What does Qassem Soleimani’s killing mean for the Middle East?


Considered to be Iran’s most feared military commander, Qassem Soleimani’s death on Friday by US air strike is likely to cause a significant escalation in tensions between the USA and Iran.

Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS, offered his thoughts on what Soleimani’s death means for the Middle East.

Who was General Qassem Soleimani?

Major General Qassem Soleimani was a career soldier in the elite Quds (Jerusalem) Force of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), the most powerful military organisation in Iran.

The Quds Force is primarily responsible for foreign operations and the IRGC in general is heavily invested in the regional hotspots, from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to a lesser extent Palestine, Yemen, and Bahrain.

Soleimani attained a heroic status among his followers because of his role in defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and his military acumen to that end.

Why did the US target Soleimani?

There are several narratives floating around: to provoke Iran into a war, or to bolster the credentials of Donald Trump in order to safeguard his re-election, but the murder of Soleimani was primarily an ill-conceived effort to contain Iran’s growing regional power, especially in Syria and Iraq.

The alliance patterns that have emerged in the last decade favour Iranian foreign policy objectives, as they are geared to emotive norms such as national independence and dignity.

Iran’s allies in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon have benefitted from this new geo-political constellation, and both the Israeli right-wing and this US administration wrongly assumed that this assassination would reverse the trend.

How are Iran likely to retaliate?

Given the status of Soleimani in Iran and beyond, retaliation is inevitable.

As this was an assassination of a military commander without a declaration of war, Iranian diplomats will probe international law in order to qualify the assassination as a criminal act under current international statutes.

The military establishment in Iran and its regional allies are likely to accelerate their opposition to the US military presence in the region and target US assets and allies for a sustained period of time.

Ultimately, the assassination of Soleimani will make it impossible for Iran and its allies to consider reconciliation with this US president.

What do you expect to happen over the coming days and weeks? Could this become a war?

Neither Iran or the United States are interested in a war.

Certainly, US strategists are aware that there is no military option against a country such as Iran.

Following the death of Soleimani, the region will suffer the most: There will be more instability, a rather more volatile oil and gas market, as Saudi Arabia and other perceived US “surrogates” will be objects of various forms of retaliation; and finally this US administration is likely to be seen as a reckless force in world politics, even by its allies in Europe and beyond.

In Iran itself, the already dire human rights situation will deteriorate further, as the state will securitise domestic politics even further, in order to avert US-sponsored upheavals.

  • Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the Professor of Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies at SOAS. His book, ‘What is Iran: Domestic Politics and International Relations in Five Musical Pieces’, will be published by Cambridge later this year. 

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