Yesterday's killing of top Iranian military leader Major General Qassem Soleimani has increased geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and put American citizens at risk. Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf States are all on high alert as is Israel, and all this has the potential to escalate in the next few weeks and months.
Soleimani, the second most powerful official in Iran who answered directly to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has waged war against Americans in Iraq. He was directly responsible for last month's attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the killing of the U.S. contractor, as well as the deaths of 600 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
After the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as Iran Deal was signed in 2015 to reduce parts of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from some sanctions, the Obama administration also gave back $1.7 billion to Iran. In a prisoner exchange, Obama released seven Iranians held on charges of violating financial and other U.S. sanctions, and Iran released five American hostages. The same day, Obama shipped $400 million to Iran, because Congress has banned dollar transactions to the country. Hence, the Obama administration bought foreign currency and transferred it in cash, propping up Iran to continue their anti-America stance. And while the Obama administration claimed $400 million was not a ransom payment, Iranian media was spinning it as such.
So after Donald Trump became the President and criticized the nuclear deal with Iran, which righteously was a lousy deal, Iran started to stir up the pot a lot louder than previously, and Soleimani continued to wash his hands in the blood of Westerners and especially Americans. He miscalculated President Trump, and last month's tensions in Baghdad were the final straw for Trump administration that has sought a peaceful way out with Iran.
The reason for most recent tensions from Iran was to try and throw the U.S out of Iraq and Syria, something that the Iraqi parliament will also be voting on. Should that happen, it would create a vacuum for ISIS and other terrorist organizations, and we will be back to square one.
However, the killing of Soleimani will not end the anti-America stance as there are sleeper cells in Iraq that have acted under his direction and that now with his death maybe left uncontrolled. Iran may continue to spew threats against the U.S. and is aware that going to war with America will escalate the crises in Iran further with more sanctions that could cripple the regime's economy. But the crises could also have dire consequences for the oil-producing countries in the Middle East, and this was evident as Brent crude, including West Texas Intermediate, both rose by 4% on Friday morning to near $70 and $64 a barrel respectively.
But here are the reasons why Khamenei will not be able to escalate the crises into a full-blown war with the U.S., firstly Iran is not the superpower in the Middle East that the Western media and anti-Trump critics like to portray it as. Showing off their military or their weapons are threats with no substance. Iran is not going to engage the U.S. directly, because the regime is known more for stirring trouble in the background than going for full-blown war. So they will use Iraq as a pawn in their anti-America game, as well as other soft targets in the region that are sympathetic to their cause. One of those is Hezbollah affiliated with Palestine and supporter of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his father previously.
Secondly, if Iran tries to escalate the situation with the U.S., it would only hurt its regime and probably even set in place its downfall. Another reason the direct war will not occur is that Iran is not capable, and Trump does not want to be another president that led the country into war. He would want to end his presidency as someone who lifted the American economy and created jobs, but also as this is the election year in the U.S., and President Trump wants a second term. But he was not going to sit on the side-lines tested by Soleimani and the Iranian regime, especially when American lives were at risk.
However, Khamenei is also aware that Iran has many enemies in the region who would equally like to see an end to his regime, and he is mindful that even Soleimani's death is not the risk worth taking. However, he still has to retaliate; otherwise, he would be seen as being weak. Khamenei has Hezbollah to do its dirty bidding, but even they are not as powerful as they once were. However, Hezbollah will stop at nothing. They are a threat to Israel and will attempt to attack U.S. citizens at home and abroad. It is also strongly believed they have sleeper cells in South America, and it is well documented that they are also in North America. Both could be seen as a potential security risk for the U.S. and Canada. For now, it is not a matter of if but when and how Iran will retaliate.