To these arguments, one would be tempted to add another. On the symbolic level, a balance could emerge from the post-Soleimani assassination; on the American side, Trump may present the Iranian general's scalp as being an addition to that of Baghdadi; on the Iranian side, the mythical image of the martyred general, hero of the Islamic Republic’s ideals, will prove very useful to the regime's propaganda. It will be used, among other things, by Tehran to try and turn the anger of the Iraqi Shiites who have taken to the streets since the beginning of October, to protest against the Americans instead of their current focus on Baghdad authorities’ corruption and Iran’s tutelage.
Let us not decide here between the different schools of prediction. Instead, let us indicate several points of reference which could enlighten the action of European leaders.
- Nuclear agreement: the Iranian government was expected to announce earlier this week another step in its strategy of progressively challenging its obligations under the nuclear agreement (JCPOA). The decisions made public by Tehran confirm that the Iranian authorities, in retaliation for the elimination of the head of the Quds Force, have chosen a “high” option equivalent to a virtual withdrawal from the agreement, without going so far as to evade the controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), undoubtedly in order to maintain a bridge with the Europeans. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Europeans to maintain the fiction that "the JCPOA can still be saved";
- Iraq/ISIS: the biggest issue in the immediate post-Qassem Soleimani era is the fate of Iraq. The Iraqi Parliament passed a motion on Sunday 5 January, presented by the Prime Minister, calling for the withdrawal of US forces intended to fight ISIS. One can think that Iran will put all its weight in the balance to ensure the American’s departure and thus obtain through political means what General Soleimani's bloody maneuvers aimed at. It is a government on probation that holds only weak power in Baghdad at the moment; it is not certain, moreover, how far Iraq can go in emancipating from Washington. The fact is, however, that the American presence in Iraq is hanging by a thread. A particularly damaging consequence for the Europeans: the coalition against ISIS as well as the American presence in northeast Syria are likely to be collateral victims of the current escalation between the US and Iran; except Russia, ISIS virtually stands as the main beneficiary of Qassem Soleimani's death in the immediate future;
- America's regional allies: thirdly, the next few days will tell whether the US has really succeeded in "restoring deterrence" around its interests. Donald Trump's threatening tweets may indicate that he himself is not entirely certain. The point to note is that, for the time being, deterrence has not been restored with regard to America's allies, especially regional allies. Saudi Arabia and even the United Arab Emirates remain vulnerable targets for further attacks of the kind that took place on 14 September. If Iran is to retaliate, the immediate priority could be to threaten its Gulf neighbors.
Under these conditions, it is understandable that European leaders' first reflex was to call on the various regional players to exercise restraint and de-escalation. They did not approve the US raid on General Soleimani. It is up to them to convey to the Iranians and their allies a message of realism: Trump has de facto changed what the military calls the "rules of engagement" in the region; it can no longer be taken for granted that the Iranians themselves will be spared in the event of attacks by proxies against American interests. Europeans must add mezzo voce that further steps towards obtaining nuclear weapons appear particularly unwise in the context of this new strategic equation.
Over and above such messages, it would be appropriate for Europe – which is marginalized in military terms – to put forward a twofold political initiative: on the one hand, support for measures to stabilise Iraq; on the other hand, encouragement for a security dialogue between countries in the region. Iran's neighbors, as has been pointed out, are undoubtedly on the front line of a potential Iranian counter-offensive but, in the face of a US threat that has become much more serious, it may be in Iran's interest not to multiply the fronts. Consultation along these lines with Russia, but also with China, India and Japan, which, like Europe, are interested in de-escalation, could be useful.
Copyright : Yasin AKGUL / AFP