A New Middle East

1. Iranians set a U.S. and an Israeli flag on fire during a funeral procession for military commander Qasem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and others in Tehran on January 6. (ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

As of this week, the world is a safer place without the likes of Qassem Soleimani, who not only built Iranian terror forces all over the world, but also caused the deaths of thousands and intensified the terror inside Iran.

What led President Trump to his decision?

Who was Soleimani, and how was he assassinated?

And the question of all questions:

Where is all this going, and is Israel in Iran’s sights?

But above all, these questions that do not yet have clear answers, one thing is clear: As far as Israel is concerned, this was a miracle. It is no longer alone in its crusade against the archenemy — Iran.

2. A ceremony to unveil new anti-U.S. murals painted on the walls of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 2. (AP Photo/Vahid Salem)

A few words delivered by a young American officer into the ears of President Donald Trump may have persuaded the latter to approve the targeted killing of arch-murderer Qassem Soleimani.

It happened at a meeting between Trump and senior National Security Council officials and intelligence officers. A few days ago, they arrived at the Florida resort where Trump is vacationing, and had a secret consultation around the question of what should be done to put a stop to Iran’s continued aggression against America and its allies. This aggression has been going on for almost a year, and throughout this time, the United States did not act.

Until the end of last week, when America dealt a very harsh blow to Iran.

What changed the American position? Why was this not done in the past? And what persuaded President Trump, who does not want an escalation of tensions in an election year, to change his approach now?

Perhaps it was the message of the young officer at the meeting in Florida: “Have you heard about Isoroku Yamamoto?” There was silence in the room. No one had ever heard of the man. And the officer continued: “Isoroku Yamamoto was the high commander of the Japanese fleet during World War II. He was the one who sent thousands of planes with Japanese kamikaze pilots to attack our soldiers. He was behind the greatest battles, when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the Battle of Midway. He laughed at us, just like Soleimani has been doing the last year.

“In 1943, there was a meeting between the American president and his senior military brass, and the question was raised about what could be done to thwart the Japanese attacks. After a long discussion, it was decided to try to assassinate Yamamoto. The president in the White House deliberated for a long time. He was afraid of the ramifications for the future. This could have led to an expansion of the war, some of his advisors told him then. But ultimately, in 1943, after the Japanese continued their aggression, we took action,” the young officer related. “We assassinated Isoroku Yamamoto, and that was a serious blow to Japan. Right after that, they began to capitulate and retreat. They continued with their aggression, but it was on a much lower scale, and whenever they did something, they remembered Yamamoto and his fate.”

And here, the officer turned to President Trump and said: “We are at exactly the same point. We’ve lost our prestige because we didn’t react to the Iranian attacks on the Saudis and when they toppled our unmanned plane, and to the attacks on the embassy in Baghdad, and dozens more instances of Iranian aggression. The time has come to do what we did in 1943. Now is the best time. We need a game changer.”

The president was attentive and, at the end of the week, he gave the order. “My son, the living shahid,” as Iran’s leader Khamenei called Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated by four missiles fired from an unmanned aircraft that tracked his convoy as it was driving out of the airport in Baghdad after landing from Damascus.

Leading the convoy were two bulletproof Toyota Camrys, with Soleimani and eight other senior Revolutionary Guards inside. The missile struck the two cars, leaving no chance for the occupants.

It was the assassination of the most senior military figure by the United States since that of Isoroku Yamamoto. Just like in 1943, when the Japanese sustained a severe blow to their morale, this was a slap in the face to the Iranian prestige.

The assassination of this arch-terrorist is no doubt President Trump’s most prominent achievement in the global war against terror since coming into office. Qassam Soleimani’s liquidation might be a game changer in the conflict with the Iranians. Iran will threaten. It will warn. It will try to do things here and there, but it will also understand that the American action shows that the president and his administration have gotten off the fence they were sitting on for the last year. Now they are no longer willing to show restraint.

Moreover, if the Iranians thought that the American president would be afraid that such a move might drag him into war during an election year, this showed them that they were incorrect. Trump is very unpredictable and he is ready for everything. With this deed, he showed that he is a person who has a healthy sense of intuition and courage. He is not afraid of the Iranians, and he really believes that America has the power to act against anyone who rears their head in an effort to spread terror around the world. And for that, he is worthy of praise.

The world will remember Soleimani’s assassination for many years to come, primarily because the Americans have not done anything on this scale since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Although American and Israeli intelligence forces have killed Iranian nuclear scientists, neither country took responsibility for those operations. This time, it was the president himself who publicly took responsibility. In response to Khamenei’s declaration directed at the president of the world’s largest superpower that “You can’t do anything against Iran,” Trump replied by waving the stars and stripes — the pride of all Americans.

