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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Anniversary of Qasem Soleimani assassination: Reflection on Iran-US tensions after 4 years

Killing of Soleimani, particularly following Trump's withdrawal from nuclear deal, reimposition of sanctions on Iran in 2018, resulted in a peak of tensions between Iran, US

While Trump claimed responsibility for ordering killing of Soleimani, stating that he was ‘responsible for deaths of thousands of US soldiers,’ attack received backlash in Iran with calls for anger, revenge

As four years passed since Iranian General Qasem Soleimani’s assassination, ordered by then-US President Donald Trump, the problems between the two nations, especially the nuclear issue that emerged during the Trump era, have deepened.

Read more: Iran-backed 4 militants dead in US drone attack in Iraq

Especially the nuclear deal, signed in 2015 but unilaterally withdrawn by Trump, became completely unimplementable at this stage due to the steps taken by both parties.

Soleimani, who held a position well beyond his official role as the commander of the Quds Force, responsible for military-intelligence operations outside Iran within the Revolutionary Guards, was known as the chief architect of Iran’s Middle East policies.

Acting directly under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he managed Iran’s military operations in various locations, including Syria and Iraq, despite the international travel ban imposed by the UN in 2007.

Became a significant supporter of the Damascus regime in Syria

Taking over the Quds Force in 1998, Soleimani significantly increased its influence in the region.

He expanded Iran’s influence in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, particularly supporting the Syrian regime during the civil war by bringing in foreign militias to fight alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

During the internal conflict in Syria, Soleimani, through the foreign militias he brought in from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and even Pakistan, significantly increased the effectiveness of the Quds Force in supporting the Assad regime.

Read more: US had no role in Iran terror attack – State Department

Soleimani’s killing led to direct war concerns between the US and Iran

The killing of Soleimani, particularly following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the reimposition of sanctions on Iran in 2018, resulted in a peak of tensions between Iran and the US.

Soleimani’s convoy, invited to Baghdad by then-Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdulmehdi, was targeted by a missile fired from a US military drone on Jan. 3, 2020.

In the attack, 10 people, including Soleimani, Iranian officers, and the Deputy Head of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, lost their lives.

While Trump claimed responsibility for ordering the killing of Soleimani, stating that he was “responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers,” the attack received backlash in Iran with calls for anger and revenge.

On the same day, Iranian leader Khamenei appointed Major General Esmail Ghaani as the successor to Soleimani as the Commander of the Quds Force.

The tension that had been ongoing between Washington and Tehran over Iraqi territories escalated with Soleimani’s killing.

Iran attacked a US base in Iraq

On Jan. 8, the Revolutionary Guards announced that they had struck the Ayn al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s Anbar province with ballistic missiles in the early hours of the morning.

Describing the attack as the “revenge operation for Martyr Soleimani,” the Revolutionary Guards warned of a “much stronger and more overwhelming” response if the US retaliated.

After these attacks, attention turned to Washington. President Trump convened the National Security Council at the White House.

Trump later announced on his social media account, “Assessment of casualties and damages is taking place. So far, so good.”

The US Defense Department (Pentagon) stated that no American soldiers were lost.

Ukrainian passenger plane shot down over Tehran

While the world watched the developments evolving into a direct war between Iran and the US with fear, at 06:18 local time, a Ukrainian passenger plane belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, en route from Tehran to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, crashed shortly after takeoff.

There were no survivors among the 176 passengers and crew on board.

Iranian authorities admitted three days later that the passenger plane had been “accidentally” shot down by air defense systems.

The downing of the plane was met with significant outrage both in Iran and internationally, putting the Tehran government in a difficult position.

Iran accelerated its nuclear program and missile activities

After Soleimani’s killing, Iran announced on Jan. 5, 2020, that it was suspending all commitments under the nuclear deal, stopping its commitments related to uranium enrichment, storage, research, and development.

Subsequently, the Tehran government took a series of steps, including high-level uranium enrichment.

While Iran previously enriched uranium up to 20%, it has now reached the highest level in its history, up to 60% enrichment. Enrichment beyond 20% is considered a significant step toward obtaining uranium that can be split with 90% purity, enabling the production of a nuclear bomb.

In addition to these developments, despite objections from the US and Europe, Iran expanded its ballistic missile program further and increased new missile tests after the assassination of Soleimani.

Conservatives gained power in the Iranian parliament and government

The pressures on Tehran resulting from the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the subsequent killing of the Iranian general led to a resurgence of power for conservative politicians in critical institutions, even though they held onto them.

This shift marginalized reformist politicians in the country who had lost popularity after the signing of the nuclear deal.

Ultimately, in the June 2021 elections, conservatives, who held the majority in the parliament, achieved great success.

Soleimani’s killing did not significantly change the overall dynamics of the region. His successor, Ghaani, adopted a lower profile than his predecessor but maintained strong relationships with Iran’s regional activities and supported militia groups. However, Iran has not yet fulfilled its promise of revenge for Soleimani’s killing.

Moreover, despite Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran did not accept the comprehensive agreement proposed by the US between the two countries.

The “maximum pressure” policy of Trump, in fact, strengthened the regime in Iran, dominated by conservatives.