Like Qasem Soleimani, they never saw it coming. After he disembarked from a plane landing at Baghdad International Airport, he and his convoy were blown to bits last Friday by missiles launched from a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone. As U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned the day before the fatal attack, “The game has changed.”
The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, had come to believe in his own invincibility. In the Iranian regime’s hierarchy, Soleimani was second only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Two prior U.S. presidents had been too afraid to take Soleimani down. Soleimani thought President Trump was no different and little more than a bluffer.
The Iranians became too cocky after President Trump called off an attack on Iranian facilities, which was minutes away from being launched in reprisal for the shooting down of an American drone by the Iranian regime. Because the downing of the drone had not resulted in any American casualties, President Trump decided that it would be a disproportionate response to authorize a strike that might have resulted in Iranian casualties. Iranian leaders also took notice that President Trump did not use military force in response to Iranian terrorist proxy attacks on maritime shipping and a Saudi oil facility. They calculated that there would not be a significant price to pay if they stepped up their attacks directly on American facilities and personnel. They calculated wrong.
The Iranian regime failed to grasp the America First president’s underlying message – kill or harm any Americans and there will be a harsh military response. Soleimani miscalculated President Trump’s resolve to protect American lives and assets from the prospect of non-ending attacks by Iranian thugs and their militant terrorist proxies, which have been escalating in recent weeks.
Soleimani’s arrogance had gotten the better of his judgment when it came to dealing with President Trump. Indeed, he taunted President Trump during a 2018 speech. Soleimani said that "not a night goes by when we don't think about you in our sleep. Let me tell you, Mr. Trump the gambler... Let me tell you... Know that we are near you, in places that don't come to your mind. We are near you in places that you can't even imagine."
Soleimani lost his own gamble. He found himself in a place where he could not “imagine” there would be a U.S. drone waiting upon President Trump’s orders to take him out. Now, Soleimani has an eternity to think about what went wrong during his “sleep” in hell.
President Trump signaled in plain sight that he meant business when American lives were at stake. On December 27th, a leading Iranian-backed Iraqi militia group, Kata’ib Hezbollah, launched an attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American civilian contractor and wounded several American and Iraqi personnel. Kata’ib Hezbollah is considered a direct arm of IRGC-Quds. This terrorist group has pledged loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was said to be working directly for Soleimani. Its leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis developed a close relationship with Soleimani and has served as his close adviser.
In a measured military response, President Trump ordered retaliatory U.S. airstrikes that killed some Kata’ib Hezbollah members. The Iranian terrorist proxies and their leader Soleimani still did not get the message, however. Hundreds of Iranian-backed militia fighters, reportedly at Soleimani’s direction, invaded the compound of the United States embassy in Baghdad last Tuesday after breaking down the compound gate. They threatened American lives, before finally withdrawing. President Trump tweeted a warning. He said that Iran “will be held fully responsible.”
None of this gave Kata’ib Hezbollah’s patron Soleimani any pause. He brazenly took a flight from Syria to Iraq and was met by his lackey Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at the Baghdad airport. Both met their maker last Friday night.
According to U.S. intelligence services, Soleimani was in the midst of planning for the execution of imminent major attacks on U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in Iraq and other countries in the region that could have cost hundreds of American lives.
Reuters separately reported that planning for stepped-up attacks against Americans had begun at a strategy session last October in Iraq attended by Soleimani and al-Muhandis. Soleimani, who considered it his mission to make Iraq essentially a satellite of Iran, was concerned with rising mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. “Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States,” Reuters reported. Soleimani arranged for the supply of advanced weapons to Kataib Hezbollah, including an advanced drone, Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles, in order to scope out potential U.S. targets and to launch attacks against them.
Thus, Soleimani and al-Muhandis were legitimate military targets. President Trump had both the constitutional authority and duty as commander in chief to order their killings. They were looking to launch unprovoked offensive attacks against U.S. military personnel and diplomats stationed in Iraq and elsewhere, while the United States was determined to respond forcefully in defense of its citizens.
