The US decision to kill Iran’s most powerful and prominent military official, Lieutenant General Qassem Suleimani, is an action the impact of which is far broader than the Iraqi front. The execution may have been ordered by President Trump in response to the dramatic increase in Shiite pressure at the US embassy in Baghdad, but the result will be reflected on more levels, and will not be limited to the Gulf region.
by ZACHARIAS V. MICHAS
The Americans have made it clear to all concerned that they remain active even with their military force on all fronts where their interests are at stake. It is a pronounced deterrent against those who have recently been trying to challenge American primacy in the wider region, trying to capitalize on the “isolationist” tendencies displayed by President Trump.
The United States is trying to curb this trend and change the impression that with steady pressure and a step-by-step approach, it is possible to expel Americans from the Middle East. This is a redressing action and a declaration by Washington that it is ready to take a serious risk of escalation, which, if it does, will be dealt with again by military force. This message seems to be a warning to Iran and not only.
The message is also “personal”, with President Trump facing criticism for his stance, that is reinforcing the pervasive impression that there is a divergence of White House views with Washington’s establishment on foreign policy issues.
Neutralizing an emblematic – for every anti-American – personality in the Middle East offers a basis for understanding within the US, which has long been portrayed as a divided superpower with no clear goals on the various fronts around the globe. Let’s try to decode the messages sent by the assassination of the Iranian general:
First, it is an indirect response to the expansion of Russian diplomacy from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. Russia’s support for Lieutenant Haftar in Libya creates some “obligations” to Arab countries that support him, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This makes things difficult for Americans.
By killing an emblematic figure of the Shiite world, who was once hated by the Sunnis, the US is balancing if they do not overshadow successful Russian intervention in the Middle East. They show an intention to restore a balance that had been disturbed (mainly by the departure of Americans from northeast Syria) and tended to take on more permanent characteristics.
Secondly, it could be shown that this action even served the interests of a wing of the Iranian regime, as internal confrontations are well known. It could also ease the pressure Israel is trying to exert on Tehran, as reports of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities have recently increased. Such an Israeli military strike would ignite the entire Middle East.
Thirdly, the US action should also be decoded with special attention to Turkey. It could be a warning of limits to the violation of American interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. In fact, a message that personal relationships between leaders remain decisive as long as they do not violate constants on which regional systems and security structures are built …
* Zacharias V. Michas is Director of Studies at the Institute for Security and Defense Analysis (ISDA)