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Two leading Israeli security analysts said over the weekend that the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Thursday night marked a significant blow to the Islamic Republic.
The experts also downplayed the regime’s appetite for direct conflict with the United States and noted that the act could potentially destabilize Iraq, which will then become the major battlefield between Iran and the US.
In contradistinction to many others excitedly warning of a major war, these Israeli analysts know that Iran, however much it swaggers and now claims it will attack 6,236 (the number of Qur’anic verses) American targets, has no intention of directly engaging with the United States. It has been blustering, and the bluster will continue, but nothing will come of it, save for a handful of minor attacks — e.g., an insignificant cyber attack from Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon, or the missiles lamely lobbed Tuesday night at an American base in Iraq. Iran dare not do more.
Writing for Israeli news website Mako, veteran Middle East analyst Ehud Yaari noted, “The most important event of the last day following Soleimani’s assassination is what did not happen: Baghdad’s Shiites did not take to the streets to participate in a funeral procession.”
This demonstrates the crumbling of Iranian influence over Iraqi Shiites, who “have gone to Baghdad’s squares for weeks to protest the government and burn [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei’s and Soleimani’s pictures.”
Much of the world media seems to think that Iraq’s entire Shi’a population was devastated by the killing of Soleimani. It isn’t true. Many Iraqi Shi’a, as Yaari notes, have been protesting against Iran’s influence in their country, even burning pictures of Khamenei and Soleimani. Some analysts claim that 50% of Iraq’s Shi’a are against Iranian interference in their country. The Shi’a in Iraq are also Arabs, and their ethnic identity undermines Shi’a unity. They are also nationalists, who readily fought their fellow Shi’a during the Iran-Iraq War.
Iran announced on Sunday it would abandon limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015…
This decision had already been in the works for a long time; Iran has been exceeding the limits on enriching uranium since 2017. And it was clear by this past summer that they had no intention of observing any limits on enrichment. By linking the “abandonment” of such limits to the killing of Soleimani, Iran’s rulers are hoping to whip up alarm against Trump, and to preposterously blame him for a decision they had made long ago.
“It turns out that most Shiites in Iraq are unwilling to join Soleimani’s adulation as a fairy-tale hero and do not want to see Iraq become a battlefield between Iran and the United States,” Yaari posited.
This point needs to be repeatedly made: many Shi’a in Iraq were pleased when Soleimani was killed; they are Shi’a, but also Arabs, and Iraqi nationalists, who do not want their country dominated by the Persians of Iran and their proxies.
He [Yaari] also pointed out that “most Shiite militias deployed by Iran in Iraq have left the country in recent days for fear of further assassinations by the Americans.”
US President Donald Trump’s threat to strike 52 major Iranian targets if the Islamic Republic attacks “is likely to affect the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s system of considerations,” said Yaari. “He in no way wants war.”
“He would like to drag the United States into a skirmish in the form of attrition around the presence of 5,000 American troops in Iraq,” Yaari stated, “but he does not want to provoke Tomahawk missiles and the US Air Force. Iran has no answer to US capabilities.”
Israel, he asserted, is in fact far less worried about possible repercussions than the Saudis, who have just dispatched the brother of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Washington for consultations.
The Saudis have always depended on the Americans to protect them. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the Saudi government was quick to invite in the American Infidels to protect the country, despite the Islamic injunction against allowing Unbelievers anywhere in Arabia; the American pilots, claimed the Saudi king, as if this justified their presence, were his “blue-eyed slaves.” The Saudis recently became alarmed when the Americans did not retaliate for Iran’s attack on Saudi oil installations, and no doubt they now want even more of an American military presence in the KSA. That means more than the 3,000 American troops that are at present in Saudi Arabia, and possibly includes beefing up its missile defense systems and other technology, both to reassure and to protect the Saudis from whatever the Iranians, as a response to Soleimani’s killing, might do.
Avi Melamed, the President & CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives, noted the significance of Soleimani’s execution, calling it “a shock wave that ripples through the Middle East” and “significantly disrupts Iran’s goal of regional superiority. … The Iranian regime will neither quickly nor easily recover from or overcome the loss of Soleimani.
Leaders do matter for good or ill; they are not fungible; Qassem Soleimani was one of those who in the Middle East mattered very much. He was famous throughout the Middle East for his ability to project Iranian power, and for his exploits as a terrorist. It was he who began Iran’s program of sending weapons and money to the Houthis, making their rebellion against the recognized government in Yemen possible. It was Soleimani who forged ties with, and in some cases even created, the Shi’a militias in Iraq that, backed by Iran, took over much of southern Iraq. It was Soleimani who helped build up Hezbollah’s armory with 140,000 missiles in Lebanon, and was in the process of aiding that terrorist group to manufacture its own precision-guided missiles. It was Soleimani who continued to supply Hezbollah fighters with weapons, training, and money (until the latest sanctions on Iran required those sums to be drastically cut back). Soleimani was the one who organized Iranian military assistance to Bashar Al-Assad during the Syrian civil war, and in recent months had been building Iranian bases in Syria from which to attack Israel. He was constantly on the move, for he wanted to know personally all those leaders, political and military – who were proxies of Iran, in Hezbollah, in the Iraqi militias, in the Syrian civil war. He had acquired a mystique about him; he was a rock star among terrorists, while his replacement is practically unknown.
