Iran launched a revenge attack on American forces, but was it a deliberate fail to save face?
After raising the red flag of war, Iran toned down the rhetoric and called for a “proportionate retaliation” to the U.S. drone strike that their top general, Quds Force Commander Qasim Soleimani.
Soleimani was one of the regions most well-connected, influential, terror master-minds outranking Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden when it came to his reach, influence, relationships and resources.
On Tuesday, January 7, Iran launched 15 ballistic missiles at American forces in Iraq. No American casualties were reported, as the president tweeted:
All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020
Fox News reported,
“Ten missiles hit Al-Assad Air Base, one missile hit a military base in Erbil and four missiles failed to hit their targets, according to a U.S. military spokesman for Central Command, responsible for American forces in the Middle East. The attacks unfolded in two waves, each about an hour apart.”
Several theories surfacing on why those weapons were chosen, including that these short range missiles gave the U.S. the option to shoot them down.
#URGENT: US confirms Ballistic missiles then they are likely Iranian FAJR missiles with high explosive warheads. They are short ranged ballistic missiles. IS forces would have had good 5-10 mins warning. https://t.co/DfSfG7FlRv
— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) January 7, 2020
Theories also emerged that the misses were deliberate — a way for Iran to save face, move on and not be forced to suffer the consequences of an American attack on its homeland. The Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya tweeted that a number of the missiles even failed to explode.
Commentators also noted that the Balad base that houses the largest number of American troops in Iraq and is close to Iran was not hit. Rather, the Al-Assad and Erbil bases, which are much smaller and further away from Iran, were targeted.
Yet on Iranian state media, officials reported that at least 80 “American terrorists” were killed in the 15 missile attacks.
Post Soleimani’s killing, Iran said it would respond proportionately with attacks on American military sites. Although this overnight attack may be the revenge attack to save face for Iran, it’s safe to assume the regime has a long-game, asymmetric warfare strategy in play since Iran knows it cannot win against the U.S. in a traditional war.
There’s also the possibility that Iraq — currently between a rock and a hard place in the stand off between Iran and the U.S. — could ask the U.S. to leave. A U.S. military departure from Iraq, a neighboring nation that Iran has access to through proxy militias and government officials is still a win for Iran, allowing Soleimani to give Iran a prize he couldn’t give them while he was alive.
After the attack, Iran reiterated its demand for America to leave Iraq, as they claim that the attack on Soleimani illegally violated Iraqi sovereignty. The irony of that statement was not missed by U.S. Army Reserve Officer and former counter-terrorism prosecutor Omar Qudrat, who tweeted:
Does this violate Iraq’s sovereignty? Will Iraq’s parliament vote to expel Iranian militia from Iraq? Will Iraq’s Tehran-supporting parliamentarians & PM lash out at Iran the same way they did against the U.S. for conducting a strike on Iraqi soil? https://t.co/vvc2tjMVoF
— Omar Qudrat (@omarqudrat1) January 8, 2020
Iran’s revenge attack allows Iranians to regain a sense of honor and lick their wounded pride after the killing of their top-tier military official. The U.S. could accept the strikes without responding, or it could respond in kind.
Quite so. Honor has to be satisfied; if they’re willing to be satisfied with this, we should be glad to accept it.
— Brad P. (@BPattySSG) January 8, 2020
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif tweeted the following after news of the missile attack broke:
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
Zarif also spoke with CNN this week in a pointedly calm interview reviewing Iran’s retaliation prospects in response to the killing of Soleimani:
It’s important to note that Zarif is a shrewd and accomplished diplomat who understands the United States. He earned a PhD in international law and policy from the University of Denver, where his thesis was on “Self-Defense in International Law and Policy.”
When Americans view Iran and they see robes and beards — as they did recently during Soleimani’s mass public funeral — there’s an assumption that these people must be primitive and uneducated. Far from it.
Iranians are patient and shrewd planners, and it can be assumed that the Trump administration is well aware of that and responding accordingly — not with appeasement (which doesn’t work) but by showing the necessary force and flex to send a clear message of strength.
In the hours after the strike, several questions still stand for the Trump administration that will guide America’s response:
- What are the administration’s goals?
- What are the desired second and third order effects that the administration wants to achieve?
- How will kinetic strikes support that strategy?
As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy to destabilize a government. It’s what come next that’s hard. The last time America intervened in Iranian regime change, the Carter administration helped topple the shah of Iran and cleared the way for Ayatollah Khomeini and his psychopathic theocracy to take over.
Given the destabilizing presence of American intervention and the leadership vacuum that toppled regimes have created in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and beyond, we can’t afford a similar situation in Iran.
President Trump said he would make a statement Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, Iranians officials tweeted out a flag of Iran, a response to President’s Trump’s tweet of an American flag after Soleimani’s assassination.
Trump tweets an American flag after the killing of Suleimani.
Adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader tweets Iran’s flag after launching missiles at US air base.
World leaders trolling each other on Twitter following military attacks is what we voted for apparently. pic.twitter.com/GLArPnFt2P
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) January 8, 2020
Then again, it is probably safe to say that many Americans would prefer to leave it here and let Twitter trolling be the extent of an American war with Iran.