General Soleimani Assassinated—Now What?

The new year began with an event that will change the future of Iran. In this second post, I consider what we may expect politically in the coming months.

Iran has lost one of its top leaders. General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Army, was more powerful and influential than Iran’s President Rouhani. The people and the Iranian government are on the opposite side of almost every issue, but regarding Soleimani, they both loved and respected him.  

Senior commanders of the Islamic Republic of Iran's armed forces, including General Qasem Soleimani, met with Ayatollah Khamenei on April 11, 2016. Source: http://english.khameini.ir, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Senior commanders of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces, including General Qasem Soleimani, met with Ayatollah Khamenei on April 11, 2016. Source: http://english.khameini.ir, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Despite President Trump warning that the United States will quickly strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran strikes any American person or target, Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s military leaders vowed to take revenge. They responded Tuesday by firing 22 ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq.

What will the Islamic Republic of Iran do now? What will happen? Will they continue to fight back? If they do, the U.S. may attack and they will lose a lot; if not, they will look weak and full of hot air. 

There are three possibilities: moving to full-fledged war, responding with a limited conflict, or private negotiation. 

Full-Fledged War?

In my opinion, this option is very unlikely because:

  1. The Islamic government knows a war with the United States will end its regime. This government is in trouble—big trouble. The economy is bad, and sanctions are making it worse; the nation has risen against the government; the people are turning away from Islam to become secular agnostics or Christians. This regime has no popularity either inside or outside the country. 

    In the past two months, not only have Iranian cities demonstrated against the Iranian government but so have cities in Lebanon and Iraq. The people of Iraq want Iran out of their country. Iraqis are happy about the assassination of Soleimani but do not show it on the streets because of fear. Many were killed a few weeks ago demonstrating against Iran’s intervention in Iraq. 
  1. The Islamic government does not have many options unless it already has a nuclear bomb. If so, they will detonate one in the center of Iran’s desert to let the world, and especially Trump, know that they cannot be pushed around anymore. If they do have the bomb, they probably will not use it except to threaten, bully, and impose their will in the Middle East and the world. 
  1. If they have no nuclear bomb, Iran’s options are VERY limited. Trump threatened that he has already identified Iranian targets to hit if Iran acts against U.S. citizens or property. They understand Trump may do it, and even his own congress cannot stop him. 

    Iran knows that without a bomb, they have practically no protection from a U.S. attack. Therefore, after the assassination, they declared that they will fully pursue making the bomb. A possible shortcut for them is to purchase a bomb from North Korea and detonate it in a desert to pretend that they have successfully built it themselves and that they can build more. 

Limited Conflict

As already seen through Iran’s initial ballistic missile response, this option is likely.

  1. Khamenei and the Iranian government will want never to appear weak. Honor and shame are controlling values in the Middle East, especially among the leaders. So to show that they are not taken aback by the assassination and that Trump’s threats mean nothing to them, they have to do something even if through other organizations. Tuesday’s ballistic missile attack seems to be just such an action. Khamenei said he had dealt the United States a “slap in the face” while the foreign minister announced that the nation had “concluded proportionate measures” in its retaliation. 

    This attack—perhaps intentionally—had no casualties. It brought honor to the Iranian government, showing its own people and the world that they are not afraid of the U.S. and that they will retaliate. But with no casualties, they felt safe from U.S. payback. It is interesting that the Iranian media is presenting the attack as a point of strength. They are saying, “Nobody since Vietnam has attacked U.S. bases, but we did. And Trump did not have the guts to retaliate.” 
  1. Iran’s government must also maintain deniability. Iran may follow up by attacking U.S. embassies around the world, attacking U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf, or killing some American citizens around the world—even in the U.S.—just out of pride to show that they are not defeated. Of course, they will do these things through proxy terrorist organizations whose support is not traceable to Iran. For their own protection, they want to be able to say, “We did not do it; those who support us and hate the U.S. did it on their own.”

Negotiation?

This option is most likely, but it will not be a public negotiation.

