Martyrs and missiles?

(To Gino Lanzara)
2020/09/26

On what happened on the night of January 3 as for the record there is little to add. What interests us is the surrounding landscape, at regional and global level, and what scenarios can be envisaged. The elimination of General Soleimani constitutes a possible turning point in US-Iran relations, since since 1979 this was the first operation conducted by the Americans against one of the most important Persian institutional representatives, in command of the Pasdaran unit for special operations abroad.

The American action, in the name of a discontinuity that alternates moments of dialogue with tests of strength, as evidenced by the previous renunciation to hit Tehran despite the various frictions that have occurred (shooting down a drone last June, attack on oil plants Saudis a presumable Opera proxy of the Houti from Yemen, raids against oil tankers, attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, support for Hezbollah in Lebanon) therefore constituted a breakthrough, harbingers of strong instability not only at regional level, and intended to give a precise signal to Tehran that, in recent years, has preferred to replace the revolutionary slogans with a more concrete realpolitik that has allowed, despite in the heart of Shiite fundamentalism, agreements and collaborations with the Sunni Al Qaeda1. No diplomacy, only a reaffirmation of its will to power asymmetrically expressed with the reiteration of economic sanctions against the Iranian theocracy.

The internal political moment of the two contenders is delicate: in Washington there is discussion of presidential impeachment overshadowed by tensions in MO; Tehran is confronted both with popular discontent that resulted in violent unrest in November, and with the upcoming political elections that, in February, will be opposed to the Majilis2 conservative, favored and penalized at the same time by the growing and angry popular frustration, and pragmatic reformists of Rouhani in his last year of presidential term, and in possible difficulty precisely because of the killing of Soleimani, who has always been careful not to take sides openly for anyone faction and which has thus managed to interface with all key political actors.

The enormous popular participation in the general's funeral, however, should make us think; Soleimani, despite its proximity to the most intransigent wing of the regime, given the intelligent weaving of the regional political plot more favorable to Iran, which has however created numerous enemies in the world Arabic, contributed to the reinvigoration of an Iranian nationalism already fortified by the war with Iraq and culminated in the US withdrawal from the JCPOA3.

The contextualization of the regional framework, at the moment, sees a regional fault between Shiites and Sunnis, which was highlighted both in the support given to the American operation, seen as an expression of a balance of Iranian politics in the area, and with the publication, from the site The Intercept, of documents attesting the harshness of the anti ISIS warfare towards the local Sunni populations.

With a view to the possible outcomes of the Iranian presidential election of 2021, the nationalist wave must not be overlooked, bearing in mind however that, by its very nature, it may not necessarily constitute a lever for the ideology of religious supremacy.

Note the position taken by several Muslim actors; Turkey, with government diplomacy and sometimes contradictory journalistic positions, has highlighted complex political calculations and its deeply Sunni nature in contrast to Shiite expansionism.

In the Persian Gulf Iran has a hostile perception of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, given their aggressive postures that initially aimed at regime change in Tehran and which recently led to milder advice, also inspired by Kuwait, especially after the attack on the Saudi Arabian plants4.

The context prompted several western observers (Crisis Group) to believe that the raison d'etre of Iranian regional policies lies in the search for security in the geographical range from Lebanon to Herat, which induces them to resort to asymmetric deterrence by means of forms of hybrid war conducted without excluding blows, sometimes moreover to compensate for the weakness of the naval component.

Palestinians are an exception among Sunnis; in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority honored the general's memory by condemning Washington's action, an aspect that led to the publication on various social networks of expressions of disappointment originating from some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, for the support offered; support not without motivation prosaic, as determined by huge Iranian funding; this, of course, cannot and must not exempt Sunni countries from responsibility which, at the same time, contributed to the financing of the Salafi jihad.

Neither country intends to follow the path of conventional conflict, even if this cannot exclude the use of isolated actions; what can be seen at the moment, is that with the missile reprisal against the USA, defined by Khamenei "A slap, not a revenge", and by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif "proportionate measures”, Tehran has identified Mesopotamia as a battleground, hoping however not to induce the Americans to declare war.

