On Friday, 3 January, the American army assassinated the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Iran retaliated by launching missiles at the Al Asad air base near Baghdad, Iraq, at which US forces are stationed, apparently causing no casualties. Who was Soleimani and what consequences will his death have? UvA historian and Iran expert Peyman Jafari sheds light on this tense situation.
According to Jafari, who currently also works as an associate research scholar at Princeton University, the situation can only be understood by recognising that these recent developments are not taking place in a vacuum. In a Dutch media appearance, he explained that ‘you must view it from the context of the American presence in Iraq, which goes back to 2003, and the fact that Saudi Arabia has a lot of influence in the region. Because Iran cannot impose economic sanctions on the US, it resorts to asymmetric warfare: by striking via its allies.’
"These recent developments are not taking place in a vacuum."
Soleimani was an influential military leader who forged alliances in the Middle East with this goal in mind. This way, the general tried to undermine the Americans. ‘In the case of a possible US military strike, Iran had to be prepared to attack them with a large number of pin-pricks that would cause the Americans to haemorrhage considerably.’
Jafari states that Soleimani’s death dealt a blow to the Iran government, but that it also bolsters the regime. ‘Because this is now an emergency situation, the regime can afford to act even more repressively and aggressively, both within Iran itself as well as to the outside world. Critics will be keeping a low profile right now. Trump has caused an opposite effect: the protests taking place in Iran are now overshadowed by rising nationalistic sentiment, and Iran and Iraq are converging.’
On his Twitter page, @JafariPeyman, Jafari posts regular updates and insights into the current situation. He has also spoken about this matter in various Dutch media (linked below).