Iran after the Death of Soleimani

The year 2020 is not even two weeks old and has turned out to be rich in vociferous political events. To the surprise of some prominent experts, the death of a prominent general, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the al-Quds special forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has managed to unify Iranian society despite differing views and attitudes towards the current government in Tehran. Soleimani, even before his death, had become a modern symbol of militancy and courage. These character traits made him someone Iran could always take pride in, due to its traditions and cultural features. These values persist regardless of the prevailing political arrangement, whether we speak of the Persian Empire, an enlightened monarchy or today’s theocratic system.

Qasem Soleimani was called “the architect of Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East”. He was part of a limited circle of people whom the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei trusted. Soleimani was very popular not only in his homeland, but also among all Shiites of the Middle East. Of course, his death took the whole of Iran by surprise. Tehran did not expect that the Americans would be ready to cross the “red line” by killing the general, although Soleimani himself repeatedly stated that he was ready for such an outcome of events and to become a martyr.

After the incident, the reaction was almost immediate – Ali Khamenei promised “severe revenge” for the assassination of the IRGC general, and president Hassan Rouhani promised to give the US a “crushing answer.” In turn, US President Donald Trump threatened to attack 52 Iranian targets in the event of an attack on the Americans. Passions were heating up; Iranian politicians were not silent even during the three-day period of mourning, announced in connection with the death of Soleimani.

During these days, the world remained in a state of high tension, given what news continued to come from both Tehran and Washington. Many experts wondered how decisive Iran was in its actions and how long it would take for it to respond. Experts and journalists seriously considered whether a full-scale war between the two countries would begin and what it could ultimately lead to.

USA - Iran: Retaliation Diplomacy
Oleg Barabanov
In the next couple of days it is worth watching how the Americans behave in Iraq. There are two options: either they will sharply activate the evacuation of their bases, or vice versa - they will begin to strengthen them. In the latter case, the chances of an escalation of the conflict with a harsh American response will increase
Expert Opinions

The issue became particularly relevant after Iran’s missile attacks, especially on the Ain al-Assad US military base in Iraq. Tehran decided not to keep the “revenge” on ice. As soon as the mourning in the country ended, Iran began to act. In this regard, Iran simply needed to “save face” in the eyes of the population, which demanded revenge for the murdered Major General Soleimani. Iranian media and television channels almost competed in the rigidity of their reporting; local experts and public opinion leaders urged Khamenei to act against the US and Israel in the most severe way, and not to delay with time, since it “works against us”. No doubt, the assassination of Soleimani influenced internal processes in Iran.

The country united under the single banner of the Islamic clergy. The most diverse sections of Iranian society, with the most diverse views and attitudes towards the regime, united during mourning processions throughout the country; rallies even took place in those cities where the farewell ceremony for the murdered general did not take place – Tabriz, Isfahan and Ardabil. Millions of people took to the streets with the slogans “Death to America, death to England, death to Israel!” and portraits of Soleimani, thereby openly demonstrating their readiness to go on to further confrontation with the United States. Perhaps, there hadn’t been such spontaneous actions since Ayatollah Khomeini was buried in 1989. The bottom line is that the Iranian authorities themselves did not expect such a surge of emotions from ordinary citizens. So the new “powerful sanctions” that President Trump promised to introduce may not become effective to the extent that the White House hopes. Of course, they will affect the standard of living, raising inflation and prompting the further devaluation of the national currency. A spike in emigration is also possible; young people continue to leave the country in search of a better life. Some wealthy Iranians have even acquired housing in large cities in neighbouring states – mainly in Baku, Istanbul, and Batumi.

But there is a flip side to the coin: the moral stability. Given the fact that the Iranian authorities are trying to keep the population on the pillars of spirituality, religious philosophy and morality, the pressure of sanctions will not lead to what Trump is counting on – the overthrow of the current regime. A few months ago such a scenario could have been a possibility. As we recall, then the country was embroiled in mass protests over rising gas prices, which cost President Rouhani credibility and the trust of the electorate, and some even allowed themselves to shout slogans such as “Death to Khamenei!”

Iran Protests: US Expectations vs. the Reality
Hamidreza Azizi
The only things the conservatives need to do is to wait till the next elections to completely sideline the moderate and reformist camp in the Iranian political sphere. Indeed, this would be sharply in contrast with what the US has expected and tried to achieve.
Expert Opinions

Now the situation has taken a 180-degree turn. When the Iranian authorities feel the strong support of the population, decision-making becomes much easier. It is no secret that Iran is accustomed to working quite pragmatically, weighing all the pros and cons, even if the rhetoric at this moment is the most rigorous. However, this time Iran reacted rather swiftly in practice – it attacked the American bases in Iraq. Trump decided to respond to this by once again resorting to sanctions pressure. It would seem that now everything should stop: Tehran has fulfilled its duty, having avenged Soleimani, and urged Washington to return to the JCPOA. A few days ago it seemed unthinkable, because on January 5 Iran refused to follow the last key limitation within the ‘Nuclear Deal’ regarding the number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment. This means that in the medium term, the country can enrich uranium and produce nuclear weapons.

If earlier, in the Iranian parliament and in Khamenei’s closest circle, there were spontaneous disputes about the need to have nuclear weapons, then in the light of recent events, such discussions are unlikely to continue. It is possible that Khamenei’s fatwa that Islam prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, may lose its strength. Iran faces new challenges. Even if revenge “ended”, this does not mean the absence of such incidents in the future, since the red line is still crossed and no one intends to retreat. In this regard, the Iranians will have nothing left to do but to deal closely with the issues of strengthening their own security. Tehran is sure that it cannot trust anyone, and it won’t have to; no one will stand up for Tehran: neither Moscow, nor Beijing, nor anyone else. We can say that it is precisely this principle that has helped Iran live and survive for millennia.

Revenge for Qassem Soleimani's Killing: Is the Matter Closed?
Maxim Suchkov
The parties do not give up their strategic interests. The Iranians will keep their ambitions for regional dominance, even if they are forced to reshape right now. The Americans will keep their intentions to warm up the Iranian regime from the inside. There is nothing new in Donald Trump’s call for negotiations.
Expert Opinions
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.