Article published in The Sun, 4 January 2020. © Richard Kemp

Soleimani’s killing is the most strategically significant US military action since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iran will want a violent reaction to the death of its most important commander. But Tehran is terrified of fighting a war with the US that they could not win and so will not start World War 3.

Instead this attack might spell the beginning of the end for the savage regime that has ruled Iran since 1979. They have been crippled by US sanctions and widespread demonstrations in the streets have left the ayatollahs fearful for their own survival. President Trump’s bold action will give the protesters, as well as their anti-Iranian counterparts in Iraq, hope that one day they might bring their oppressors down.

What are Iran’s military options? Soleimani put in place a network of terrorist proxies, not just in the Middle East but around the world. These might be used in a calibrated response to his death. The most powerful is Lebanese Hizballah, with tens of thousands of missiles in southern Lebanon, pointing at Israel. They exist to react to a US or Israeli attack on Iran. But they are a one-shot weapon: if launched they would be obliterated by Israel’s massive retaliation.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards could strike US warships or aircraft in the Gulf. Soleimani’s militias in the Middle East, especially Iraq, could attack US forces and diplomats. The same might happen in the US, Europe including the UK or elsewhere where sleeper cells await orders.

What should Britain do? We do have a dog in this fight. Apart from the ongoing threat to our interests in the Middle East, including from Iran’s nuclear programme, Soleimani’s proxies killed more than 1,000 British and US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan during the conflicts there. At the time I put forward to the prime minister an intelligence case for military action against this aggression.

Last July Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf and in 2007 illegally captured two Royal Navy vessels and publicly humiliated their 15 crew members. Last June we learnt that our intelligence services had discovered a bomb factory containing tons of explosive materials in London in 2015. This was also Soleimani’s handiwork.

Our government should now publicly support President Trump’s actions against Iran, and must stand ready to back the US up with military forces and diplomatic pressure as the situation unfolds.

Image: Wikimedia Commons