You are here

Soleimani Assassination – RUSI Experts Offer Initial Analysis

News, 3 January 2020
Middle East and North Africa
A US-ordered assassination of a key Iranian lynchpin could overturn many calculations. Experts from the Royal United Services Institute offered the following reaction.

Assassination brings uncertainty, violence and opportunity

Dr Jack Watling, RUSI Research Fellow

‘Assumptions have been challenged across the region... The US has created an opportunity to force a new course, but it will require subtlety to achieve it, and clarity in Washington as to the desired end goal. That clarity has been sorely lacking in US operations to date.’

‘Strategically, the consequences go much further than Iran. Western officials have, for some years, been emphasising how the international system is returning to an era of great power competition in which violent exchanges below the threshold of all-out war are the norm. However, a distinction has generally been made between those seeking to disrupt the international system and those hoping to preserve it. That the US has now conducted a declared assassination of a foreign military officer means that it has essentially accepted these methods as the rules of exchange. In the future, therefore, we should not be surprised when Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others continue to play by them.’

‘This poses a strategic question for the UK, which has for some time been repeating ad nauseam its commitment to the Rules Based International System. Yet, after this state-ordered assassination, exactly what rules are left? On the cusp of a Strategic Defence and Security Review, Whitehall will have to confront this question.’

Read Jack Watling’s analysis on the RUSI website.


 A bold decision, but US plans for response unclear

Dr Karin von Hippel, RUSI Director-General 

Few in western capitals, or in Saudi Arabia and Israel, will mourn the death of Qassim Soleimani, but this bold decision by President Trump could backfire spectacularly. It is far from clear if the US administration has plans for the myriad responses Iran could take in the region or further afield. 


Action was largely unexpected by Iranians

Dr Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, RUSI Research Fellow

The killing of Soleimani is a significant blow to Iran, not only because of the central role the Commander of the Quds Forces played in shaping and implementing the country’s policy in the region, but also because this level of US escalation was largely unexpected by the Iranian leadership, despite the tensions which continued to rise over the past year. While Tehran will seek to retaliate, and quickly, against the US strikes not to lose face, it will also need to revisit its calculations and broader strategy in the region. What is certain is that the prospects for de-escalation and for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis are now fading.

 A highly dangerous moment which could escalate into a wider regional conflict

Michael Stephens, RUSI Research Fellow

The US strikes in Iraq are a game changing event that will have severe repercussions for regional security. Qassem Soleimani has been the nemesis of US commanders and political leaders for nearly two decades, his death from a US airstrike marks a major escalation in tensions that may be difficult to stop from this point on. Iran will look to strike back at US interests across the region, as well as disrupt the activities of its allies. However, without a leader of the capability and influence of Soleimani they will be weakened and less effective. But make no mistake this is a highly dangerous moment, and could escalate into a wider regional conflict enveloping neighbouring states as it increases in scope and scale.

Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Join our Network

Support Rusi Research

Subscribe to our Newsletter