The president did not make an arbitrary move here, as his domestic enemies tried to portray it this week. The assassination of the Iranian terrorist was the continuation of a firm, decisive policy against Iran, which began with the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and included painful sanctions on Tehran, and which now reached a peak with the liquidation of Soleimani.

Although his official title was Commander of the Operations Arm of the Revolutionary Guards, in the eyes of most Iranians he was their country’s central figure. His status is more or less on a par with that of Khamenei, who is known as the “Supreme Leader.” And if at one time there was talk of a “New Middle East,” we’ve gotten to that time. The Middle East after the removal of the commander of the Revolutionary Guards will never be the same as it was. For better, or perhaps for worse. But for sure not the same.

Army cadets attend a funeral ceremony for Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Qassem Soleimani was born 62 years ago in Kerman, Iran. In 1980, as a young, newly recruited soldier, he participated in the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted eight years. He rose through the ranks, and in the 1990s, he was sent, as per his request, to command the Revolutionary Guards on the Afghan border. Only when he got there did he realize why he had chosen specifically this location. Alongside his command over Iranian soldiers, he had a private little side business of smuggling drugs over the border, and he amassed a small fortune.

In 1997, he was appointed the commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards. In this capacity, the spiritual leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, tasked him with establishing pro-Iranian militias. Soleimani recruited young Shiite men from various countries, offered them a nice salary, and began training them to fight to disseminate the Shia doctrine throughout the world. These pro-Iranian units, called “Iran’s proxy forces,” do most of the work in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the other fronts where Iran is active.

Ali Khamenei considered Soleimani one of his sons. He admired his work and, primarily, his courage after he went out to command terror fronts. He was very close to all Iranian activity, putting his own life in danger. “He is Iran’s living shahid,” Khamenei said of him after Soleimani avoided an attempted assassination. In 2011, he was promoted to the rank equivalent to that of the chief of general staff of the Iranian army, and was actually the right hand and personal emissary of the Iranian leader in all government missions, chief among them the Iranian leader’s life goal — exporting terror.

After the nuclear agreement was signed between the Americans and the Europeans during the administration of President Barack Obama, Soleimani was sent to supervise the Shiite militias who helped President Assad win the civil war in Syria. Soleimani at that time also led the campaign against ISIS, and he certainly had a big share in dismantling ISIS, at least in Syria and Iraq. In recent years, he focused — alongside exporting terror from Tehran to the rest of the world — on integrating his people in Syria and Yemen, and expanding military might on the borders close to Israel.

During these years, the administration changed in the White House. President Donald Trump distanced himself from Iran. Soleimani — and it is not clear to this day if it was by order of Khamenei or on his own personal initiative, with the retroactive approval of Khamenei — launched military clashes with the United States and its allies in the Middle East. He attacked Saudi Arabia and sent missiles toward Israel. He ordered his people to harass ships and tankers from the West, and when mass demonstrations began in Beirut and Baghdad, in Tehran and other Iranian cities, Soleimani led the policy that the demonstrators needed to be crushed — harshly. Indeed, some 1,500 people were killed in Iran, and about one-third of that number were killed in the riots in Lebanon.

Soleimani coordinated all of Iran’s military and political policies in the Middle East. Therefore, in the near term, Iran’s operations will certainly be affected, and will decline. On the other hand, American deterrence will only rise.

Iran blames America and its president for crossing a red line. But they ignore the fact that for the last seven months they were the ones who crossed every red line, by attacking oil installations in Eastern Saudi Arabia and carrying out 20 attacks on American aircraft and sea vessels, as well as by attacking military units on the ground.

Soleimani was behind all these attacks. His death will not leave his position empty. His deputy has already been appointed to be his successor. But anyone who takes the job will have trouble filling some very big shoes. It will take him a long time.

Two previous attempts had been made to assassinate Soleimani, both of which failed. One attempt was by Israel. America made him a target in the 1990s, when he fought them in Iraq. But then, Soleimani changed direction, helping America in their war against ISIS. He once again topped the terrorist list when he began to attack Americans and their allies. With his removal, America has sent a clear message to Iran that it is not afraid of their threats. America will not allow Iran’s senior officials to go through life while they cut down the lives of Americans and their allies in the Middle East. If until now there was a certain measure of cooperation between Iran and Washington in the war against ISIS, that is over.

Iranians take part in a funeral procession in Enghelab Square in Tehran, Jan. 6. (ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Soleimani’s killing is also a blow to the hawkish factions in the Iranian government, and all those who used brute force to cruelly suppress the social demonstrations and protests in Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. Soleimani linked all the political and military activity of the ayatollahs’ regime in the terror world. Wherever there were Shiite militias, the Iranians were there.

It’s a good idea to follow the reactions to the killing. The Russians and Chinese expressed disappointment and condemned the move, because they have financial interests in Iran. The leaders of the moderate Sunni nations — such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt — have been quiet for the most part. Each of them is afraid that the retaliatory attack will be a score that Iran has to settle with all its critics — including them. Israel is obviously pleased with the turn of events; however Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed his ministers not to display open triumph, so as not to rouse the sleeping bear in Iran.

