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January 5, 2020 7:13 pm

Leading Israeli Analysts Says Soleimani Assassination Is Significant Blow to Iran: Regime Will Not ‘Easily Recover’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Lebanon’s Hezbollah supporters attend a funeral ceremony rally to mourn Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Beirut’s suburbs, Lebanon, January 5, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher.

Two leading Israeli security analysts said over the weekend that the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Thursday night marked a significant blow to the Islamic Republic.

The experts also downplayed the regime’s appetite for direct conflict with the United States and noted that the act could potentially destabilize Iraq, which will then become the major battlefield between Iran and the US.

Writing for Israeli news website Mako, veteran Middle East analyst Ehud Yaari noted, “The most important event of the last day following Soleimani’s assassination is what did not happen: Baghdad’s Shiites did not take to the streets to participate in a funeral procession.”

This demonstrates the crumbling of Iranian influence over Iraqi Shiites, who “have gone to Baghdad’s squares for weeks to protest the government and burn [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei’s and Soleimani’s pictures.”

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“It turns out that most Shiites in Iraq are unwilling to join Soleimani’s adulation as a fairy-tale hero and do not want to see Iraq become a battlefield between Iran and the United States,” Yaari posited.

He also pointed out that “most Shiite militias deployed by Iran in Iraq have left the country in recent days for fear of further assassinations by the Americans.”

US President Donald Trump’s threat to strike 52 major Iranian targets if the Islamic Republic attacks “is likely to affect the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s system of considerations,” said Yaari. “He in no way wants war.”

“He would like to drag the United States into a skirmish in the form of attrition around the presence of 5,000 American troops in Iraq,” Yaari stated, “but he does not want to provoke Tomahawk missiles and the US Air Force. Iran has no answer to US capabilities.”

Israel, he asserted, is in fact far less worried about possible repercussions than the Saudis, who have just dispatched the brother of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Washington for consultations.

Avi Melamed, the President & CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives, noted the significance of Soleimani’s execution, calling it “a shock wave that ripples through the Middle East” and “significantly disrupts Iran’s goal of regional superiority. … The Iranian regime will neither quickly nor easily recover from or overcome the loss of Soleimani.”

Moreover, Melamed stated, the execution “seriously undermines the assumptions and great sense of self-confidence the Iranian regime has held that it is immune to direct harm.”

Previously, he said, Iran had acted with impunity because it assumed “the West recoils from a military confrontation with Iran” and President Trump would not risk war during an election year. But now, “Iran has sustained two fierce blows by the US in just a few days.”

In addition, this damage to Iranian prestige “severely damages its deterrence image … while there are ongoing protests in Lebanon and Iraq. Protests which, to a large extent, are aimed at getting Iran out of those two countries.”

“Some argue that the assassination of Soleimani will increase tensions in the Middle East,” Melamed observed. “This outlook confuses cause and effect: Tensions in the Middle East have intensified over the past decade because of the violent Iranian aggression which Soleimani spearheaded. … Killing Soleimani is not the cause of the escalation — but the result.”

Regarding what comes next, he asserted, “Iraq will be the main arena” with possible “internal clashes between Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi forces who want to or have been commanded to end — or significantly reduce — Iran’s influence on Iraq” and a possible “drastic Iranian move.”

This could include “a missile attack on Israel from western Iraq” or “direct Iranian military intervention in Iraq.”

Soleimani, who headed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, which directs Iran’s operations overseas, including acts of terrorism, was killed in an American air strike on Baghdad airport.

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