  1. Because of Trump’s multifaceted strategy, I believe the Islamic Republic of Iran has no choice but to negotiate. They know that if they misbehave, Trump will attack their oil facilities, which will wipe them out completely since their only source of survival income is oil. 
  2. Iran cannot support or survive a war. They will not want to enter a war with the United States because they know their army cannot carry on that fight for more than a few days. More importantly, they know their own people will not support that war. The American population wants to avoid war because of its cost—both in money and lives; the Islamic regime wants to avoid a war with the U.S. too, but for them, the motivation is even higher—their survival. 
  3. Negotiation will happen in secret. Iran will be forced to negotiate, but public negotiation would admit weakness. The importance of honor and saving face will prohibit public terms. So after limited terrorist action around the world through their proxy agents, they will start negotiating with the United States secretly without either side mentioning it publicly.
  1. Negotiation is not the same as appeasement. Critics might say, “But that is what Obama did, negotiating with Iran.” President Obama’s policy invigorated the regime. Obama wanted the treaty more than they wanted it. Obama wanted to evade war more than they wanted to avoid it. Therefore, Obama came to the negotiation table from a very weak position. 

    The Iranian government celebrated after the nuclear deal with Obama was signed because they got so much with little cost. They received US$150 billion in cash, the removal of sanctions, freedom to sell oil in the world market, and permission to have business relationships with Europe and other countries, all for just a promise that they would delay building a bomb until 2025! They used that money to expand their influence in the Middle East, finance terrorism around the world, and yes, build the bomb—but in new, underground facilities hidden in the middle of large cities. They were allowed to buy arms from Russia and build up their military, including developing intercontinental ballistic missiles able to deliver nuclear warheads to Israel, Europe, and soon, to the United States. 

    It seems that Trump has a better understanding of the Islamic-Iranian culture. An appeasement policy never works against a bully. It encourages them to continue that behavior. You must stand firm against bullies. Even the Bible tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Islam’s mandate in the Quran is to rule the world by war and violence with neither compromise nor negotiation. Islamic regimes will never negotiate by choice but only when they have no other way out. 

The good news is that the Lord is faithful to His promise in Jeremiah 49:38. We know that sooner or later there will be a horrible war in Iran according to Jeremiah 49:34–37. Let’s pray that this war will be delayed so that more Iranian Muslims will have a chance to hear the gospel before being killed. 

Iran as a nation has rejected Islam and is open to the gospel. Let’s do our part to share the good news with Muslims and disciple them to become agents of transformation after they get saved. Through our broadcasts and our training school, we are doing just that. Will you join us?


In my final post for this series, I write about the impact of these current events on Iranian Christians.

Did you miss part 1 that explained Qasem Soleimani’s role and popularity in Iran? Find it here.

What Is the United States Doing about Iran?

What Is Happening in Iran?—Part 3

Power of democracy

What Is the United States Doing?


This post is part 3 of a six-part series on the current state of Iran and its church. To read the entire series now, click hereIf you missed the earlier posts, you can read them here: part 1 and part 2.

Trump and his administration are following three main plans to push out the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI):

Pressure with sanctions. The US is putting more financial pressure on the already pressured government of Iran through sanctions and an oil embargo. Trump may talk of violence, but he will not enter into a full-fledged war with Iran because all he needs to do is just wait for sanctions to effectively destroy the IRI.

Approach Iran from a point of strength. Trump’s constant threat to engage in military action puts extra pressure on the IRI. Iran’s government knows its military is no match for the power of the USA and Israel. They know that if a war starts, their people will not support them as they did in the eight-year war against Saddam in the 1980s. Obama negotiated from a point of weakness: he begged Iran not to start a war and bribed it merely to slow down its development of nuclear bombs. But Trump approaches the IRI from a point of strength. Many Iranians living inside Iran are pleased with and support Trump’s approach because they feel Obama threw the IRI a lifeline to survive, but Trump has pulled it back.