The ones who took the longest to react were the Iraqis. Deep inside, no one is happier than they are. They cannot express this openly, because they are afraid that their country will be the site of a conflict between Iran and America. Baghdad is in a very tight spot. They are afraid of Iran and, on the other hand, they do not want a conflict with America, from whom they receive military and economic support.

It’s hard to see the Iranians letting this pass. They will retaliate, and not necessarily immediately. The Iranians usually measure their steps very carefully, and it’s not clear how much time it will take until they act.

But it’s safe to assume that they will act. They can retaliate in Iraq, in Syria, against the Saudis and against Israel, even though Israel was not directly involved here. They can target Saudi and Iraqi oil fields, they can set their sights on ships and tankers in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. They might target civilian and military aircraft. They will try to activate all those organizations that were established exactly for this purpose. But in addition to their strong desire for revenge, they will also carefully evaluate the ramifications of their actions, after President Trump conveyed the primary message that America is taking every development into account and is ready for it. The Iranian leadership will want first and foremost to keep its hold on the country. The killing of Soleimani was also a message to all the ayatollahs that they, too, are targets.

Let’s not forget that eight senior Revolutionary Guards were killed with Soleimani, including Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, a close friend of Soleimani’s, who headed all the Iranian militias in Iraq. Had he been the only one killed in the strike, all the headlines would have focused on it. Now he became a postscript in the big picture, but in reality, the killing of this secondary figure will have significant ramifications on Iranian activity in Iraq.

Very little was publicized about the way America got their intelligence about Soleimani’s moves. President Trump boasted this week that “We have the best intelligence in the world.” Indeed, American intelligence collects a lot of information about the leaders of terror groups, and is aided by “friendly nations.” The initial decision to kill Soleimani was made a long time ago, but it all waited for the right moment — when the man would commit something unspeakable enough and the intelligence services would have real-time information on his whereabouts. The combination of these two situations occurred in recent days, after Soleimani’s people attacked American bases in Baghdad, killing an American contractor and wounding five American soldiers.

An unmanned American MQ-9 Ripper aircraft dropped four Hellfire missiles on the vehicles in which Soleimani and his people were riding. They were on the way back from a series of meetings in Damascus and had made a stopover in Baghdad, where they were welcomed by Mahdi al-Mohandes, the senior Iranian official in Iraq. They climbed into Soleimani’s car together, and it was their last ride. With them was Mohammed Rada a-Jabari, the one in charge of foreign relations of the umbrella group of the Shia militias. Everyone was killed. The Iranians said nine people died; Baghdad says the number is higher. But all will remember the senior official in the convoy with his signature red ring — which was used to identify his scorched body after the car burst into flames. This week, when the remains of the dead were taken for burial, it emerged that it was hard to identify who each one was, and the funeral was delayed by a whole day until DNA tests could be conducted on each part to see which person it belonged to.

A report by a private Israeli intelligence channel, Intelli Times, says that the members of the pro-Iranian militias regularly used reinforced Toyota vehicles — which were destroyed in the strike — and they used Chinese-made tactical communications systems, which Soleimani and al-Mohandes were seen with. They were recently seen using these devices to coordinate the battle that they waged on the Iraqi-Syrian border — where, according to assessments, Iran is working to create a land route to Lebanon. The connection between the forces was done using a wireless tactical communications network, which was identified in the report as belonging to the Shia militias in Iraq. According to the report, the official vehicles used by Soleimani and his advisors had the antennas that were used to activate a number of wireless networks, which is how intelligence was able to track them.

Now, for the question of all questions: Strategically speaking, did the American assassination strengthen its deterrence? It’s safe to assume that it did, but primarily for the long term. In the short term, Iran will not act from the mind, but rather form the gut. They are hungry for revenge and, if it gets out of hand, all options — including an American-Iranian conflict — are possible.

And where are we, Jews and Israelis, in this picture?

5. At the funeral for Qassem Soleimani, Tehran, Iran, Jan. 6. (Official Khamenei website/Handout via Reuters)

The warnings publicized by Iran from the time of the assassination through Saturday night also mention Israel as one of their revenge targets. Iran is certainly liable to try and activate Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as Hezbollah and the rest of the Shia militias who are already deep in Syria, and all of whom have weapons that can inflict heavy damage on Israel. This behooves Israel to be on the highest level of alert — which the army already is. We need, of course, to be on the alert on all fronts. But Iran, and those organizations, will take into account that Israel has offensive capabilities that are just as good as America’s, and that opening a new front with Israel will not help them maintain a hold on the regimes in their own lands and organizations.

