Qasem Soleimani's killing: What options does Iran have to avenge top commander's assassination

WION New Delhi, India Jan 04, 2020, 03.48 PM(IST)

File photo: Iran has been facing sanctions since the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal. Photograph:( Reuters )

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American citizens abroad could be possible targets. Experts even hint at a possible cyberattack by Iran.

Over a day after Iran's top commander Qasem Soleimani's assassination in US airstrikes, the message from Iran's top leadership remains loud and clear. 

From the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, foreign minister Javad Zarif to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top leaders have vowed to avenge Soleimani's killing but what possible options can Iran take and is military retaliation a possibility? 

Regional conflict

This conflict is regional and both the United States and Iran will be looking to keep the confrontation within West Asia. Therefore, the American troops in West Asia are the most vulnerable at this point.

The US has its troops in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, and in Iraq and Syria. 

Iran, incidentally, has proxy forces that can strike these troops. The small regiment of troops in Syria are especially vulnerable considering Iran's clout in the country.

In Iraq, the pro-Iranian Shia militants, who are already in a tussle with the US, are a threat to the US troops.

US embassies and consulates

Other possible targets are US embassies and consulates. Earlier this week, the US embassy in Iraq was stormed by Shia militants. Iran's proxies in the neighbouring countries could possibly mount a similar attack.

The recent escalation has also put one particular group of nations uneasy - the American allies in West Asia. The likes of Israel and Saudi Arabia will be watching the developments closely.

For Iran, it wouldn't even require a policy change, as most US allies are sworn enemies of Iran too and they have the means to do it as well. The Hezbollah in Lebanon have mounted attacks on Israel and the Houthi rebels - backed by Iran - are staunch opponents of Saudi Arabia.

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US citizens

American citizens abroad could be possible targets as well, therefore the travel advisories issued by the US. 

One thing to understand is the clout that the Iranian proxies have in the neighbourhood.

The Hezbollah are major powerbrokers in Lebanon and the Shia militants in Iraq are integrated into their security forces.

Ports of entries like airports and seaports could be such areas where US citizens could be nabbed by pro-Iranian security forces.

Oil supply

Iran can strangle the world's oil supply. Iranian proxies have hit Saudi oil fields as recently as last September. However, the biggest threat is that of shutting down the Strait of Hormuz.

If the Iranian forces shut the Strait of Hormuz completely, it would put at stake as much as thirty per cent of the world's oil trade. This would starve not just the US but also American allies who are dependent on this oil supply chain.

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Cyberattack

Experts even hint at a possible cyberattack by Iran. Rouhani-led nation has stepped up its cyber arsenal. They have wiper malware that can infiltrate and destroy computer software. 

The over-arching trend in the options available for Iran is the use of proxies. They give Iran a wider reach and also the option of plausible deniability.

Ironically, it was Qasem Soleimani who played a crucial role in creating this network of proxies in the first place and now, Iran could very well use his creation to avenge his death.