US-Iranian Relations: A View on the Aftermath of the Soleimani Strike
With the disconcerting assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on the third day of the new year, the aspiration of a more stable Middle East for the decade to come has proven to be a short-lived yearning. The severity of this rather dangerous and hasty escalation of hostilities between the Iranian regime and the Trump administration should not be downplayed, with the U.S. violating several international laws and norms, and possibly weakening their position and longevity within the region while emboldening a seemingly uniting Iranian leadership. Although ‘tit-for-tat’ engagements by either nation are nothing new or seemingly out of the ordinary, the drone strike on Soleimani represents a clear break from the previous confrontations which have been conducted primarily through the use of proxies in the region. It should serve as an explicit reminder of the rising tensions between the two states – largely exacerbated through crippling economic sanctions placed on Iran – and function as a clear indication at which speed the prospect of full-blown military confrontation can cross a point of no return, even with the apparent unwillingness of both sides.
Iran’s counteracting response to the killing of Soleimani proved to be limited in nature, targeting U.S. military bases in Iraq with ground-to-ground missiles. Iran’s intention appears to be to avoid further direct confrontation and unequivocal U.S. retaliation at all costs. It has done so by reining in prospects for immediate and more expansive military operations and reportedly delivering a timely warning to the U.S. command of the then impending missile strikes via a European embassy. This rather ineffectual attack on U.S. bases appears to more symbolic in nature, with Iranian leadership being in dire need to demonstrate to the Iranian public that measures have indeed been taken, without risking further escalation.
With immediate prospects for the escalation of hostilities possibly averted, what should we expect going forward? It stands without question that the Iranian missile strikes will not be their sole response. Whether within the near future or not, Iran will seek out an opportune moment to inflict losses to US control in the region.
As of the 10th of January, President Trump has declared a new set of sanctions to be placed on Iran’s construction, mining, textile, and manufacturing sectors. This is an addition to the already unprecedented amount of economic limitations placed on the regime in an effort to bring their economic and political survival to an eventual collapse, or more plausibly to eventually bring Iran to a weakened negotiating position. Nevertheless, such sanctions mean little to Iran, which has been operating with this restricted economic reality for an extended timeframe now. It is rather a more strategic development by the Trump administration, giving them an alternate response to further military options.
This decision, however, does not attempt to de-escalate the current situation. It is instead an exact repeat of the conditions which led to increased hostilities since President Trump took office. The pull-back from the brink of war and these additional sanctions does nothing but buy limited time and create a loop to the next eventual clash between the two countries.
For now, the Iran Nuclear Deal is all but set to collapse, with Europe sparing no efforts to salvage the agreement. The U.S. House of Representatives has delivered a clear rebuke of Trump’s use of military power in the Middle East through the ‘War Powers’ resolution, restricting his ability to bypass the Congress in further escalations with the Iranians. It is yet to be seen what the full eventual consequences of the Soleimani strike will harbor, but it can be confidently argued that it did not favor future U.S. prospects in Iraq, Iran and beyond.