.
Meanwhile, Iran will develop closer relations with Assad and provide additional weapons to the regime to cause further conflict, and rapidly arm various militant groups imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan to target remaining American interests, oil fields and personnel. This will be similar to when Qassem Sulaimani send Kata’ib militia who were training and operating in Iraq to Syia; or when mukhtar Army (estimated several 1000), Liwa Fatemiyoun (estimated 10-20,000 forces), Liwa Zainebyoun (Several 1000s) Shia militia were created and subsequently fought in Syria. Syria and Lebanon will also come in handy in maneuvering and the safekeeping of proxy groups, allies and important individuals. Naturally, Sulaimani’s role in Syria in creating new Shia militias and groups, training and arming them will have to be conferred to someone else.
Iraq will be crucial. It will be one of the main theaters of conflict. While discussion rages in the US over alleged US troop pullout from Iraq, all such illusions should be dissolved immediately. America will never leave Iraq. In fact 3000 additional troops are currently en route to Iraq. Iraq is an immeasurably important strategic location for American regional interests. Not to mention that Iraq floats on a literal sea of oil. Iraq, which is a state almost entirely run by Iran, through its proxies, will be one of the major confrontational locations between Iran and US. US troops will accumulate, especially in the Kurdish run region of the north- one of the safest locations to be an American in the Middle East with the heavily pro-American Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) situated there. Targeting KRG through proxy groups, creating instability in the most stable part of Iraq, fermenting ethno-religious and sectarian conflicts will predominate.
Yemen, -or rather the Cold-War between Iran and Saudi Arabia- will also experience an intensification of conflict, in a bid to threaten Iran’s longest foe Saudi Arabia which also happens to be one of America’s closest strategic partners in the region. Targeting American allies will be a crucial aspect of this multi pronged response. Likewise, in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Bahrain and Qatar are all fair game for proxy clashes, conflicts and efforts to thwart US interests.
Turkey, likewise, will be one of the major resources that Iran will rely on. The recent tensions between Turkey’s Erdogan will be used to advantage Iran’s interest but the coordination will be strictly ‘off the books’. Iran and Turkey share major points of interests, especially in recent light of Erdogan’s increasing tensions with the Trump administration particularly over Syria, and historically over the Kurdish issue. While Iran is now firmly competing with Turkey for regional hegemony, they nevertheless are inclined to cooperate in covert objectives mutually beneficial to both their nationalist agendas.
At the same time one of the major objectives of these proxy conflicts will be to increase refugee flows to Europe from the Middle East. Recent history has proven that nothing irks Europe more than masses of brown bodies flowing across illegal and dangerous channels towards its pristine paradise- despoiling its purity with the stench of desperation of refugees and dead and drowned bodies. Increasing refugees to Europe is akin to killing two birds with one stone; plus Iran has a number of American and western hostages which it can use as bargaining chips.
Finally, and most crucially, Iran has the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf. It can cause immeasurable damage to US interests through this sea line and the large number of American hardware floating around. After all, attacks by Iran towards Saudi Arabia last year went unanswered by Trump in a sharp deviation from previous administrations efforts to maintain control over the Persian Gulf. The US and Iran have repeatedly come to almost clashes and blows over the gulf region, including the American downing of Iranian flight 655, navel disputes and standoffs. Iran has a history of threatening American interest by indicating that it will close the Strait of Hormuz- which is responsible for millions of barrels of oil passing though it supplying countries like China, Japan and India. A third of the world’s natural gas production and 40% of global oil trade passes through Hormuz. Simply closing the strait will wreck havoc to global oil and gas markets. Hormuz is an important bargaining tool. However, it will not utilize this option because of the crippling US sanctions. Iran needs the Persian Gulf to maintain its war economy.
Overall, certain trajectories for Iran’s response are clear. Iran will not risk a conventional war with Trump on its turf. Despite the massive show of numbers for Sulaimani, the Ayatollah’s hold over the people of Iran remains precarious. While this assassination has caused a certain level of unity, arousing Iranian national pride and honor, there are large sections of Iranian society who are heavily anti-regime and are in direct defiance of the Ayatollah’s government. Perhaps the tide of support following Sulaimani’s assassination will wane, or perhaps the Ayatollah’s will make some crucial politically astute and savvy decisions and bolster that support to their interests. This remains to be seen. However, similar to the sharp division currently between the American pacifists and hawks, Iranian society (which is by no means a homogenous group) is likewise sharply divided- caught between national pride, honor, anger at American imperialism, hatred of the brutal Ayatollah’s regime and the spiraling economic crises in Iran. Iran likewise has a range of ethno-religious groups which can in turn be used by America if tensions rise.
But what is at the heart of this Iran-Iraq issue, beyond who is in the right and who is in the wrong in the killing of Sulaimani? Just as American imperialism desperately needs to prop up its industrial war machinery through the ever lucrative arms sales, Iran needs Western involvement in the Middle East as a means of projecting its own hegemony and leadership aspirations for the region. It needs an enemy- a conflicting identity and narrative to maintain its Islamic Revolutionary ideology- and yes its own imperialist objectives. Undoubtedly, American presence in the Middle East region has fermented further conflict, violence and prolonged already protracted wars. The recent case in Syria’s north, Rojava, the Kurdish dominated region, and the shocking betrayal of the Kurdish allies and the subsequent ethnic cleansing by Turkey is a case in point. The involvement of Western powers in the region, such as the US, is an unspoken tacit agreement between various hegemonic and imperialist power regionally and globally. In fact, all states by virtue of their existence are in one way or another directly serving and furthering imperialism- the most prominent of which being the American one. In this regard, all states are complicit and tacitly involved in reproduction of forms of violence.
This killing of Sulaimani came at an important and crucial time for Iran. The so called de-escalation efforts which allegedly Sulaimani may have been overseeing between Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran are clearly no longer on the table; and so the war machine speeds up its clunky, greasy chains and the march towards unimaginable human suffering continues.