Iran is likely to double-down on its regional “active resistance” vis-à-vis the USA’s maximum pressure

The assassination of Soleimani brought Iranians from across the spectrum together against the USA — halting internal debates on how to deal with the Trump administration. The internal dynamics thereafter have gone against Trump’s desired outcome. The common anti-US language and arguments following the assassination had been rare in Iran’s vibrant and debating society. While the Iranian government had previously needed to clarify the logic of its firm no-negotiation-with-Trump position to ordinary Iranians, it no longer requires elaboration. Sidelining accommodationists promoting a negotiated settlement with Washington, the assassination and the resulting public outrage only boosts Iran’s policy of “active resistance” against the US’s “maximum pressure.”

Having vowed to retaliate, Tehran was left with no choice but to react as any inaction would weaken its regional deterrence vis-à-vis the US, abate the Axis of Resistance and lead to further escalations by the USA. Falling short of proportionality, the missile attack of January 8 will most likely be followed by other actions. The assassination hit the entire Axis of Resistance — states and movements allied with Iran —and, as such, one should expect a regional retaliation as indicated by political and military officials within the axis. The breadth and depth of the retaliation could differ for many reasons, including the broad geography of US-Iranian confrontation, their military capabilities and the alliances both enjoy in the region. The main Iranian objective in this new phase is to restore its under-attack deterrence and to deter further escalation but it should be noted that Iran’s options can only come in line with its tradition of gradual regional conduct.

Obviously, Iran’s regional policy will be affected by the new course of US-Iranian escalation and Soleimani’s assassination diminishes Iran’s tolerance of the US presence in the region even further. Iran is likely to double-down on its regional “active resistance” vis-à-vis the USA’s maximum pressure policy. This will escalate tensions between the two in the months and years to come, which in turn affects the US’s client states in the Middle East. Besides upholding its deterrence against the USA, Iran will work with other nations, including in the Middle East, to circumvent US sanctions. Beyond this, there is not much to expect in the short term. The assassination and Iran’s reaction in Iraq have once more highlighted regional fault lines. This, however, is nothing new and is not expected to affect Iran’s regional conduct.