MURRAY — In the wake of Friday’s air strikes by American forces in the Middle East, specifically against military targets of Iran, there is much uncertainty as to what will come next.

Murray State University political science professor Dr. Ihsan Alkhatib, a native of Lebanon, was asked about the issue over the weekend. He said that, like so many issues in this region, uncertainty is probably the one thing that can be predicted. However, he also said that it appears U.S. President Donald Trump may have been justified in making the call for the drone strikes that resulted in the death of the Iranian military’s top ranking officer, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad, Iraq. 

“I wasn’t surprised,” Alkhatib said, noting that Trump, in his opinion, had been very patient when it came to Iran’s activities in the past year. Those activities are reported to have been planned, in some form, by Soleimani. 

“(Trump) is not trigger happy as some of his detractors think. He clearly warned the Iranians that if they kill Americans, they will face a heavy retaliation. They kept on attacking American targets through proxies. After the attack that injured and killed Americans, he decided to kill General Soleimani, a man who has been involved in the death of hundreds of Americans. As to his foreign policy, President Trump deserves more credit than he is given.

“The Iranians forced America’s hands. There were a number of provocations. The last was attacking the American embassy in Baghdad (on Wednesday). The attackers made clear that they are there in the name of Iran and Soleimani. They even wrote his name on the walls of the embassy, held banners with (Soleimani’s) name and were shouting allegiance to him. By targeting such an important figure, the U.S. sent a clear and loud message. Interesting to note, (Iranian Supreme Leader) Ayatollah Khameini had been mocking the U.S. that it would not dare attack Iran. The airstrikes disabused them of that dangerous idea. With Trump, though, unlike with other presidents, he considers an American death by an Iranian proxy an act committed by Iran itself. He does not distinguish acts by proxies and acts by Iran itself.”

One of the these attacks killed an American defense contractor on Dec. 27. Trump said after the drone attack Friday that the action was meant to “stop a war” and that Soleimani was plotting additional attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. 

However, while Trump’s actions may have been justified, Alkatib said Iran’s vow to exact revenge on the U.S. must be taken seriously.

“Iran is in a jam. If they don’t respond, they are seen as a paper tiger that has been feeding its people lies about being an ‘empire’ that dominates the region,” he said. “If they choose open military confrontation, they will be savaged by the U.S. war machine and they will guarantee the re-election of Mr. Trump, a man that they hate. In the past, they have used asymmetrical warfare against the U.S. — through their proxies. They push their proxies to act and then volunteer to be useful to the U.S., for a price. 

“For example, ‘We did not kidnap Americans, but we can use our (influence) to free them. We are not responsible for firing rockets at American bases, but we can use our (influence) to stop them.’ What is strange is that Iran has not been using tactics that give it plausible deniability — such as in the 1980s when their proxies bombed the American embassy and barracks in Beirut and kidnapped and/or killed Americans. 

“The reason is the economic sanctions imposed on them. They have been the worst thing Iran has ever experienced — even worse to them than the eight-year war with Iraq. And they are under pressure to show their impoverished people that they are pushing back.”

There have been reports, which Trump discussed Friday, that some in Iran were actually applauding the death of Soleimani. However, Alkhatib said that even if this is true, the Iranian government will do all it can to limit this type of news from spreading.

Then again, it can be very difficult to tell what is true in that part of the world, he said. 

“Iran is a clerical dictatorship, a Shiite Caliphate — a fancier form than the Sunni Caliphate of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, with embassies and the trappings of a respectable state. But it is a dictatorship that, through corruption and mismanagement of the country’s resources, has resulted in 60% of Iranians living in poverty,” Alkhatib said. “There are millions of Iranians unhappy with the regime. But the regime suppresses them brutally. The regime is way more vicious than the Shah regime ever was (in the 1970s). Soleimani played a role in the suppression of dissent inside Iran.”

As for what is to come, he said Americans should be on the lookout for retaliation. 

“Iran has sleeper cells in the whole world — including in the U.S. It has sympathizers,” he said. “How many would go beyond sympathy to action?” 

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