What about Iran’s future activity in Syria? It’s safe to assume it will continue as it was. Iran does not give up on goals that it sets for itself in its desire to impose Shia rule on the entire Middle East. Iran realizes from President Trump’s move that he is not the only one who is ready for war; all those in the Middle East who might be harmed by Iran are, too. That is one of the most important messages conveyed to Tehran with this assassination.

We need to take into account that, in the short term, Iran will not desist from its subversive activity. It’s likely that the clashes between all sides will intensify.

Iran has proven in the past that they avenge attacks on them. But they wait for the best timing to take action, and do so in the least-expected places. Soleimani’s deputy — appointed to replace him — has already declared that his country is not afraid of America and is ready to continue with the crusade.

Everyone is talking about how Iran will react in the near future. And it can happen. But let’s not be surprised if they decide to wait and see the outcome of the elections in America at the end of this year, in the hope that the American people will change their president and put a Democrat in the White House, one of those who harshly criticized the president.

Let’s not be surprised if Iran suddenly begins to accuse Israel of helping with intelligence, or in any other way, to kill Soleimani, thus making it a target for retaliation. Jewish and Israeli locations around the world need to be on the highest alert in the face of possibly being targeted by Iran. And, with all that, Israel has maintained nearly complete silence since the attack, even though it has a long personal account to settle with Soleimani. He is responsible for the murder of Jews and Israelis in Argentina, in Burgas and for a host of other attempted attacks in Israel and other locations.

In addition to the concern in Israel about a possible reaction, Israel is also closely following the dialogue in America regarding the assassination, and the strange criticism of the president who did what his predecessor should have done. The critical reactions over the president’s actions are very worrisome for Israel, who knows that Iran has a very strong lobby in America, and we see its influence in this heavy criticism being directed at the president. It’s a shame that America doesn’t understand that the order from Washington to kill the terrorist in Baghdad is a step that will have a calming effect on every other place in the world — including in America, and certainly in Europe. Soleimani will no longer inflict his reign of terror on the world. President Trump headed off a global earthquake, and many in America, spurred by their hatred for their president, criticize him even though they know it was a necessary move.

Iran — who until the end of last week was under the impression that President Trump was afraid to get involved in a war with it — believed that it had a wide enough berth to be able to strike at Americans and their allies in the Middle East. The American strike last week will change some minds in Tehran. They will react, but cautiously. Let us not be surprised if all that has happened will also bring them back to the negotiating table with Washington.

Anything can happen.

Iran will be very careful of any steps that might lead to direct war with America, but it will look for ways to attack that will continue the appearance of their old ways — fearless and very active. Iran quickly needs a few actions that will restore its badly damaged image. It needs to raise the morale of its people, who sustained a big blow, and primarily, it will try to take steps that will be interpreted as a direct revenge for this assassination.

The Iranians diverted missile batteries toward American bases and toward Israel. Khameini threatened a harsh revenge, but the one who cooled things down was the most senior information source in the Shia leadership in Arabic, Rassan Ben Jido. He said that “America wants to draw Iran into war —but Iran is smarter and will not be drawn in.”

A damaged car, claimed to belong to Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, is seen near Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, Jan. 3, 2020, in this still image taken from video. (Ahmad Al Mukhtar/via Reuters)

So what does all this say? That Iran wants to exact a painful revenge but not one that will cause war, where they might lose it all. Iran will find a way to harm Americans, and perhaps others in the Middle East, but perhaps not in a way that will drag the entire region into a broad conflict. Israel’s military believes that the Iranian reaction will come, but it is not clear that they will go on to something grandiose, like war.

Soleimani’s assassination upended all the carts in the Middle East, and now the world is waiting for the Iranian response. But it’s not clear that Iran wants to launch a war against America. They are afraid. They are aware of the gaps in their abilities and if, until now, they felt that they could instigate in various ways, now that President Trump did what he did, they need to be more cautious. Trump says he has prepared a bank of 52 targets in Iran, and he might act on his threats if they retaliate. That obligates them to recalculate.

Iran doesn’t need to put Israel into their bank of targets. Israel is there irrespective of Soleimani’s liquidation. Iran has an open account with Israel because of Israel’s many air strikes in the last two years. At the same time, there is a fear in Israel that radical Islamist groups near Israel’s borders will attempt “private revenge” in the form of isolated missiles into Israel. This might happen even without the instructions of Iran, which, ultimately, is looking for a way to survive in the jungle of the Middle East. A war will endanger the continued control of Tehran.

Soleimani’s death puts the Iranians in a serious dilemma. They feel like they have a deep obligation to avenge his death, because inaction will convey weakness. But any reaction to the Americans might lead to a military conflict, when the regime in Tehran faces many problems from within and without.

Ultimately, a miracle occurred here — a great miracle that Hashem performed for Israel, which has suddenly discovered that it is not alone in its crusade against the greatest enemy — Iran.