Most commentators responding to the assassination of top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani are focusing on the possible negatives. They bemoan the potential retaliation against American targets or allies, some even theorize that it might lead to World War Three much in the way that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria led to World War One.
However, missing from most of the commentary is the upside, apart from the elimination of a person directly responsible for the deaths of thousands and indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions and the misery of countless more, throughout the Middle East, and beyond.
At the outset, this piece by Jim Hanson looks at the damage done by Soleimani’s demise to Iran’s terror network of proxies and concludes:
“The gains Iran made in its push to unify Shia groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon advancing the goals of the Khomeinist revolution seem to have hit a rough spot. It will be very difficult for them to regain that momentum absent its architect Soleimani and in the face of an ever-increasing U.S. sanctions squeeze. Proxies cost money and the mullahs are running on empty.”
The removal of Iran’s most visible weapon in spreading its malign and destructive attempts at regional hegemony could become an opportunity for the disparate group of nations most threatened by Iran to coalesce together and further cement cooperation against the Islamic Republic.
Pragmatic Sunni nations which are on the frontlines against Iranian soft and hard power, like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain consider Iran as their most bitter enemy today and have all been in the firing line of attacks by the Islamic Republic in recent years.
For some years now, Sunni nations, led by Saudi Arabia, have sought to convert the four decades old Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) minus Qatar at the moment, into a Gulf Union, one of whose main goals would be to stymie Iranian influence.
The criteria for membership of the GCC is to be an Arab state in the Persian Gulf, but nations like Morocco and Jordan are on their way to being integrated into a second tiered bloc, despite the geographical expanse.
Perhaps, as well as adding nations beyond its geographical mandate, it could also add a nation beyond the Arabsphere, the State of Israel.
It is clear that now more than ever there is a confluence of interests between the GCC states and Israel, and there is much more they could do together now the taboo on some type of relations has been broken.
In recent months, a Saudi official shared a plenum with an Israeli official, Prime Minister Netanyahu was openly and officially welcomed in Oman, and Israel has been officially invited to Dubai’s Expo 2020 innovation fair. Even Qatar, usually the odd country out, invited Israelis to the World Athletic Championship last October angering Hamas, who released a statement saying “It was “sorry” that Qatar was hosting Israeli sports teams and raising the Israeli flag in Doha.
albeit this year already playing host to the head of the designated terrorist organization Hamas Ismail Haniyeh while Egypt banned his return to Gaza.
These steps have shown that the cat is well and truly out of the bag.
Israel and almost all of the pragmatic Sunni nations have developed some level of relations in recent years, constantly bolstered by the trust which has emerged from close intelligence coordination.
The reaction to the killing of Soleimani is highly indicative and shows that the Middle East conflict is no longer a Jew versus Arab affair, but those under extremist Shiite influence and those fighting it.
Those countries under direct control or influence of Tehran, like Syria, Lebanon, parts of Iraq and Yemen, decried the killing of Soleimani.
However, praise for the killing emanating from Jerusalem, Riyadh, and even Ramallah, were indistinguishable from each other, even if partly behind the scenes.
Soleimani’s killing was not just symbolic for many of Iran’s foes, it was a tangible result that put the Iranians on notice that they cannot act as openly and brazenly as they have done previously.
Soleimani’s role was to direct forces in the region loyal to Iran to do its bidding. He was not a man to obscure himself or his bloody work and obviously thought himself impenetrable and invincible, rarely hiding, unlike Hassan Nasrallah the commander of Hezbollah.
There are reports that many others had considered assassinating Soleimani previously, like Israel and the U.S. under President Obama.
President Trump’s action has provided a tremendous opportunity for the region and its struggle against Iran.
The brave and targeted strike should now be matched by courage and focus in the region.
The final taboos need now to be lifted towards relations between Sunni pragmatic nations and Israel.
There is much that can be gained from this, whether it is arms sales, early warning radars or sharing Iron Dome technology. Sharing water technology, artificial intelligence research, and exploring joint ventures economic can follow as less kinetic forms of cooperation, but perhaps more important.
Each of these and many other possible partnerships will be another nail in the coffin of Iranian regional hegemony, which is in the interest of all.
For many years, perhaps even decades, Iran has been on the march in the region, setting up shop in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. It has moved forward in its goals with frightening ease and speed.
Let it not be mistaken, Soleimani’s death is a big blow to Iran and its capabilities. He will not be easily replaced.
Nevertheless, an even bigger blow to Iran could result if its opponents use this opportunity to grow closer, coalesce and unite in the fight against the Islamic Republic. Such a union of forces is the nightmare scenario of the Ayatollahs and could lead to the first serious pushback it has had in the region in living memory.
This is an opportunity not to be missed.