Following the assassination of General Suleimani, there was a brief rocket attack on an American facility that miraculously failed to kill American troops (although there have been many cases of traumatic concussion injuries, which Trump dismissed as a “headache”). De-escalation followed.
There was no real response to the Natanz explosion, which was also attributed to Israel, other than the subsequent installation of some advanced centrifuges to indicate that the Iranian program would proceed slowly and methodically. The attacks on American forces in Iraq, many of them by Iranian officials, have decreased in recent weeks, and the feared Iranian cyberattacks on the American electoral system appeared to be more of an amateur hour – emails to some voters allegedly from a far-right The group threatened Proud Boys.
But the hardliners are furious and some experts fear that the combined loss of the most revered Iranian general and his most revered nuclear scientist is too much. The pressure for a response is already mounting – either a calculated, presumably on the orders of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or an unwritten flogging, possibly by a rogue element of the Iranian military or an Iranian-sponsored militia that doesn’t leave that Memo waiting for inauguration day.
That is exactly what Mr Netanyahu – and Mr Trump and his advisors – are betting on. Any retaliation could lead to American military action, exactly what Mr Trump contemplated and rejected two weeks ago when news broke that Iran was continuing to produce nuclear fuel beyond the limits of the 2015 accord. (This move, of course, was in response to Mr Trump’s decision in mid-2018 to break out of the deal himself.)
American military officials said Saturday that they were closely monitoring Iranian security forces following Iran’s promise to take revenge on Fakhrizadeh’s death, but had not detected any usual Iranian troop or arms movements.
Officials declined to comment on increased US alert levels or additional measures to protect US forces in the Middle East, noting that the more than 40,000 soldiers in the area are already on a relatively high alert.
A cycle of military action could make it nearly impossible to restore the Iranian nuclear deal, let alone negotiate a larger, longer-lasting diplomatic deal.