Iran’s Missile Attack Was More About Domestic than Foreign Policy
As I explained in an earlier post here, Iran has nothing to gain by retaliating against the US – it has far more to win by playing victim and rallying support for itself and against Donald Trump, ahead of the presidential election in America this year.
One thing I did misjudge in that piece is the regime’s necessity to create a favorable public image inside the country. After it has put on an enormous propaganda show mourning Soleimani it created an expectation of a response. Why get thousands of people to the streets if you’re not going to do anything about it?
At the same time, Trump’s attack has clearly frightened them. They knew that his response to any bloody escalation would be unpredictable and could undermine their grip on power in the country even further.
So they planned to attack Iraqi bases where Americans are stationed – and then they, reportedly, notified Iraqis – likely knowing that they would warn Americans in advance. It seems that the material damage in the bases is also small, what would suggest that either Iranians deliberately targeted less vulnerable areas within the facilities or simply failed to hit anything meaningful.
As a result there were no casualties and no damage to speak of – but Iran has used the attack to spread fake news among its people, claiming to have killed 80 American soldiers. While it may have fooled some of its citizens, it has become apparent for everybody abroad how weak the regime is. For all their loud threats, they inflicted no damage.
If they haven’t because their missiles failed, it makes them look incompetent and weak. If they haven’t because they did not intend to – as it seems to be the case – then it makes them look scared. Either way – they lost.
Trump has managed to corner the region’s largest rogue state and its aggressive authorities and pushed them into self-preservation mode, in which they were forced to swallow international humiliation to be able to produce at least some propaganda to quell the discontent at home.
In doing so they have inadvertently revealed that their domestic situation is quite dire – what widespread protests in the past few months already revealed.
In other words, Trump’s sanctions are working, Iranian economy is shrinking, people are increasingly fed up with the regime and the situation is so difficult that the crooks running the country have to accept execution of their top military leader lying down, making sure that they do not harm any single American in response, for the fear that Trump’s second follow-up would make their already hard situation even worse.
Losing Grip on Iraq
Iranian inability to respond not only symmetrically but in a way that would cause any damage whatsoever, is a direct blow to its imperial ambitions and surely undermines its reputation as a regional power. It turns out that Americans can waltz into the Middle East, execute even the most prominent general of the IRGC and then escape with impunity, because Iranians are too scared to do anything about it.
But the sequence of events is also a disaster for Iran’s ambitions in Iraq.
Just days ago Shiite parliamentarians in Baghdad called for expulsion of American forces and prime minister Mahdi called it an attack on Iraqi sovereignty. And today the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi president were forced to say the same against Iran. The attack also adds more fuel to popular protests raging since October, which called i.a. for a halt to Iranian meddling in the country and saw the protesters – Iraqi Shiites no less – burn Iranian consulate in Najaf – one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam.
Iranian missile barrage happened not only on Iraqi soil but targeted Iraqi installations where Iraqi military personnel was stationed.
Iran did not dare to bomb American bases in the Gulf – which it is capable of doing – opting instead for another quasi-proxy assault – direct, but indirect – damaging its relations with Iraqis as a result.
In order to save face they had to literally throw away months of efforts at saving their influence in Baghdad.
The cherry on top of this drama is that Iran – entirely responsible for its own perils – has now exposed itself to another round of sanctions that created their need for regular provocations in the first place.
For months Iranians tried to drag Trump’s America back into the Middle East with their repeated attacks – harassing tankers, launching strikes on Saudis or downing a $200M American drone – but Trump wouldn’t budge. Finally, they’ve decided to use proxy militia to attack Americans stationing in Iraq, expecting a response against Iraqis to divert local protests away from Iran and against the US.
Instead of taking the bait Trump killed Soleimani and brought Iranian meddling into the spotlight.
As he did the unthinkable, Iranians were rattled into submission. With their proxy warfare temporarily neutered the only response could have been direct, but fearful of consequences they made sure it would only be symbolic. They went from poking the lion to damage control in a desperate attempt to protect their hold on power.
But as they feared military overreaction they have exposed themselves to a new round of sanctions – and that’s what Trump happily pounced on today. Since the US doesn’t have blood needing avenging militarily it can focus on isolating the country and building on the popular discontent already voiced by Iranians in recent months.
In his carefully crafted speech Trump has not only issued new threats but also made important diplomatic moves – announcing a call to NATO allies for closer cooperation in the area as well as an opening to Iran, calling for diplomatic resolution to the tensions – but it’s unlikely Tehran will accept the suggestion, as it would face a much higher mountain to climb that he did with spineless bureaucrats preparing JCPOA.
To sum up – Trump has exhibited a lot of restraint for many months but when he finally responded he killed the bad guy, avoided American casualties, forced Iran to fabricate domestic propaganda and got another excuse to introduce even more sanctions against the beleaguered regime.
America suffered no losses, neither has the rest of the world. Trump’s victory is complete, Iran’s defeat is a total humiliation that reveals how weak it actually is.
There’s not a single reason why any of it would or should be bad for the rest of us.