“This is Not Benghazi!”

by | Jan 4, 2020 |

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It was just hours before Americans rang in the New Year of 2020 when Iran made a serious miscalculation. In the city of Baghdad, Iraq, it sent hundreds – some say thousands – of men, carrying the flags of an Iran-backed Shiite militia, to gather outside the U.S. Embassy and shout “Death to America”. 
They threw water bottles and smashed security cameras outside the Embassy walls, and then, because that was not enough of a statement, they broke through the gate and stormed the Embassy Compound. 
These were not civilian “demonstrators”, as the left-wing press reported. They were members of a violent Shiite terrorist organization, operating under the name Ktaib Hizb’allah, which had been designated a terrorist organization more than a decade ago. 
They claimed that the attack on the embassy was in retaliation for a 36-rocket attack last week by the U.S. that killed twenty-five of their fighters. But that attack was itself in retaliation for an attack by the Iranian militia against an Iraqi base, in which an American contractor was killed. 
The men rampaged through the grounds of the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday, burning and destroying whatever they could. Once inside the walls, they broke through a door and rampaged in the inner courtyard, setting fire to a reception area near the parking lot. Smoke could be seen rising from the Embassy, above the compound walls.
The attack on the Embassy was alarming and reminiscent of the Benghazi attack in 2011. But as I said, Iran miscalculated. 

President Trump is not Barack Obama. He did not waste any time or offer any platitudes to the terrorists. He minced no words when he said that Iran would be held “fully responsible” for the attack.

And he put his response into a Tweet, in which he said – quite clearly –

“They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!” 

And the President immediately ordered 100 marines into the compound. In a Tweet from the official military Spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) (the 81-member coalition to defeat ISIS), said, “We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens…and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy.”
And so they did. 100 Marines arrived in Apache helicopters, and once on the ground, they fought back the terrorists with rubber bullets and tear gas. The terrorists were unable to breach the Embassy building, and eventually they retreated. 
The State Department gave a status report to the American people: “U.S. personnel are secure and there has been no breach. There are no plans to evacuate Embassy Baghdad”. 
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also made clear to the Iraqi government that it would be expected to “fulfil its international responsibilities” to protect American citizens in Iraq.
Later in the day, the President did more. He ordered some 4,000 82nd Airborne Alert Brigades into the region, where they were scheduled to arrive, massively equipped, within a few days. 
Senator Lindsey Graham did not hold back his praise about the President. He Tweeted: 

“Very Proud of the President, acting decisively in the face of threats to our embassy in Baghdad.
He has put the world on notice. There will be no Benghazis on his watch.”

Iran, as I said earlier, miscalculated. 
Because, on Thursday night, two days after the first attack, President Trump ordered a U.S. airstrike on a convoy in Baghdad airport. The convoy was carrying one of the most important men in Iran – Major-General Qassim Soleimani, who was the head of the elite IRGC Quds Force, and who reported directly to the Ayatollah Khamanei. Also killed in the attack was one of the leaders of Ktaib Hizb’allah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Five others were also killed in the strike.
Not surprisingly, a spokesman for Ktaib Hizb’allah blamed the attack on “the U.S. and Israel”. But in Washington, the Pentagon confirmed Soleimani’s death with a statement saying that Soleimani had approved the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad this past week, and the President had approved the air strike that had killed Soleimani. Their statement read: 
“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force” (the Aytolla’s elite force and a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.) 
The statement continued: “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.  
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests, wherever they are around the world.”
Iran, of course, has already responded. 
The Foreign Minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, Tweeted: “The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting, & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
While Zarif’s words are tough, the loss of Soleimani is a severe blow to a country that is going through a critical economic crisis as a result of U.S. sanctions on its oil industry. It is also dealing with a wide-spread popular uprising.  
The face of war is clearly changing. Decisions that once took days to make, and had to be authorized at multiple levels of government, now must be made in minutes or even seconds.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained that President Trump should not have carried out this mission without consulting Congress. That is absurd. This was a mission in which seconds counted. There was no time for Members of Congress to hash out the issues for hours – or days – and then take a vote.  
We had intelligence that Soleimani was flying from Lebanon to Iraq. When his plane arrived in Baghdad on Thursday evening, he stepped onto the tarmac, and was met by senior officers on the ground. And in those pinpointed seconds, the missiles were launched. 
This was not a declaration of war – which does require an act of Congress. This was a targeted strike attack that took out a terrorist leader responsible for the killing and wounding of thousands of our own, our sons and daughters who fell because of the deadly charges designed and deployed under Soleimani’s evil eye. 
So the responsibility for this attack lies with the President, who had to make a split second decision. And based on new intelligence that Soleimani was in the process of planning new attacks against our soldiers and civilian personnel, Trump made the right decision. 
Will it change the course of events in the region? Will it make our efforts to avoid war in the Middle East more difficult? You bet it will. But Americans should be grateful that we now have a President who is able to make the difficult choices and take responsibility for them. 
Iran therefore has limited options. And it may be poised to do something drastic and dramatic and totally evil if its leadership gets sufficiently desperate.

Remember, these are the people who, in their fanaticism, believe that they must create chaos in order to hasten the coming of their messiah. And they have a nuclear bomb.

As they go forward into 2020, the leaders of Iran will need to rethink their tactics, because they are no longer negotiating with a President who will drop palettes of one-and-a-half billion dollars in cold, hard cash, and cave to their every demand in order to maintain his mythical “legacy”. Trump will stand strong against their threats and meet them from that position of unyielding strength. For Iran, the loss of Soleimani is going to be a game changer, and it may make them all the more desperate. The results could be catastrophic.
So the sides are drawn. Iran is threatening, but President Donald Trump is standing firm. And he is not bluffing. He speaks with the authority that comes from his personal conviction that Iran must not be allowed to use its nuclear weapons.
Iran has promised revenge. America just took out the second most powerful man in Iran, who answered only to the Ayatollah. And there will be consequences. But with Trump in the White House, we can be certain that America’s response to terror will be fast and effective.
Whatever happens next, President Trump is a man for his times. He is the right man for America today. Godspeed, Mr. President.

Ilana Freedman

Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst with more than thirty years in the field. She was trained in Israel, where she lived and worked for sixteen years. After returning to the U.S., she served as CEO of Gerard Group International in Massachusetts, providing major corporations and government agencies with intelligence-led support for their homeland security programs. Her global network of specialists and field assets has provided her with an ongoing resource of critical, real-time intelligence and domain expertise. Today, Ilana is an independent consultant and author of hundreds of articles on terrorism and the geopolitical landscape. She has written four books on Islamic terrorism, and is currently working on a comprehensive book on China - past, present, and future.

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