Global Reactions To Soleimani Killing

Jan 4, 2020
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now let's get reaction from around the globe. I'm joined now by NPR correspondent Deborah Amos in Beirut, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

And I'm going to start with Deb Amos. Lebanon is one of the key places in the Middle East where Iran exerts a lot of influence. The group Hezbollah, which gets a lot of support from Iran and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., is based in Lebanon. So what kind of reaction to the U.S. killing of Soleimani has there been in Lebanon?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, the immediate reaction from Hezbollah is fury. Qassem Soleimani was reportedly in Beirut on the day before he died. He had a long meeting with the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Tomorrow, there's a rally here. It's a day of mourning. Nasrallah's expected to speak.

But, you know, Lebanon has more immediate problems. It's a country on the verge of economic collapse. The Lebanese are banging down the doors of banks because they have no access to their accounts. Businesses are closing.

At the same time, there's a resilient protest movement of young Lebanese. They're demanding change, including from Hezbollah. They've already toppled a government. There may be a government announced this week. The Hezbollah leader has urged a quick agreement on a new government to, as he said, grapple with the security and political fallout from the death of Qassem Soleimani.

MARTIN: And obviously, one of the concerns that's been expressed by any number of analysts is the - that this could ignite an already volatile region, not just in Lebanon. So what are you hearing - not just from the region, but from your sources who have experience in the region?

AMOS: I reached out to Ryan Crocker. He's served as a U.S. ambassador in six regional capitals, including Iraq. He was not sorry to see Soleimani go. He called him a master strategist. His death, he said, was fitting.

RYAN CROCKER: So it was a great strike. Soleimani would have been proud. But now what? And what scares me is, given this administration's track record, that they don't have a plan.

AMOS: It's what you hear from many regional analysts - is the Trump administration ready for whatever Iran throws at the U.S.? Is the administration prepared for the round after that? This is a whole new ballgame, says Crocker.

CROCKER: Both Iran and the U.S. are now in this escalation game. You know, we've got some hard choices and vulnerabilities, but so do they. And again, as they go through their deliberations, their top guy's not at the table anymore. But I wouldn't guess that they're ready to pull the trigger literally on a major operation.

AMOS: Crocker says that Soleimani will be hard to replace. He says Iran is likely to (unintelligible), pragmatism when it comes to retaliation. But Crocker also said he's focused on Washington. Has the administration looked at all the vulnerabilities, all the bases up and down the Gulf? And are U.S. allies also prepared for these next steps?

MARTIN: So let's go to Daniel Estrin now in Israel. It's a country that's long considered Iran an enemy. The prime minister there, Benjamin Netanyahu, praised the U.S. operation that killed Soleimani. But from an Israeli perspective, Daniel, is this only a positive development? Does Israel gain something here?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, I think Israelis are very glad to see Soleimani gone. He's a name that average Israelis have known and followed for years. Officials here say he was behind Israel's greatest threats in recent years. He was helping Iranian forces establish military bases in Syria. Officials talk about him being behind transferring weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and helping Hezbollah develop advanced missiles.

And, you know, you hear former Israeli officials talk about him with this kind of admiration for their most formidable enemy. They say Soleimani was a brilliant military strategist and, like we heard just now from the former U.S. ambassador, he'll be hard for Iran to replace. Reportedly, Israel did have the opportunity to assassinate Soleimani in the past. But now we're hearing Israelis say it's good that the U.S. was the one that did that and not Israel because Israel does not want to get dragged into a war with Iran's proxies. So that is something to consider.

And another thing I think it's fair to say is that this is a big coup for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think he can take a lot of credit for influencing the Trump administration's policies on Iran. And I don't think it's too cynical to say that he personally gets benefit from this too because he's fighting for his political survival. He's facing corruption charges, and there are elections coming up. And if Iran stays in the headlines, it plays to his strengths. And Netanyahu is considered Mr. Security, so that would help him in elections.

MARTIN: To the point that Deb Amos raised earlier with - that Ambassador Crocker raised with her - is the Trump administration prepared for the potential backlash? - is there any concern in Israel about that, whether the U.S. gave the allies enough opportunity to prepare themselves for any expected backlash?

ESTRIN: Well, Israel has been on alert for a possible revenge attack and shut down a ski resort along the Syrian border. And senior Israeli officials - you know, they've been silent basically about what happened. They don't want to say anything that would insinuate that Israel had anything to do with this and draw retaliation.

But the truth is that people here are not really panicked. I mean, I spoke to Israelis in cafes in Tel Aviv today. They said they didn't feel they faced any more of a threat now. And defense experts here say they bet that Iran will not strike Israel. They say Israel has thwarted attempt Iranian attacks in the past. They say Iran is rational and cautious. And in the last few years, Israel has attacked Iranian forces in Syria many times, and there's really barely been Iranian retaliation.

So Israeli experts think, you know, Iran has a lot to lose. They won't want to risk poking Israel. But I think it's important also that we should say that some in Israel say, well, even if Iranian behavior is predictable, what's not is how Trump will respond now. And one Israeli defense correspondent wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper - he said, with all due respect to Trump's strike on the largest exporter of terrorism in the Middle East, we'd all better - sleep better if someone more stable and experienced were in the Oval Office.

MARTIN: So let's go to Paris now and Eleanor Beardsley because France has taken the lead in trying to make sure that the nuclear deal between Iran and the West remains in place despite President Trump's decision to abandon the agreement. Now this killing of Qassem Soleimani has escalated tensions even further. What's been the reaction from the French government and others in Europe?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Europeans are calling for de-escalation and urging restraint. Macron has been frantically working the phones, you know, trying to give a multilateral, you know, joint response. He and Russian President Putin put out a communique talking about, you know, ISIS is the main enemy. We support Iraqi sovereignty. And France has also talked to the other signatories of the nuclear accords urging restraint, de-escalation of the violence and to keep in mind that ISIS is the enemy and to just keep the calm. He's - clearly as foreign minister, they're just trying to have a joint response to what was seen as just a unilateral action. And there's a lot of fear that it will escalate and...

MARTIN: To that end, if we have - we only have about a minute and a half left, so I'd like to hear from each of you briefly, if I can. Is there a concern about broader volatility in the Middle East? I mean, the instability in the region in recent years has led to this huge refugee crisis that has, you know, affected governments across Europe and really all over the world, really. How much concern is there that this leads to broader regional problems? Eleanor, do you want to start?

BEARDSLEY: Well, yeah. There's huge concern about Iraq being destabilized, and, you know, all the ISIS fighters being held. And there's already so much chaos there that there's a huge fear of Iraq just tipping into complete chaos.

MARTIN: Daniel, what about you?

ESTRIN: I think many in Israel are hoping that this is a game changer, actually, when it comes to the Trump administration because Israelis have been concerned about Trump ceding influence in the Middle East and focusing on other things. And this may draw the U.S. back in. You know, Israel saw the U.S. as focusing too much on ISIS and not on Iran's activities in the region. And so Israel will now hope that Trump refocuses on Iran.

MARTIN: And, Deb, final thought from you?

AMOS: Oh, it's a very volatile region, and this is one event that could, you know, put people over the edge. I think people are worried about who pays the price.

MARTIN: Those were NPR correspondents Deborah Amos in Beirut, Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem and Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

Thank you all so much for joining us and sharing your reporting and your insights.

ESTRIN: Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.