The U.S.’s assassination of Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020, sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East.
Some have averred that the notorious Iranian general’s demise (along with the U.S.’s inadvertent killing of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Qassem Soleimani right-hand man in Iraq) has not only “re-established deterrence” against the Tehran regime but potentially and gravely stunted its revolutionary expansionism.
If this, in fact, proves to be the case, then the end of Soleimani may be one of the most strategically consequential events for Iraqis and others under unwanted Iranian pressure since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
However, it will be a while before the full implications of Soleimani’s downfall are known. The Middle East is still in a state of upheaval, and the regional contestation for power and influence is still unfolding.
At the same time, the proxy network that Soleimani oversaw is now undergoing a process of reflection and revision.
Thus, years may pass before we can fully appraise the extent to which Soleimani’s network will recover from the loss of its towering patron.
Revolutionary Iran has achieved scores of victories in recent years in multiple conflict arenas—notably in Syria, where Iran’s proxies have secured the survival of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
In fact, during the past two decades, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has managed to exploit Middle Eastern upheaval and dramatically expand its power for a particular reason.
It has spent the years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution systematically nurturing and dedicating resources to armed groups that enhance the regime’s influence in the region while weakening its rivals.
That amounts to four decades of experience, trial and error, and the perfecting of asymmetric warfare capabilities which Iran’s rivals are still struggling to match.
And General Soleimani, as the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, had played a central if not indispensable role in making all this happen.