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Retaliatory facade

Retaliatory facade

Following inflated rhetorics of exacting revenge over its military commander's assassination by the US, Iran on Wednesday fired more than 20 ballistic missiles targetting two Iraqi bases that occupy American troops. As Iran's state television flashed news of strike with an exaggerated figure of "80 US troops" being killed, Trump tweeted "All is well", downplaying Iranian retaliation. To add to Iranian television bluff, Iraq prime minister confirmed: "no casualty", adding that Iraq had received "an official verbal message" from Iran in advance about the attack and accordingly took necessary precautions. Prominent leaders from Iran also did not elaborate on the "damage" caused while expressing their gratification over the country's response to US misadventure. Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, asserted how Iran's attacks on American forces "concluded" with the missile strike on two bases viz, Al-Asad Airbase and Erbil in Iraq. He also stressed how Iran does not seek any further escalation or war. Zarif's tweet brought some clarity to the entire scene: "Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defence under Article 51 of UN Charter, targetting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens and senior officials were launched". Zarif was merely furthering his earlier comment of remaining within the laws while giving the United States an answer for its wrong deeds. In hindsight, as per reports, the Iranian response, bearing no casualties as such, does mean a full-fledged warning to Trump but with no lines crossed. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed people asserting that Iran's final answer to Soleimani's assassination would be kicking out US forces from the region. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the strike as a "slap in the face" of US. Iran concluded its field day with a show of strength and even stronger rhetoric to ameliorate the dull Iranian atmosphere in the aftermath of Soleimani's assassination. While Pentagon confidently posted zero damage comment, a statement from President Trump himself was due for the morning briefing. With minimal damage and a strong message, Iran did not stoop as low as its conflicting adversary — something which should be lauded considering heavy US retaliation that could have been the case had Iran costed US precious lives of its troops, notwithstanding the number. But Iran's empty attack bears two pluses for the country. It warned the US against any escalation while explicitly disapproving the latter's presence in the region and simultaneously lifted dormant Iranian spirits since the assassination of its commander.

Iran's so-called retaliation's lasting impression was its President Rouhani's assertion of the final answer — kicking United States' troops out of the Middle East. Rouhani's commitment may be easier said than done. While Iran's intention is strengthened with the recent passing of a bill that designates US troops as terrorists and the Pentagon as a terrorist organisation, US presence in the region is hard to push away. Bearing its multiple ops over decades in the Middle East, the United States has more than 60,000 troops deployed in the entire Middle East region across 8 countries around Iran — Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the West and Afghanistan to Iran's East. While Trump's election objectives were to clear out the Middle East mess owing to States' prolonged stay in the region (Iraq and Afghanistan), Iran episode has brought latent intents to surface. At this stage, US isolation of Iran might very much be the card Trump needs to stay in the Middle East. Of course, a major part of that decision would rest on allies in the region as the Middle East stands polarised in two separate stages — American alliance and Shia-Sunni divide. While Trump's opponents will campaign for a strictly 'no-war' situation, condemning Trump for his Iran step and hoping to usurp the incumbent in the presidential elections, what Trump's next step would be is anyone's guess. As Iran strives to push the US out of the region, the international community hopes it does not have to wake up to the news of more attacks and collateral damage. What remains under the cover is Iran's intention to actually inflict personnel damage upon the US through its missile attack. If these were major bases being targetted, it is likely that counter-intelligence played a crucial role in sounding an anticipatory alarm to prevent damage. The other narrative of Iran "by-chance" missing out on any US troop is less believable. This validation points to America's strong regional intelligence which would play a crucial card in evading Iranian attempts to push the US out of the region. In this pretext, Iran's final answer might not be coming anytime soon but it can boast that a response of some measure was initiated when its sovereignty was challenged!

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