A Iranian flag flies over an archeological site in Bishapur, Iran.
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Major General Hossein Salami, the chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran, said on January 4 that his country would take "strategic revenge" against the United States for the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani. The assassination of Soleimani, Salami said, will be later seen as a "turning point" in U.S. interference in West Asia.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reacted strongly to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's suggestion that Iraqis were "dancing in the street" to celebrate the assassination. On Twitter, Zarif posted pictures of the funeral procession for Soleimani and wrote, "End of US malign presence in West Asia has begun."
Both the military and the diplomatic wings of Iran's government are in agreement that it is not Iran that will be weakened by the assassination of Soleimani, but that the United States will suffer the consequences of this action.
Why the U.S. Fears Iran
Why does the United States of America -- the country with the largest military force in the world -- fear Iran? What can Iran do to threaten U.S. interests?
To understand U.S. fears about Iran, it is important to recognize the ideological threat that Iran poses to Saudi Arabia.
Until the Iranian revolution of 1979, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were on an even keel. Both were monarchies, and both were subordinate allies of the United States. Whatever historical animosity remained between the Shia and Sunni -- two branches of the Islamic tradition -- were on mute.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 shook up the region. The crown of the monarch was set aside, as a specifically religious republic was created. The Saudis have long said that Islam and democracy are incompatible; this is precisely what the Islamic Republic rejected, when it created its own democratic form of Islam. It was this Islamic republicanism that swept the region, from Pakistan to Morocco. Fears of Islamic republicanism brought shudders into the palaces of the Saudi royal family, and into the U.S. higher establishment. It was at this point that the U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that the military defense of Saudi Arabia's monarchy was a paramount interest of the U.S. government.
In other words, the U.S. military would be used to protect not the people of the Arabian Peninsula but the Saudi monarchy. Since the main threat was Iran, the U.S. turned its entire arsenal of military and information war against the new Islamic Republic.
The Saudis and the West egged on Saddam Hussein to send in the Iraqi army against Iran in 1980; that bloody war went on till 1988, with both Iran and Iraq bled for the sake of Riyadh and Washington. Soleimani and his successor Brigadier General Esmail Gha'ani both fought in the Iraq-Iran War. Both Saddam Hussein and later the Afghan Taliban held Iran tight inside its borders.
American Wars, Iranian Victories
U.S. President George W. Bush broke the wall around Iran. The United States prosecuted two wars, which were essentially won by Iran. First, the U.S. in 2001 knocked out the Taliban and delivered an advantage to pro-Iranian factions, who joined the post-Taliban government in Kabul. Then, in 2003, the U.S. took out Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party; the pro-Iranian Dawa Party succeeded Saddam. It was Bush's wars that allowed Iran to extend its influence from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean Sea.
The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel used several mechanisms to push Iran back into its borders. They first went after Iran's regional allies: first sanctions against Syria (with the 2003 Syria Accountability Act in the U.S. Congress), and then a war against Lebanon (prosecuted by Israel in 2006 to weaken Hezbollah). Neither worked.
In 2006, the U.S. fabricated a crisis over Iran's nuclear energy program and pushed for UN, European Union, and U.S. sanctions. This did not work. The sanctions regime ended in 2015.