Iran faces dilemma in avenging general's death: To strike back without starting a war
By: Sean D. Naylor, Jenna McLaughlin and Zach Dorfman,Yahoo News
A boy in Tehran carries a portrait of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq early on Friday. (Photo: Vahid Salemi/AP)
WASHINGTON — Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, vowed to exact “severe revenge” for the Thursday night U.S. airstrike that killed the country’s most famous general, but the Iranian regime will have to walk a fine line to respond strongly without provoking a war with the United States, former intelligence officials familiar with the region said Friday.
Soleimani was a charismatic leader who for 20 years had played a key role in orchestrating Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly with regard to its use of proxy militia forces such as Lebanese Hezbollah, numerous Iraqi Shiite armed groups and the Houthi militia in Yemen. He directed the killing of more than 600 U.S. troops during the Iraq War by Shiite militias using a particularly lethal sort of roadside bomb called an explosively formed penetrator. More recently, he commanded Iran’s military efforts to shore up its ally Bashar Assad in the Syrian war. “He was the most famous intel figure on the planet,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA operations official.
But that fame has now put the Iranian regime in a bind, according to Norman Roule, who was the national intelligence manager for Iran until 2017. Because of Soleimani’s iconic stature, it will have to be seen to strike back itself, rather than merely through proxies, he said. But Iran must do so with enough “implausible deniability” to avoid giving the United States an excuse to launch a war that could lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Iran will also want to avoid antagonizing Europe, China or Russia in its response, Roule said.