Since the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Tehran has revealed that 22 attempts in the form of messages, contacts and offers have been made by Washington to contain the Iranian response. The US wants some sort of guarantee that Iran will not carry out major revenge operations that require Washington to respond at the same or an even higher level, which could send the region into a full-fledged war that neither party, nor their allies near and far, actually want.
So far, it does not seem that any of these efforts by the Americans have been enough to pave the way for a new US-Iran relationship. Various observers agree that relations have entered a new phase since dawn on 3 January, when American missiles destroyed the convoy transporting Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, along with their companions, at Baghdad International Airport.
However, Tehran has also revealed some features of its “response strategy” to the assassination of the icon of its regional influence. These include ending the American military presence in West Asia — the term used by Iran to describe the Middle East — beginning with removing US troops from Iraq. This process is already underway through “rough harassment” targeting the Green Zone and the Balad Air Base, where the US Embassy and army units are located.
“War of attrition” was among the most common terms used by spokespersons for Iran and its allies in the first 24 hours after Soleimani’s killing. This war will not be limited to Iran and won’t be carried out by Iran alone. Forces and groups allied with Tehran will become involved in various ways, within the framework of the “axis of resistance”.
Hassan Nasrallah’s speech yesterday at a Soleimani memorial event confirmed this approach. The Lebanese Hezbollah leader took his “transparency” a step further, as he said that targeting US soldiers, officers, bases and warships is “fair punishment” for the shedding of Soleimani’s and others’ blood.
It is worth noting that Nasrallah made the targeting of American forces the most basic responsibility and the least that the resistance factions can do as an expression of their loyalty to the man who was with them on their various battles fronts and battlefields. I believe that Nasrallah’s explicit statement is exactly what is going through the minds of Iranian leaders, as there is no one in our region who knows exactly what Iran is thinking about and what it intends to do like the Secretary-General of Hezbollah does.
The maps of US military deployment in the region are completely clear, and after Nasrallah’s speech any researcher or observer can predict that the American presence in Iraq and eastern Syria will be a direct target in the first stage of the Iranian response plan. This does not rule out the US bases scattered over several Arab countries being subject to “martyrdom” operations similar to those that targeted the Americans in Lebanon and Iraq, which Nasrallah alluded to in his speech.
In his analysis of the goals of the US operation at Baghdad Airport, the Hezbollah leader said that it is the beginning of a stage that is completely different from what preceded it, and suggested a “punitive” response based on this reading. This would entail a war of attrition that ends with the departure of American forces from West Asia, or the subjugation of this region to “the new American occupation” forever.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.