Qasem Soleimani is no longer with us, and tens of thousands in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and even within Iran itself celebrated his death. Israel did not celebrate, expressing instead weak support for President Trump’s action, explicitly instructing Israeli ministers to shut up because what is allowed for America is not permitted for Israel. After all, thousands of miles separate Iran from the US, while Israel is a different story: We all live in the same neighbourhood, and Iran is not far from our northern border.
The assassination of Qasem Soleimani is undoubtedly an act of war but when the US is involved, Iran is particularly cautious. While in the Arab world Iran shows no restraint, slaughtering Syrians and eliminating Lebanese and other leaders, when it comes to America, the response is “measured”, as Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif put it. Following the Israeli method, the Iranians provide advance warning to residents of the building they are planning to bomb, and the missile hits the real estate target without causing losses of life. Hamas is not interested in war with Israel, just as Iran is not interested in war with the US. Iran is too large a country for the United States to conquer, and the Gaza Strip is too poverty-stricken and neglected for Israel to want to rule.
The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was not necessary, nor was it part of American planning. As known, Trump has called on Iranian President Rouhani to meet him without preconditions to reach a new nuclear deal. The Iranians treated the invitation with disdain, demanding—as a prerequisite for talks—that Trump remove the severe economic sanctions he has imposed. The Iranians did not make do with a refusal. In light of the deep economic crisis facing their economy, they decided that the best response to the American economic weapon was the military one, without taking explicit responsibility.
According to the Iranian assessment, Trump, like Obama, hates war, aims to get away from Iraq and the Middle East in general, and reiterates his refusal to intervene in irrational regional tribal wars that lack logic and solutions. That’s how the Iranians began to hit oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, later downing an American drone. When they saw Trump blink and not retaliate, they escalated their actions and bombed Saudi oil facilities, believing that Trump would swallow the provocation and not respond. Iran felt secure in its regional status, a feeling that only intensified in light of the American abandonment of the Kurdish region on the Turkish-Syrian border. However, just as the American presence in Iraq was diminishing, and its Saudi rival sought contact with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a popular uprising erupted in Lebanon, calling for overthrow of the Hezbollah-led government. Not only that, but this uprising has not remained within the Lebanese borders. It has also spread to Iraq, especially to the south of that Shiite-majority country, and in Iraq the call is much clearer: to remove Iran and its pro-Iranian puppet government.
The wave of protests swept into Iran, and thousands took to the streets calling for the overthrow of the Ayatollah regime. Rising oil prices were the immediate cause. Masses went to the streets in protest against unemployment, poverty and the regime’s corruption. The outrage was also directed against the regime’s priorities, which focus on regional expansion rather than caring for the citizens. The Iranian regime had not expected this. The popular protest posed the real strategic danger to regime, and the latter’s answer was clear: Drown the protest in blood. The executor was none other than Qasem Soleimani.
The Iranians, considered sophisticated, found a way to escape the economic sanctions imposed by Trump while simultaneously getting rid of the protest. They launched an integrated offensive through the Iraqi militias under Soleimani’s command, massacring more than 500 Iraqi protesters, most of them Shiites, while also massacring 1,500 protesters within Iran. At the same time, they began an attack on US bases in Iraq to remove the invader.
But their calculation did not turn out well: Iraqi young people were not deterred and they persist in demonstrating, even though militias continue to kill them even now. In Lebanon, the protests do not stop. Most importantly, Trump surprised everyone with Soleimani’s assassination, thereby informing the Iranians that their sophisticated game was over. The Iranians understood the message, fired their missiles and disseminated fake news that they had killed American soldiers. Trump thanked them for the gesture, and meanwhile things calmed down.
Yet this lull is temporary. Trump announced additional sanctions on Iran, which must now re-evaluate and decide where it is headed. Trump has already suggested to the Iranians to continue fighting with America against ISIS and to return to the negotiating table. However, Iran would prefer to go back to the days of Barack Obama, including the nuclear agreement that was so beneficial to it. Israel, Saudi Arabia and of course Trump don’t want to hear of that, and will do everything possible to destroy the agreement.
In fact, the regime of Qasem Soleimani and the Supreme Leader flourished in the Obama era. The American president favoured them over the Saudis, allowing them to expand their control over the Middle East in exchange for signing the nuclear agreement.
What was good for Iran, Europe and Obama was very bad for millions of Syrians, who were abandoned to a murderous regime. We may take Assad’s chemical attack as a starting point. Obama had promised that such an attack would be a red line, but when Assad crossed it, Obama held back: Instead he made an agreement with Vladimir Putin on the chemical weapons. As a result, the protests against Assad retreated, and the armed militias that became ISIS took over. This was the beginning of the rapprochement between Obama and the Iranians that led to the Nuclear Agreement. Obama’s turnabout freed Assad’s hands to barrel-bomb his civilian population. When the survivors emigrated to Europe, this created the refugee crisis and the rise of the extreme right there, including the nationalist wave that expressed itself in Brexit. Trump, as a leader of the Alt right, benefited from the hatred of refugees: It became a major issue in his electoral campaign under the slogan “Build the Wall”.
Today, US Democratic candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are sonorously calling for “no more war.” They condemn the assassination of Qasem Soleimani who, they claim, despite being a villain, was no exception, and contend the US has no reason to intervene in the eternal conflicts of the Middle East. Indeed, their remarks sound left-wing and radical, but their position is no less nationalistic than that of Trump and his conservative group, which calls for isolationism while condemning globalists.
Moreover, the US destroyed Iraq, took care to transfer power to those doing Iran’s bidding in Iraq in the form of Nouri al-Maliki, facilitated Al-Qaeda’s growth in Iraq and established a sectarian constitution that caused chronic internal corruption and theft of oil money. Now, the American liberals come with innocent faces, wanting to leave, while abandoning the Iraqi people to the mercy of leaders like Soleimani and the gangs under his command.
The truth is that not only are Warren and Sanders not interested in war, but Trump is also not interested in it, as he has tweeted countless times. Like Trump, they are also not interested in the fate of civilians in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. If those Democrats had a wisp of solidarity and a liberal democratic position, they would not rush to reconciliation with murderous regimes like Iran and Syria, but would instead support the democratic movements that underlie the Arab Spring.
Why don’t we hear them refer to the struggle of millions of young Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis and Iranians for democracy in their countries? The protesters are calling for the change of their oppressive governments, establishment of secular regimes and for a future of cooperation with the world, far from the anti-imperialist demagoguery used by the tyrants that rule the Arab and Islamic world today.
As long as the US Democrats do not expand their understanding of the complex problems of the Arab world, and the desperate striving of millions of young Arabs to live democratic and corruption-free lives, they will not be an alternative to Trump. Lacking an alternative vision for a better and more just world, they will be no match for Trump’s ultra-nationalism in the elections of November 2020.