US President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani provoked an immediate retaliatory response from Tehran. Multiple missiles were fired at two military bases in Iraq, housing US troops. The missile attacks failed to kill any US service personnel, leading some White House officials to believe that Iran deliberately sought to limit any potential damage.
In a stark warning to Trump, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said the rocket strikes were just a mere “slap” at the US and were “not enough”.
The Supreme Leader vowed that Iran would continue to oppose America. with the ultimate goal of driving the US out of the Middle East altogether.
Iran does not have the economic clout to fund an open war with Donald Trump, given the impact of crippling sanctions.
According to a CNBC investigation, Trump’s new sanction regime has seen GDP shrink by nearly 10 percent last year and oil production plummet.
US President Donald Trump
Additionally, inflation has risen to over 30 percent and around one fifth of the population is unemployed.
The economic hardships have led to growing social unrest, which the Iranian regime has struggled to put down.
Despite all these problems, Ilan Berman from the American Foreign Policy Council argues that Iran still has the ability to “ramp up its aggression against the U.S.” through the use of its network of proxy forces in the region.
Iran has developed extensive and lethal networks with a wide range of militia groups across the Middle East.
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These include not only Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement, but also assorted Shiite militias in Iraq (the so-called “Hashd al-Shaabi”) and even Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Iran also created the “Shi’a Liberation Army” (SLA), recruiting members from as far afield as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
This new militia unit was trained up by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, before being deployed to Syria.
Although Soleimani’s death has thrown Iran’s militia proxies into “a state of disarray’, overtime Iran is expected to reimpose its control.
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New head of the Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani
With Soleimani’s successor as head of the Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani, now firmly in place, it is only a matter of time before Iran weaponises the militias anew against the United States and its regional allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.
Iran has invested enormous amounts of resources into developing its cyber-war capabilities over the past decade.
Tehran has ably demonstrated its cyber-warfare prowess with attacks against Saudia Arabia’s state oil company and various US financial institutions in recent years.
And despite the US Department of Homeland Security publicly warning about future Iranian cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, neither the Pentagon nor the State Department has articulated much by way of a strategy to deter such threats.
Mr Berman concludes that Iran has lost none of its abilities to strike back at the US through asymmetric warfare, despite losing one of the key architects of that strategy.
He writes: “Going forward, Tehran may well have to rethink its approach, and could conclude that the potential costs of continuing its campaign of aggression against U.S. forces in the region are now simply too high.
“If it doesn’t, however, the very capabilities that Soleimani spent his career cultivating will remain the most potent weapons the Islamic Republic has to wield against the United States.”
Last week, the US President revealed that he ordered the killing of Soleimani after receiving intelligence that he was planning multiple attacks
at US embassies throughout the Middle East.
He told Fox news presenter Laura Ingraham: “I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies.”