At the moment there are no competitors capable of defeating the USA, but certainly a hypothetical American preventive attack would not exclude heavy retaliatory actions in MO and Israel; the discriminant in a total war would be found in nuclear disparity which, however, would lead to unpredictable consequences. The preparation of an attack would certainly not enjoy the surprise factor, given the extent and morphology of Iran, and would expose to violent asymmetric attacks, also taking into account the ability and motivation of the fighters. Much more realistically, therefore, conflicts by proxy will continue, given also the economic difficulties in which Iran is struggling, which will continue to avail itself, thanks to Al Quds, of militias, of political military organizations such as Hamas, which has charged Israel with part of the responsibility of the killing, of revolutionary movements, not being able to count on regular efficient FFAA, as indeed the Israeli air attacks in Syria have certified.

One of the questions concerns the ability of Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's replacement, both to maintain the strategic depth established with the regional realities while preserving the leadership of the Quds Force in a context that, driven by Springs and Autumns harbingers of new political issues, it may not always perceive Tehran's interests as its own, either to retain control of share of the Persian economy and the activities connected to it in order to preserve the primacy of the Pasdaran at the expense of Artesh, the FFAA traditional. Ghaani's action must therefore continue to guarantee the security of Iranian strategic interests by showing in Washington that the outcomes of the current game go far beyond the borders, and that the martyrdom, an integral part of the Shiite creed, it allows us to face death with a spirit other than the western one.

Iran could however take three alternative routes to direct confrontation: the first, interesting actions aimed at hindering maritime traffic, which however could create more problems for the Persians themselves than solutions; the second consisting of further possible actions of cyberwarfare; the third time waiting for the American Presidential elections. In this context, the Russian position must be focused, which prudently analyzes US action, stigmatizing its consequences.

The consequences may reverberate on several fronts. Tehran will resume its nuclear program to position itself, on a negotiating plan, on a position of greater importance, given that in any case it has already announced that it will not respect the 2015 agreement; Ankara, taking advantage of regional instability, will take advantage of the chaos will try to optimize its positions in Syria, Cyprus, Libya; the Sino-Russians will capitalize on the situation to continue their competition from behind the scenes; Iran's allies could resume inspiration for renewed action against Israel, interested in containing Persian action in Syria; in Kurdistan, the KCK5 stresses the need to reach one democratic modernity inspired by Öcalan, which overcomes a crisis which has been peculiar to the area for a long time, and which involves Turkey in particular.

From an economic point of view, as highlighted by Moody's in the communication prepared by the senior analyst Alexander Perjessy, the strong pessimism for the situation is underlined, with the markets that initially saw both the price of oil and gold take off; subsequent analyzes that re-evaluated the risks of a lasting conflict downwards, brought crude oil back to lower prices. Lachlan Shaw, National Australia Bank's commodity research manager, said that “The market is clearly frightened by the potential interruption of the offer but it is not said that we will necessarily go in that direction”, That is, from now on it will only be a matter of evaluating scenarios.

1 Hamza Bin Laden would live for years in Iran, Tehran, with his mother Khairiah Sabar, one of bin Laden's three wives who lived in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Sources close to the bin Laden family reported to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Iran helped send Hamza to Afghanistan and not to Saudi Arabia, where the rest of Osama's children remained. Sources confirmed that "Numerous Bin Laden children, their wives and children have already returned from Tehran to Saudi Arabia"The files published by the CIA after the elimination of Osama reveal a secret known by many: after the American attack on Afghanistan, the Iranian government has given refuge to the leaders of al Qaida on the run, helping the group to replenish itself. Al Qaida is a Sunni radical group and Iran a Shiite theocracy, but in this case there seems to have been the choice to bypass the ideology to concentrate on the enemy axis formed by America and Israel.

2 Parliament

3 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - commonly known as the Iranian nuclear deal

4 Saudi National Hydrocarbon Company

5 Union of Kurdistan Communities

Photo: IRNA / web / Kremlin