Keep open the possibility of negotiation. Trump says he is open to negotiation but wants Iran to take the first step. Trump is a strong negotiator—as shown in his book The Art of the Deal—and knows the one who first breaks down and asks for a meeting has a weaker position in negotiation.

Location Iran. Green pin on the map.
Much is happening these days in Iran.

 


History is in the making in Iran. As the 40th year of the anniversary of the Islamic revolution approaches, we are seeing the end of this regime. Much is happening in Iran today politically, socially, and spiritually. I believe we will see a major change in Iran soon and it will be in weeks, months, but not years.

There is much news daily about Iran. Following the news carefully and being constantly and directly in touch with the people of Iran has given me a perspective that might be helpful to those who want to understand what is going on. So each day this week, I will provide a short commentary on What is happening in Iran.


 

Next up: Does the IRI have any options for survival?

Iranians Have Mixed Reaction to the President-Elect

Since the November 8 election of Donald Trump, we have seen a mixed reaction in the U.S. concerning expectations for his presidency. Some are hopeful; some are fearful.

The same mixed reaction is true for Iranians.

Iranians Living inside Iran:

  • Some are now hopeful that President-Elect Trump will do something to bring down the current regime in Iran. They are even hopeful that an Iranian regime change during the Trump presidency will allow a democratic, secular government to come into power.trpe
  • Some, though, are fearful that Trump will cause a military attack on Iran during his presidency. They do not want war. They have seen the result of the American-led military offensive in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they do not want that.

Iranian Refugees and Those Iranians with Families in the US:

  • Like their fellow Iranians above, refugees are also hopeful that Trump will cause a regime change in Iran, specifically so that they—or family members living abroad—can return to Iran and reunite.
  • At the same time, many are fearful that Trump’s proposed policies will make it harder for Iranian refugees to come to the U.S. or even for Iranians to come as tourists to visit their family members already living here.

Many of these hopes and fears involve complicated political processes and global partnerships, and so the uncertainty depends on much more than one man’s administration, even the administration of the person often called the most powerful man on the planet. Like the Americans, Iranians will have to wait and see how President Trump gathers policy support and conducts his first year in office—maybe even just his first 100 days—to have a better idea how his administrative actions will match with his election promises.

For the Iranian government, however, the concerns are more immediate and clear.

Iranian Regime:

  • They are fearful that the recently removed sanctions will return. Sanctions will weaken the Iranian government and limit its financial resources. Iran will not be able to continue its activities in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen as before. Sanctions will also reduce Iran’s ability to fund terrorism around the world.
  • Iran’s government is afraid that, with the United States’ consent, Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear sites to stop the development of the nuclear bomb.
  • They are fearful that, after his inauguration, President-Elect Trump will cancel the nuclear agreement—at least as far as the U.S. is concerned. Iran considers that deal a great victory for their side. Without giving up much, they gained a lot. They consider the Obama administration naïve to agree to the nuclear deal and fear they will be unable to stage and perform the same negotiation show with Trump.

The Most Powerful Man on the Planet

Yes, the world waits anxiously to see how the next four years will alter regimes, foreign policies, and the balance of power. But one thing I know to be certain and unchanging: the most powerful man on the planet is not the president of the United States. The most powerful man is the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is toppling regimes that have held strong for fourteen centuries.

The face of Iran is changing as Jesus makes Himself known to Muslims and as they receive His love. He has the power to change lives in a way that neither the Ayatollah nor the President of the United States could ever prevent or copy. And He is providing to Muslims something they have never had before: a certain hope for their future.

Will you pray with me that even more Muslims will come to know Jesus as their savior in the next four years than ever before? Iran is the gateway to the Middle East. Once Iran is transformed by the Gospel, the whole Middle East will be impacted.

I thank you for your concern for Iran and its people—a people God loves just as much as you and me.

Related articles:

Solomon, Jay. “Trump Faces Battle to Undo Iran Nuclear Deal.” Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2016, sec. Politics. http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-faces-battle-to-undo-iran-nuclear-deal-1478860207.