18th Sep 2021


Suleimani assassination strengthens Iranian regime

  • The Persian Gulf is on a knife-edge, after Iranian general Qassem Suleimani was assassinated on 3 January by an American drone attack (Photo: kamshots)

On Friday 3 January, at 4AM Central European Time, American president Donald Trump tweeted the American flag. Without explanation. Shortly thereafter it became clear why.

The White House stated that Qassem Suleimani and some other Iranian militia leaders died in a drone attack on the airport of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Trump's tweet symbolises an American victory over Iran. But that could be a mistake.

Suleimani was no ordinary Iranian general. Over the past decade he has grown to mythical proportions.

As the leader of the Al Quds brigade (Arabic and Persian for Jerusalem), he was responsible for Iranian military developments in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon - and converted each of those countries into satellite states of Iran.

He boosted Hezbollah in Lebanon, made sure Bashar al-Assad is still president of Syria, and wiped ISIS off the map in Iraq.

For many Iranians and other Shiites, Suleimani had become a sort of Iranian Che Guevara.

Killing a mythical figure cannot go without consequences.

First of all, no American is now safe in the Middle East. The US department of state realises this and already ordered - just hours after the assassination - that all American citizens leave Iraq immediately.

American soldiers - and civilians - in Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan also have to fear for their lives.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, announced on Friday that "serious retaliation" will come.

These retaliatory actions will lead to a serious hike in oil prices if they are aimed at oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Already, in 2019, several ships were attacked in the narrowest stretch of the gulf, the Strait of Hormuz.

The situation there has already become so unstable that even Japan decided to send soldiers to the Persian Gulf to secure the oil supply.

Now Japan is wondering whether these soldiers will also be in danger.

About 20 percent of the world's oil comes from the Persian Gulf. If the safety of the tankers can no longer be guaranteed, this may lead to a new oil crisis.

A third consequence of this new escalation between the US and Iran is that the nuclear deal with Iran is now completely shattered.

This deal allowed Iran to develop nuclear energy, but prohibited it from building nuclear weapons. Trump had already withdrawn the US signature, but Europe, Russia and China remained behind it.

Europe even set up a mechanism that would allow European companies to invest in Iran, without having to fear American sanctions.

This mechanism is not fully operational yet, but any attempt to make it work will now be stopped.

After 10 years of negotiation, the deal is completely finished - finally.

A fourth possible consequence of the murder of Suleimani is that the Iranian regime will not become weaker, but stronger instead.

That has everything to do with the timing.

The 'Empire of Suleimani' was crumbling.

Iran's influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is based on pushing a sectarian agenda.

In these countries, Shiites were supported and in return had to follow orders from Tehran.

This sectarian model seemed to work. In Lebanon no one can compete with the heavily-armed Hezbollah - while in Iraq the Shiites have the power in government.

But such sectarianism has been under pressure for several months now. Both in Lebanon and in Iraq, people came to the streets to protest against this thinking, and against the influence of Iran.

Those people were Sunni, Shia and Christians. They have had enough of the Iranian agenda.

There have also been major protests in Iran for weeks. The economy is doing badly - partly due to American sanctions. But people are also tired of repression.

The only reason why we hear little about this, is that the Iranian regime has shut down the internet and thus very little news can escape the country.

But even without these videos, it is clear that the regime in Tehran is under severe pressure and, moreover, cannot find solutions.

It is precisely in this precarious situation for Iran that Trump, with the murder of Suleimani, gives the regime a beautiful New Year's gift.

In the eyes of many Iranians, the great enemy, the United States, killed the great hero Suleimani, in cold blood.

Now Ayatollah Khamenei has the opportunity to reunite the country with bellicose speech.

He already seized that opportunity by announcing three days of national mourning immediately after the news.

Biggest losers?

In Kerman for example, the Iranian hometown of Suleimani, tens of thousands of people came out on the street to show their mourning - in a video that could, somehow, could leave Iran.

Also in Lebanon and Iraq the Shiite forces are likely to emerge stronger from this murder.

It becomes more difficult for those independently-thinking people to stand above the tribal battle.

Those who had separated themselves from sectarian groups will now be branded as traitors and collaborators of the US.

That is why the biggest loser of this American action could be democracy and all the citizens in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon who risk their lives for more freedom, and more democracy.

EU countries turn screw on Iran

EU countries have tilted toward hawkish US diplomacy on Iran, blaming it for Saudi Arabia attacks and calling for wider disarmament talks.


Gulf tension making it harder for EU to save Iran deal

Europeans should also clarify that they are unwilling to tolerate restrictions on freedom of navigation or a further significant expansion of Iran's nuclear programme. Diplomacy can resolve the standoff over the captured British and Iranian tankers.

3,000 troops from 19 EU states in Iraq. Will they stay?

Thousands of European troops are in Iraq as part of an anti-ISIS coalition effort. Many are now being either pulled out or scaling down, amid demands by Iraq they leave. Meanwhile, Iran has pummelled coalition bases with a dozen missiles.


Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.


Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. MEPs suspect Gazprom manipulating gas price
  2. Fast fashion vs. climate - how 'repair & resell' is the new model
  3. Right of reply: Erik Bergkvist, S&D MEP and shadow rapporteur
  4. EU Commission blocks anti-fraud funds without explanation
  5. Centre-right MEPs abstain on gender-violence vote
  6. World off track to meet climate targets, despite Covid-19
  7. EU to call out Russian aggression at Kyiv summit
  8. EU urges member states to better protect journalists

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us