Iran’s choice of target is significant. If it wanted to kill lots of American soldiers in Iraq there were easier bases to strike.
I’ve been to al-Asad airbase – it’s vast and it’s remote. Strikes there could find plenty of dead ground away from troop bunkers and would have little risk of civilian collateral killings.
Iraqi military commanders had been warned by Iran to stay away from US bases and US officials confirm their troops, too, had adequate warning to shelter from the attack.
Iran is trying to have its cake and eat it. Create the impression of a fearsome strike for domestic consumption without actually risking escalation.
So far, it’s working — soon after the ballistic missiles slammed into the base, President Trump tweeted “all is well,” “so far, so good.”
There is one message for the international community and another for the Iranians who flocked to the streets for Qasem Soleimani’s funeral.
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, called the strike “proportional,” while the theocracy’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told cheering crowds in Tehran it was a “crushing” blow.
Other Iranian officials speaking for international consumption say there is no need for further strikes unless the US escalates the situation. Meanwhile, some Iranian news outlets are ramping up propaganda, claiming the killing of many US troops when every reliable source says no US troops were killed.
A full US battle damage assessment has begun, and Trump is expected to speak later Wednesday, but every indication so far points toward a military off-ramp moment.
How diplomacy picks up is hard to say. In many ways the situation is back to where it was in the minutes before Soleimani’s killing.
The question will be — and this was always the gamble in killing the architect and inspiration of Iran’s overseas aggression — will the ayatollahs now decide they can’t get away with the attacks as they did, or do they believe their own domestic hype, and that it is for the US to back down on sanctions and pull out of the region.
Regardless of what they or the White House believe, the door to de-escalation has opened a crack — diplomacy might just slip into the room.