Iranians will pay the price for their country’s standoff with the US

For Donald Trump, the events that began with Qasem Soleimani’s death are an electoral boost – but for everyday Iranians, they spell years of intensified suppression

Iranian general Amir Ali Hajizadeh accepts blame for downing of plane

Iran’s attack against two American bases in Iraq in retaliation for the US killing its top commander, Qasem Soleimani, left no casualties. The US president appeared calm on Wednesday when he said in a news conference that no US lives were lost and that the bases attacked in Iraq suffered only minimal damage.

Donald Trump’s speech was seen as the end of major tensions between Iran and the US. In return, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, declared a ceasefire in a tweet: “Iran took and concluded proportionate measures.”

Trump, meanwhile, has not been pursuing a war that could reduce his chances for re-election. Trump ordered the assassination of an immensely powerful military commander whose name rang fear in the region and among allies of the US. Perhaps none of them can publicly cheer Soleimani’s demise, but it goes without saying that privately they admired Trump for his action.

For a number of reasons, not least its military shortcomings, the Islamic Republic could never confront America head-on. As a result, Iran decided to limit its attacks to the already vacated US bases in the same foreign country where its commander was assassinated. It has been reported that Iran informed US officials before the attack to make sure no American lives would be lost.

Iran has other ways of seeking revenge and causing a nuisance for the US through the actions of its proxy militias in the region and threatening shipping from Bab-el-Mandeb to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, not to mention cyberattacks which could one way or another harm the US in the future.

Even if Iran’s retaliation is not proportionate to the wrath and grief it feels, its fallout could amplify tension in the region and strengthen conservative and radical factions within the Iranian administration, perhaps even to the extent that a military figure might come to power in the upcoming presidential election.

For Donald Trump, the assassination of Soleimani – like the killing of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before it – counts as a major point scored as he heads into his re-election campaign.

Trump can now say to his fellow Republicans and voters that he has not led America into a new war – that despite significant tension with Iran, he managed to stick to his word. With Soleimani gone and Iran weakening, peace talks with the Taliban can resume and conclude quickly before the US election.

Trump can ultimately claim that during his four-year term he has led America to better security and greener economic pastures. And that’s what matters to the American voter.

But for the Iranian people, the upshot of all this will be a more difficult life and further suppression in an increasingly authoritarian police state.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s administration faces limited options. It is obvious that under the current circumstances, the Islamic Republic would never enter into negotiations with the US. It is therefore doomed to continue suffering under economic sanctions, which will put Iranians under further pressure – as a result of which a new chapter in suppression will begin.

Trump’s envoy to the UN, Kelly Craft, has said that the US is ready to talk to Tehran with “no pre-conditions”. This position was repeated in Trump’s Wednesday speech. But it is evident that Tehran will no longer deal directly or through brokers with a US presided by Donald Trump.

To date, the people of Iran have paid the price of tension and differences between the two sides in economic hardship, humiliation, and diminishing spirits. Now, it seems that they will also be paying for Soleimani’s blood.

Since the general’s assassination last Thursday, more than 200 people have been killed in related incidents. On Tuesday, more than 50 people lost their lives in a stampede during Soleimani’s funeral in his birthplace, Kerman. And in the early hours of Wednesday, a few hours after Iran’s attack on US bases in Iraq, a civilian plane belonging to Ukraine airlines crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, killing at least 176 people – 147 of them Iranian nationals, according to the Iranian authorities.

While American, Ukrainian and Canadian officials soon said there is evidence that the plane had been hit by an Iranian air defense missile, Iran at first insisted the crash was caused by engine failure before eventually admitting it was indeed a missile strike.

Such heartbreaking news can only add to Iranians’ grief and suffering. Soleimani’s funerals, which officials had organised in various Iranian cities with the aim of gaining political advantage, fomenting mass resentment against the US and galvanising national unity, have largely fallen by the wayside in the wake of this attack against a civilian plane.

The result is a confrontation with the international community as it seeks a transparent investigation into the incident. The crash has sent the Iranian administration into another crisis – one in which Trump has played no role.

Camelia Entekhabifard is the Editor in Chief of The Independent Persian​

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