Will U.S. President Donald Trump's gamble in the Mideast pay off or prove to be a costly blunder? Western officials and analysts say Iran's measured response to date to the slaying of its top general, Qassem Soleimani, shows Tehran has no appetite for a head-to-head confrontation with Washington.
But they warn the Islamic Republic's long-term goal remains to push the U.S. out of the Mideast — as underlined this week by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He recently described the missile barrage targeting Iraqi bases housing American troops as a "slap on the face" to the U.S., but noted it wouldn't be a sufficient reprisal for Soleimani's death.
Opinion is divided about whether Trump's decision to authorize the elimination of Soleimani, a master practitioner of asymmetric warfare and the commander of the country's elite Quds Force, will contain Iran in the short term. But few doubt the Trump-ordered killing marks a critical turning point and has shaken up conventional calculations in the region.
By targeting Soleimani, Washington went "beyond what Iran had factored in as the cost of business," said Jack Watling of Britain's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a London research organization specializing in defense issues. He said the escalation and provocative attacks Iran and its proxies had mounted across the Middle East the past few months were an attempt to force negotiations to end the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. after Trump pulled America out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal struck by Tehran and six international powers.
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