US – Iran Tensions Escalate after Assassination of Top Iranian Security Official

By Yousef Nagib (graphic Amelia Ross)

January 1, 2020

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If you’ve been on Instagram recently, you may have noticed a multitude of memes joking about getting drafted and sent to fight in Iran. These memes were made following major events in the Middle East that are the product of long simmering tensions between Tehran and the Trump Administration. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama signed a deal with Iran called the “Iran Nuclear Deal”. The purpose of the deal was to limit Iranian development of nuclear energy, as there was fear that Iran would develop nuclear weapons, which it could use to attack Israel or the United States. The deal was successful until May 8th, 2018, when President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the deal. Since then, tensions which were on the mend between the two nations have intensified.

So what has happened in the past few days that is so significant? On January 3rd, an airstrike (ordered by President Trump) struck an airport in Baghdad, Iraq. The airstrike killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, a top official in the Revolutionary Guards- Iran’s internal security agency. Soleimani is widely believed to have been one of the most powerful figures in Iran, second only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Soleimani was also reportedly one of the chief orchestrators of Iranian proxy efforts in nearby countries, including neighboring Iraq. Also among the dead was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, believed to be an Iranian proxy in Iraq.

The U.S. statement announcing Soleimani’s death includes the following: “… the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad.” According to the Trump administration, the airstrike was conducted in response to a recent attack by Iranian proxies on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which intelligence sources attribute to Soleimani.

So, why is this event important? While the U.S. has formally designated the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization (a Trump administration decision), the fact remains that the Guards are a government agency managing many of the internal and external security matters of a sovereign nation. This assassination is essentially to Iran what the assassination of the Vice President or CIA Director would be to the United States. The move has drawn sharp criticism, being slammed by many as reckless, especially given the current tensions with Iran.

Soleimani was not only very powerful. He was immensely popular with the Iranian people. He was the country’s most decorated military official, and was thus revered and beloved by the populace. Supreme Leader Khamenei responded to the assassination by declaring three days of national mourning, which have so far included massive anti-U.S. protests in Tehran and elsewhere. Additionally, Khamenei warned that the U.S. should expect “harsh retaliation” for the act. Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, has described the U.S. action as “an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation,” writing on Twitter that “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”

In the U.S., Congress is harshly divided over the decision. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has requested details from the White House regarding the decision. In addition, Democratic and Republican Congressman have taken to Twitter to voice their thoughts on the action. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) posed a disquieting rhetorical question: “…did America just assassinate… the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” On the Republican side, Trump was met with considerably more praise for the decision. According to Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), Soleimani “got what he richly deserved”. Another Senator, Ben Sasse (R-NE) tweeted that “the president made the brave and right call”.

With his reelection bid on the way in November, many have accused President Trump of attempting to provoke a war with Iran to help his chances of reelection. Wartime Presidents tend to have higher popularity and support, and in the wake of his impeachment by the House of Representatives a war with Iran could effectively distract the American people from his impeachment at a crucial time in the election season.

When Donald Trump took the oath of office in January 2017, there was no crisis in Iran. Then in 2018, he formally designated a part of their government as a terrorist organization(an unprecedented move), quickly following that by withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal. After this, the President placed crippling sanctions on the country. Since 2018, he has been provoking and goading a country we were on peaceful terms with towards war, and he has made an enemy out of a nation we were beginning to see as a possible friend. The President hopes to initiate a disastrous war which will likely result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranian civilians, all for the purpose of assisting his chances at reelection.

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