Who is more powerful? Iran learns the hard way
In a region where things are often predictable, recent events in the Middle East have been highly unusual and will have far-reaching consequences.
The assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and overseer of Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts, is America’s first major confrontation with Tehran.
Iran and its leadership have been severely damaged as a result of their mistaken reading of the situation, and the resolve of the US leadership. Wicked regimes in the region, including Iran, are in the habit of despising American presidents and underestimating Washington’s power. Over the years, this has resulted in the elimination of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Most of the regimes in the region respect only force. They fear Russia, therefore, and avoid messing with Moscow or its interests. For example, when Moscow issued threats after Iran arrested a Russian journalist accused of spying, she was released within days. Meanwhile, American and European citizens have been locked up in Iranian jails for years, and the regime in Tehran uses them to apply pressure and as bargaining chips.
Respect and morals may not be priorities in the field of international relations, but the image projected by states is paramount. Tehran has gone too far in its dealings with global states, including Washington, after threatening their interests for decades.
Until now, US presidents avoided using their military capabilities against Iran directly, instead only pursuing organizations affiliated with Tehran. The Iranian leadership treated President Donald Trump like his predecessors, and then was dismayed when he applied the harshest economic sanctions in the history of the region. Then, after Iran dared to kill an American in Iraqi Kurdistan and orchestrated the siege of the US Embassy in Baghdad, Tehran paid the highest price. Trump ordered the killing of Iran’s most important military leader, someone who believed he was shielded and untouchable.
The Iranian leaders now know very well that Trump is different from previous US presidents
This is why there were no casualties in the subsequent retaliatory Iranian missile attacks that targeted American bases — Tehran feared the potential US response to further bloodshed.
The Iranian leaders now know very well that Trump is different from previous US presidents. He has the will and the boldness and will not hesitate to eliminate Iran’s military forces if they dare to launch any substantial attacks. Four decades of military and industrial power could be destroyed by Trump in a matter of days. If that happened, Iran would be unable to protect its territory or its regime. We all know that Iran respects only power, which is why Washington’s display of limitless force, without consideration of any “red lines” that cannot be crossed, is the perfect political act that might change the situation in the region for the better.Soleimani controlled the activities of Iran and its affiliates in a large part of the region, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza, and threatened the sovereignty of other governments.
Those who accuse Trump of bullying and arrogance forget that the Iranian regime has been guilty of bullying and arrogance for four decades. Now, however, it has discovered that someone capable of being more arrogant and a bigger bully has taken up residence in the White House.After taking office, Trump extended a hand to the Iranian government and invited it to negotiate. The regime in Tehran viewed this as an act of weakness and decided to twist Trump’s arm by killing Americans and burning an embassy. The result has been tears and misery in Tehran. Trump has explicitly warned that he is prepared to respond to aggression by destroying Iran’s military capabilities.
Now, everyone realizes he is capable of doing that without flinching — and would no doubt then announce Iran’s destruction in one of his tweets.Tehran failed to learn from the experience of other nations. Even a major power such as China agreed to return to negotiations with the US after Trump rejected its trade agreement. Mexico, Canada and even NATO member states have followed suit. The president of Turkey swallowed his pride and traveled to Washington seeking to resolve his nation’s problems with the US.
The outcome of this showdown between the US and Iran will be positive. After the painful strikes the supreme leader’s regime has endured, the door will open to diplomacy, set within a framework of reasonable expectations for everyone in the region, including Iran.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.Twitter: @aalrashed