The recent assassination of the Iranian general by the US threatens the beginning of some fresh new conflicts, if not a war. The question remains, will Iran be able to leverage the proxies it created over the years
Following the most atrocious US imperial excess that killed the Iranian general, the dead has been mourned and the red flag of retaliation has been hoisted over Jamkaran Mosque in Iran. While tens of thousands of Iranians have been chanting "death to America" following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian supreme leader Khomeini pledged "severe revenge".
The US assassination of Iranian General Soleimani was an act of "terror", as some have referred to it as, and it has sent a chilly shockwave to the volatile regions of the Middle East. A serious act that bear all the tell-tale signs of excess of imperial power, the assassination threatens to plunge the regions into unforeseen calamities.
If compared, General Soleimani for Iran was as significant as defence secretary Mark Esper, or foreign secretary Mike Pompeo is for the US. Consequently, many analysts believe that whether Iran would respond to the US hostility is not the question now. The question is – how and where would Iran retaliate.
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, however, is not one of those analysts. He doesn't believe Iran would retaliate. The professor told The Business Standard that Iran would not jeopardise the leverage they have now – the moral support and sympathy of the world – by waging a full-scale war.
"Iran has the support of the world whereas the US apparently doesn't have such support because of their actions," Professor Ahmed said in reference to the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and other such US actions. "Even some of the European countries, including US allies, also criticised the US action."
Dr Saber Ahmed Chowdhury, an associate professor at the Department of Peace and Conflicts of Dhaka University, however, believes that following the assassination of Soleimani, "A response from the Iranian regime is gradually appearing to be unavoidable."
Even though Dr Saber believes a full-scale war would be of the least possible response from the Shiite regime, threats of a major war cannot be ruled out depending on the gravity of the matter and the way Iran is bracing for retaliation.
If a war, however, somehow breaks out, at the height of the tension, what would Iran do in the face of such a massive adversary like the US?
A few would deny that Iran neither stand a chance in terms of any direct confrontation nor can win a full-scale war against the US. But in modern warfare, wars actually cannot be won. If the parties get caught in wars – a possibility that most analysts dismiss – Iran might engage its regional allies to its advantage.
Iran has militant proxies in the region like the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Popular Mobilization Forces commonly known as the PMF militias in Iraq, Hamas in Palestine, Houthis in Yemen and the Assad government in Syria, who serve the Iranian interests in the region.
Iran could mobilise these allies to fight a lengthy asymmetric war that would plunge the whole region into an inundating catastrophe.
Even though Iran being the underdog in comparison to the US is an established fact, a war with Tehran will be far more complicated for the US than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Multiplied by its superior military and diplomatic authority than that of Iraq and Afghanistan, engagement of the local allies like Hezbollah, PMF and the Houthis in favour of Tehran could help the Khomenei regime buy more times to prolong the problems of the US.
Dr Saber emphasises the Iranian proxies' capabilities in covert attacks. "It would be a mistake to believe that operations of these proxies are only limited to the Middle East. They have connections in many places. Iran, combined with these militias, may come up with strong response anytime soon."
Iran cannot win a war in even if all the regional allies of Tehran team up against the US. But such alliance could serve the purpose of an asymmetric warfare that Qassem Soleimani would have adopted to create pressure on the US to leave Iraq.
Now, in case Iran doesn't retaliate after the assassination of Soleimani on its own, considering the risks of a full-scale war, Tehran may use its allies instead on behalf of the Iranian regime. So, it is possible that Iran would find the strategy of covert attacks an efficacious one, since it would not be directly involved in such acts.
But if the Iranian strategy leads to a revenge and if that strategy sparks a war, it may push everyone who sympathise with the Shiite regime to an unforeseen catastrophe. Especially the Iranian regime and the people of Iran may become the target of a lying, conniving administration of Donald Trump, who has just disclosed a desire to go to the extremes to take full control of the Middle East.
Though Qassem Soleimani's assassination was summarily been compared to the assassination of archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, in 1914, one that led to the World War I, it seems that the US is confident enough to get away with it. At least Donald Trump's rhetoric suggest that the White House is not ready to give up on the "terror narrative". Trump believes he has ended a war rather than starting one while the rest of the world feel otherwise.
Professor Imtiaz Ahmed feels that war is not inevitable since for Iran, it could take the advantage of the global sympathy. He mentions that Bernie Sanders – a potential Democrat candidate for the 2020 presidential elections of the US – has been campaigning against a war. In many US states, people have already been gathering to demonstrate against a potential war. The professor believes that the Iranian regime will have faith in the global support and take the leverage in such support diplomatically.