It has been over a year since general Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was assassinated by a US missile strike near the Bagdad International Airport, yet the Iranian regime still has not delivered the “harsh retaliation” as promised by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei only hours after the incident.
So far, the means and tools by which the threat could be translated into action remain unclear. There is no doubt the security structure of the Iranian regime has deteriorated, while its military and political influence in the region weakened. Especially its presence in Iraq and Syria faced dangerous challenges, such as the Israeli strikes on IRGC positions, and the election of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as Iraqi Prime Minister.
How did the Iranian regime deal with this strategic relapse since the assassination? How did it retaliate? What threats did it execute? What are we still waiting for?
During the first hours after the assassination, Iranian media were overflowed with condolences, addressed hierarchically, as is the custom in Iran, to the awaited Imam Mahdi, the Supreme Leader, the Iranian people, the Islamic Nation, followed by all those lower in rank and importance.
Then came the threats, varying in tone from moderate to strong, targeting the US. Following protocol, it was the Supreme Leader who opened the “threat bazaar,” launching the “harsh retaliation” menace, yet without naming the side for which it was intended. Iranian officials then borrowed the phrase to make further retaliatory and other threats targeting the US.
Let us start with President Hassan Rouhani, who stated: “There is no doubt that the great Iranian people and the free people in the region, will retaliate against the US that committed this horrific crime.”
“What America did is a huge mistake,” said the ICRG’s Commander in Chief, general Hossein Salami, while Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “The US has to be held responsible for the consequences of its rogue adventures.”
“Once again the bloodthirsty American criminal dirties his hands with the blood of a great man of God with a brutal terrorist attack,” said Defense Minister Amir Hatami. Speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf declared: “The criminal US should know that the revenge of the Iranian people will be devastating.”
“Let the evil American administration know that the Iranian people don’t forget the blood of its heroic martyrs,” former Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani affirmed, while the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, simultaneously with Soleimani’s funeral said: “Tehran prepared 13 scenarios of retaliation for his killers, the weakest scenario, will be a historical nightmare for the United States.”
The Iranian regime cannot execute any retaliation plan.
The day after the assassination, Iranian missiles targeted the US military base of Ain Al-Asad in the province of Anbar and a second base near Erbil airport in Kurdistan. The Pentagon confirmed that two military bases in Iraq were hit by Iranian missiles.
The military response achieved part of the retaliatory plan. But the regime’s “harsh retaliation” can only be achieved by getting the Americans out of the region, as was confirmed by the official statements that followed the missiles.
Foreign Minister Zarif, for example, said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran responded appropriately, but the main goal is the withdrawal of the US from the region.”
After the overdose of heroic feelings and courage, the statements calmed down and threats disappeared. The political execution of the “harsh retaliation” plan began.
Political appearances and headlines came into play, such as: commemorating the victory of the revolution on February 11, participating in the upcoming presidential elections in June, the funeral ceremony of Soleimani attended by millions in Iraq and Iran, making a human chain in the city of Mashhad as a tribute to Soleimani, perseverance with the Friday prayer, incarcerating dissidents, executing journalists and political detainees, arresting citizens with double nationalities, plus using all media, advertising and artistic platforms of all kinds.
Conservatives dubbed the Supreme Leader’s phrase “the honest promise.” Others affirmed Iran will fight until the last American soldier gets out of the region. Horizontally, of course.
But how will the Supreme Leader kick the US out of the region?
The plan is born and its first features started to appear within the Republic and the four Arab capitals it controls, even though it is kept extremely secret, because achieving your goals can only be done in discretion.
The highlights of those first features are: the rise of propaganda in the streets of Iranian cities, which are filled with gigantic pictures of Soleimani, as well as posters and banners remembering phrases of “the field man.” A huge mural of him was unveiled in Valiasr Square in the center of Tehran. Recordings and video footage of the most important battles he lead in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon appeared on the market, as well as video games and children magazines containing pictures and puzzles of him.
In a large number of Iranian cities “disgusting” statues were erected, as described by Hussain Syed Mujtaba, technical affairs assistant at the Iranian Ministry of Culture. According to him, all statues point at a lack of talent of the sculptors.
The statues led to a wave of mockeries on social media. Iranian activists called upon the state to take an interest in art institutes, the quality of education, and nurture true talent instead of arming militias before it’s too late, for the country is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe in the field of art, culture, music and education, if it remains closed due to the regime’s ideology.
On the Arab scene, Soleimani’s picture alongside his comrade Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis took over public places in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the south, the Beqaa Valley, the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Basra and others, the Gaza strip, the Yemeni capital Sana’a, and several neighborhoods in Damascus and other Syrian cities.
The Ghobeiry area in the south of Beirut, had a statue of him that almost sparked a territorial war. It also led to a wave of anger and sarcasm on social media similar to Iran.
In the opinion of my Iranian friend, who always provides me with details concerning the events in his country, the regime did not allocate in vain a huge budget to summon Soleimani from his absence and have him virtually present so overwhelmingly. The man left behind a huge void, especially in transnational projects. No diplomatic, security or military personality can take his place.
All attempts of polishing the image of general Esmail Ghaani, the new commander of the Quds Force, failed, given he lacks even the least charismatic feature of the deceased. Personalities such as Soleimani are never repeated in history. Stalin cannot be repeated, Hitler cannot be repeated, Sharon cannot be repeated, Mussolini cannot be repeated. Nor can Soleimani.
Therefore, the regime decided to beautify him and elevate him to the status of sanctity, to turn him into a jihadist, a religious and political icon that reflects all the characteristics of the inspiring, brave and experienced leader, who terrorized enemies and scored a string of victories.
At the same time, it includes all the meanings of sacrifice, altruism, redemption and martyrdom. The latter speaks directly to the sentiment of the Shiite, reminding him of his Husseini revolutionary heritage and instigating him to eternalize vengeance through generations and centuries. In my friend’s opinion the Iranian regime cannot execute any retaliation plan. The American existence cannot be eliminated from the region. Nor can Israel be eliminated by retaliatory invasions. It would require a global war, and this Iranian regime is too much of coward to launch a war on anyone or even to assassinate an enemy with a status similar to Soleimani’s.
Yet, the regime and its allies in the region will be ready to humiliate, hurt or kill anyone who dares offend Soleimani’s memory with only a word. Look what his mercenaries did to a picture of Safaa Al Sarai in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
In the end, my Iranian friend had to leave in a hurry to stand in line to buy subsidized eggs. The government provides the box of eggs for 50,000 toman, Imagine, he said. Just so he did not have to buy eggs at the black market for much more than that …