Moreover, Melamed stated, the execution “seriously undermines the assumptions and great sense of self-confidence the Iranian regime has held that it is immune to direct harm.”
Previously, he said, Iran had acted with impunity because it assumed “the West recoils from a military confrontation with Iran” and President Trump would not risk war during an election year. But now, “Iran has sustained two fierce blows by the US in just a few days.”
Iranian leaders now know that Trump doesn’t care about this being an election year; he was determined to prevent what he described as an “imminent” attack on Americans — diplomats soldiers, civilians – that had to be dealt with at once. And in any case, this display of resolve is far more likely to help than to hurt the President’s re-election chances. The Iranians now know, too, that the rules of the game have changed. Where they once assumed that leaders of countries were off-limits to assassination, the killing of Soleimani, the second most powerful man in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei, shows that assumption to have been false.
In addition, this damage to Iranian prestige “severely damages its deterrence image … while there are ongoing protests in Lebanon and Iraq. Protests which, to a large extent, are aimed at getting Iran out of those two countries.”
Where is that Iranian “deterrence”? It didn’t work. The mighty Americans were not deterred when they killed Soleimani. And the bluster from Tehran keeps coming – it’s only words, all words. Meanwhile, in both Lebanon and Iraq, the protests against Iranian influence that began well before Soleimani’s killing, are continuing, even more implacably than before. There are many Arabs unhappy with Iran’s influence in their countries. In Lebanon, the crowds of Lebanese – including many Shi’a – have been protesting on the streets against Iran’s proxy Hezbollah as a state within the state, an organization that supports the corrupt elite who have been running Lebanon for years; though former Prime Minister Hariri was in the end replaced by an academic and self-styled technocrat, Hassan Diab, Diab had the support of Hezbollah, which made him suspect in the eyes of the protesters, who will not be satisfied until an entirely new government is selected, and Iranian influence, via Hezbollah, much reduced. This is not only the aim of Sunni Muslims, but of many Shi‘a in Lebanon as well. In Iraq it is much the same story. Iraqis, including many Shi‘a, have been in the streets demanding an end to corruption, and calling for Iran-backed militias to be reined in by a government less submissive to Iran.
Some argue that the assassination of Soleimani will increase tensions in the Middle East,” Melamed observed. “This outlook confuses cause and effect: Tensions in the Middle East have intensified over the past decade because of the violent Iranian aggression which Soleimani spearheaded. … Killing Soleimani is not the cause of the escalation — but the result.”
Regarding what comes next, he asserted, “Iraq will be the main arena” with possible “internal clashes between Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi forces who want to or have been commanded to end — or significantly reduce — Iran’s influence on Iraq” and a possible “drastic Iranian move.”
Soleimani was the No. 1 sower of tensions in the Middle East. Iranian aggression in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon was in large part the result of the Iranian proxies and presence that Qassem Soleimani put in place. Without him, Iran will have difficulty to continue to make the kind of trouble that came naturally to Soleimani, the world’s most powerful terrorist – far more powerful and dangerous, with the Iranian state behind him, than either Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Far from increasing tension, his killing will lead to a decrease in Iranian mischief-making.
This could include “a missile attack on Israel from western Iraq” or “direct Iranian military intervention in Iraq.”
An attack on Israel by Iran is one thing; Iranian military intervention in Iraq quite another. Trump has already said that attacks not just on Americans and American interests, but on “American allies,” too, would be met with full force (those 52 targets he alluded to). That surely includes Israel. Then, too, Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East, and even without Trump’s threat of reprisals for attacks on America’s allies, the Iranians would not dare to attack Israel directly for fear of what Israel, all by itself, might do in retaliation. Israel has already shown itself unafraid to attack dozens of Iranian bases in Syria and Iraq, killing Iranians in these attacks; it shows no signs of being afraid to take on Iran directly, should it deem that necessary.
As far as America is concerned, Iraq is not an American ally (as we once had hoped it would be), and thus an attack by Iran in Iraq, through proxies or directly, would not trigger a response by the United States. In fact, such an Iranian attack on Sunnis in Iraq, whether direct or through Shi’a militias, should be welcomed in Washington. This could lead to an Iraqi civil war. The Sunni Arabs, though greatly outnumbered, could count on support from fellow Sunnis in Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Egypt, and Jordan, determined not to let their coreligionists be defeated by the Shi’a, who are regarded as “the worst sort of Infidels.” Saudi Arabia and the UAE could offer limitless financial aid and weaponry from their own bursting armories; Sunni soldiers from Egypt and Jordan could be sent to help their fellow Sunnis in Iraq, and to help bleed the Iranians sent to fight alongside Iraqi Shi’a. The result would be a long drawn-out civil war in Iraq, with men, money, and materiel arriving from outside for both the Sunnis and the Shi’a. It should be well worth watching from afar by Infidels who do not have a dog in this fight. Our dog, let’s remember, is the fight.