After Trump Punished the Supreme Leader, How Will Iran Respond?

After Iran brought down the American drone, the world held its breath and waited for the U.S. reaction, because this was a clear and explicit challenge from Iran. Indeed, Donald Trump gathered his government and members of Congress and others and then announced that he would give the order to respond by striking three targets inside Iran. But then he went back and canceled the order after he was told that this operation might lead to 150 civilian deaths! This decision is certainly strange! To a large extent, authorizations like this lead to quick, emotional and perfunctory reactions. Some saw this decision as an American retreat or backtracking out of fear or surprise at Iran’s advanced military capabilities and the possibility of an Iranian military victory in the event of an armed encounter.

This made Trump resort to asking for negotiations with Iran! He is escaping from this bitter reality! Surely he has heard the televised interviews, discussions and dialogues that are talking about and debating this new reality. Some even consider this a decisive Iranian victory! Yet even with all that talk, it has not been taken into account that the war is a bluff. It is a strategic plan that requires slow and careful maneuvering. Some also significantly overlooked the astronomical difference between American and Iranian strength. Bringing down a drone does not mean anything in comparison to Iranian economic losses that already exceed $10 billion.

There weren’t really any calls for an American military intervention in response to the drone incident. Rather, we will see that Trump’s response will be larger and more severe than any strike against Iranian sites. War and victory do not always demand firing a single shot.

As always − in my humble opinion − I am confident that the justification Trump mentioned is an absurd claim. I am perhaps not exaggerating when I say that American leadership would not flinch at killing 150 million people if that would serve its strategic goals in any war that it participates in. My deep conviction was made clear after having witnessed a terrible and grave event with my own eyes. I cannot and will not ever forget it as long as I live. I witnessed the heinous and dirty crime that occurred in the Amiriyah shelter in 1991 when it was struck by smart guided bombs and planes shot rockets through the roof. This led to the incineration of thousands of civilians − most of whom were innocent women and children − on the pretext that Saddam Hussein’s thugs were there! Armed with that knowledge, it was less than three months later when I was driving my car near the town hall and saw a military parade. There were American planes flying overhead. That same day, the television showed a recording of the parade that marked the end of the Sha’aban Intifada.* There was Saddam, standing on the podium saluting his soldiers. The planes were above the scene, and they could have killed him at that moment just like that, yet they did not.

Trump’s reaction to the downing of the drone was issued on June 24, 2019. This was the most important decision as far as punishment for the incident went. Most were surprised by his decision because it involved viciousness, resourcefulness and intelligence in how he treated the event. It turned out that he understood the Iranians’ reasons and objectives behind deciding to take down a drone. The Iranians were suffering under the blockade that is slowly tightening around their necks and nearly suffocating them. The regime no longer has the power or ability to be patient and hold off. It has become very hard to continue claiming that the Iranian people are still able to endure the situation, especially when there is no time limit or specified end to the siege.

Yesterday, there was an important development that will shift the stalemate in this terrible scene. Trump’s new economic and military sanctions are something never seen before.

The Iranians had resorted to searching for some incident that might lead to a negotiated solution and lighter conditions than what had been imposed upon them by the Americans. Thus by their accounts, they threw themselves into bringing down the drone in the hopes that if it led to an American reaction like striking some sites or Iranian bases, such a strike would stop the flow of oil so the price would greatly increase. Countries around the world would feel the consequences of that price increase. This would hopefully force them to intervene and pressure the Americans to find a solution that would help bring an end to the impasse, perhaps even with a little bit of dignity or saving face. But how did Trump respond to the downing of the drone? He issued a new set of even more severe sanctions.

The Iranians were gravely injured by this step, most especially because this time, the sanctions reached all the way to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This is a dangerous precedent and an extreme insult. According to the legal system of “Wilayat al-Faqih,” upon which the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based, Imam Khamenei is the guardian and trustee of the awaited Mahdi who is in occultation.** This is a grave threat and a huge economic blow. The Iranian government will need to take a strong official stance in response to this huge challenge. Otherwise, the people will look upon the system of Wilayat al-Faqih with many doubts about its sanctity and the truth of the claims upon which the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran was built.

As for Iran’s continued defiance of American leadership, we do not see any position or action that shows that it is capable of confronting these sanctions, insults and embarrassments. There is no indication that there is either power or preparation to defend the principles and laws of the Islamic Republic’s regime or to support and protect its weakest and most vulnerable people. The one who claims he can protect these people must make it clear and demonstrate steadfastly that he is strong and capable of fulfilling his promises. We will wait and see.

*Editor’s note: The Sha’aban Intifada is a term employed by some Arabs to refer to a series of popular rebellions in southern and western Iraq against Saddam Hussein in March and April 1991.

**Editor’s note: The Occultation in Shia Islam refers to a belief of some Shia that the messianic figure, or Mahdi, who is an infallible male descendant of Muhammad, was born but disappeared, and will one day return and fill the world with justice and peace.

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