Each year, about half a million people are killed worldwide. Naturally, these deaths have devastating effects on the families and loved ones of the victims. But there are also murders that go far beyond friends and family and change the world. These transcendental murders can be very expensive. The iconic case is the murder in 1914 of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo. His death triggered a chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I and the death of 40 million people.
Tehran does not usually respond immediately to the aggressions of its adversaries, but expects to attack them where and when it is least expected.
Recently, there have been other costly murders, such as that of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 and that of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani on January 3, 2020. Although the victims could not be more different, they have something in common important: they were killed by a government that ordered its execution. The Saudi journalist was killed by his own government, while the president of the United States ordered the assassination of the Iranian general.
While Donald Trump celebrates his decision to eliminate the Iranian military leader assassin, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, denies any involvement in the killing of Khashoggi, a murder that occurred at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The prince blames the corrupt members of his secret service, some of whom have already been charged, tried and sentenced to death. However, Turkish government researchers and The New York Times They have concluded that the kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of the journalist were carried out by agents close to Mohammed bin Salman. The agents traveled to Istanbul for the same purpose. The 34-year-old prince clearly underestimated the consequences that the murder would have on his global reputation and that of his country. Jamal Khashoggi has already become a symbol of the extreme dangers faced by journalists who challenge authoritarian regimes willing to kill their critics.
While it is too early to know the full extent of the consequences of the murder of General Suleimani, there is no doubt that it will be significant. So far, Tehran’s reaction has been moderate, and both the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Trump have shown signs that they want to avoid a military escalation. But it is risky to assume that the Iranian response will remain limited to the launch of eleven missiles at two bases in Iraq. That attack caused no casualties or significant material damage.
History shows that, most of the time, the reactions of the great powers to the attacks have more lasting consequences than the attacks themselves
Tehran does not usually respond immediately to the aggressions of its adversaries, but expects to attack them where and when it is least expected. For example, in 2012 an important Iranian scientist was killed whose work has important military uses. The Iranian government accused Israel. Some time later, Israeli diplomats were attacked in Georgia, India and Thailand, countries that had nothing to do with the murder of the Iranian scientist. In 1992, Israel killed a Hezbollah leader. Two months later, a suicide bomber sponsored by Iran drove a truck loaded with explosives to Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires, causing 29 deaths.
The repercussions of the decision to assassinate Suleimani will be many and varied, but two are already quite clear. The first is that the presence of the US army in the Middle East will be extended, at least in the short term. “Bringing soldiers home” was an electoral promise and remains a common slogan used by President Trump. This promise, which was already proving difficult to fulfill, now seems out of reach. The second effect of Suleimani’s assassination is that Iran’s nuclear agreement, in which the Islamic Republic promised to reduce its nuclear program, is dead. In fact, Iran has already announced that it will begin enriching uranium beyond the agreed limits, which it had not done since signing the 2015 agreement.
The assassination of the Iranian general also reinforces an important, though unintended, lesson for the enemies of the United States: that they must have nuclear weapons to defend themselves. They know that Trump would never try what he did in Iran in North Korea, for example. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has the ability to respond with a nuclear attack. This is just an example of how the murder of Suleimani could stimulate nuclear proliferation, something that puts us all in danger.
History shows that, most of the time, the reactions of the great powers to the attacks have more lasting consequences than the attacks themselves. For example, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States cost Al Qaeda an estimated $ 500,000 and caused about 3,000 deaths. Washington’s reaction to these terrorist attacks triggered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest in the history of the United States, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian and military deaths in different countries and caused incalculable economic costs.
Eliminating Suleimani, undoubtedly a dangerous terrorist, will surely bring some benefits to the United States and its allies. But it will also have significant costs, many of them unexpected and, for now, invisible. Suleimani’s murder has the potential to become very expensive.