A man blamed for the deaths of countless innocent civilians is dead, and now the world waits for the other shoe to drop: will there be a shooting war between Iran and the United States?
Iranian retaliation is expected because Qasem Soleimani wasn’t just a general or even a terrorist mastermind, he was the second most powerful person in Iran, hated by some but revered by many Iranians as a symbol of strength.
So killing him is a game-changer, says Florida International University's Middle East expert Eric Lob.
“The stakes have just gotten much higher, and the prospects of more intensified escalation have just become more real,” said Lob, who speaks both Arabic and Persian and has traveled extensively in the region.
“This is the type of event that can really destabilize the world,” said former Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo.
Curbelo says Iranian retaliation could take many forms, from terrorist-style hits against American installations to missile strikes to cyber attacks.
Professor Lob points out that beyond occasional displays of military strength such as the killing of Soleimani, it doesn’t appear that the Trump Administration has a long-term strategy for Iran.
“The only conclusion that Teheran can come to at this point is that the goal of the United States is regime change, particularly after this assassination, so Iran feels increasingly backed into a corner since the U.S. left the nuclear deal in 2018,” Lob said.
Meanwhile, President Trump is drawing criticism from some who say he ordered the strike to deflect attention away from his own domestic political troubles, which is exactly what Trump said President Obama would do back in 2011.
Now This News tweeted out a video clip Friday in which Trump says, “Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate, he’s weak and he’s ineffective, I believe that he will attack Iran sometimes prior to the election because he thinks that’s the only way he can get elected.”
On Friday, Trump said he ordered the strike on Soleimani to prevent imminent attacks on Americans which he says Soleimani was planning. It is unclear how killing Soleimani would stop those attacks, as others in Soleimani’s Quds Forces could still carry them out.
Moreover, Trump has said many times that he wants to get the United States out of Middle East conflicts.
“There is a little bit of incoherence here, it’s something that I think many people have become accustomed to over these three years of the Trump presidency,” Curbelo said.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations decided not to kill Soleimani, because they figured the costs outweighed the benefits, assuming someone else would just take Soleimani’s place.
Clearly, the Trump administration has made a different calculation.