Soleimani’s presence in Iraq alone so soon after his terrorist proxies’ assault on the U.S. embassy raised legitimate suspicions. It followed on the heels of Soleimani’s October meeting to plan more intensified attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities with al-Muhandis, the same terrorist who met Soleimani at the Baghdad airport last Friday. Soleimani directed the stepped-up delivery of sophisticated weaponry to the Iraqi terrorist group led by al-Muhandis for use against Americans. Soleimani also had a long track record of facilitating the killings of hundreds of American soldiers. Together with the recent intelligence reports of plans of imminent deadly attacks against Americans in the region, President Trump had more than enough justification to order the lethal strike on Soleimani’s convoy as an act of self-defense.
Suppose that President Trump had not authorized the killings, and the attacks were carried out quickly as originally planned, resulting in many American casualties. The same cowardly Democrats complaining about the president’s decisive preemptive action would have condemned him for allowing those attacks to proceed.
The deaths of Soleimani and al-Muhandis do not end the Iranian military threat to U.S. citizens in the region, of course. Moreover, the Iranian regime has proven adept at cyberattacks and has proxy terrorist sleeper cells all over the world, including in the United States, that can be activated. But the demise of these two blood-thirsty terrorists will at the very least slow down the execution of any major planned attacks and give time for the U.S. intelligence and military to position or reposition the appropriate resources to counter the threats. Soleimani had forged a personal network of Iranian-sponsored terrorists loyal to him. The loss of both Soleimani and al-Muhandis will deprive the terrorists under their command of the kind of highly sophisticated, knowledgeable, and reliable leadership they had come to rely upon.
President Trump’s critics are cowed by the Iranians’ vows of revenge. They have grown alarmed by the tense war of words, threats and counter threats that show no sign of abating.
Iranians raised the blood-red 'flags of revenge' over minarets at one of Iran’s major mosques. Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei promised "harsh retaliation." Iranian political and military officials have threatened everything from a military response "against military sites" to possibly attacking the White House. The Iranians have also placed an $80 million bounty on President Trump's head.
The Iranian regime threatened to strike 35 American targets in the region. President Trump upped the ante, tweeting that “if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!” He later tweeted, in what he characterized as “notification to the United States Congress,” that “should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner.”
Reports of two mortar rounds that hit an area near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Saturday and two rockets that struck the Al-Balad airbase housing American troops around the same time have heightened fears of escalating cycles of violence. Kataeb Hezbollah has warned security forces in Iraq “to get at least 1,000 meters away from US bases starting on Sunday at 5:00pm.”
On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling on the government to work to end all foreign troop presence, including U.S. forces. Although the resolution is non-binding, the acting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is under the sway of the Iranian regime, supports it.
There are about 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, who have been training local forces and working with them to go after remnants of ISIS. The U.S.-led coalition has now decided to refocus its operations and concentrate on protecting its own forces from rocket attacks.
The departure of U.S. troops from Iraq was one of Soleimani’s primary objectives in his quest to make Iran even more dominant in the country. Ironically, his killing may bring it about. But maybe not so fast. There is no specific timetable for the departure. Members of the Iraqi parliament representing the country’s ethnic Kurdish and Sunni Muslim minorities do not appear to be on board and did not attend the parliamentary session. There may also be room for more covert Special Forces operations that can continue to prevent the re-emergence of a serious ISIS threat without being as obvious a target for Iranian-backed rocket attacks.
On Sunday, the Iranian regime also announced that it was abandoning its “final limitations in the nuclear deal.” The New York Times has characterized Iran’s decision as one of “a host of unanticipated consequences” of the killings. But this is a superficial analysis. Iran was moving towards abandonment of the deal anyway, just on a slower schedule. And it has violated the deal from the outset by refusing to allow unfettered inspections of its military sites where prohibited development of explosive devices may have been going on.
Ken Timmerman, an expert on Iran, believes that President Trump’s decision will ultimately have a positive outcome. He said it showed that “the aura of the Iranian regime’s invincibility is over.” For years, he added, the Iranians “have been lulled into thinking they can act with impunity in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Finally, the United States has drawn a firm hard line on their bad behavior. This is exactly what we needed to do.”
As a result of President Trump’s bold action to take down the brutal Soleimani, the protesters against the Iranian regime within Iran itself and in Iraq who hated Soleimani may become more emboldened. The thugs running Iran today may have to look over their own shoulders before taking more provocative actions that would incur the full wrath of the U.S. military.