By Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper

On January 8, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) launched a series of missile attacks from inside Iran against the Al Asad Air Base that houses Iraqi and U.S. troops. No members of either force were killed or injured in the attack. It later emerged that the Iraqi government had received prior warning from Iran about the strikes.

Tehran said the attack was a “proportionate response” to the assassination of the commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force (IRGC-QF) Brigadier General Ghasem Soleimani, who died in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad’s International Airport on Jan. 3.

The drone attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Secretary-General of Kata’ib Hezbollah, and several other people in Soleimani’s convoy. Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the main Shia militia groups within the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The group stormed and burned down parts of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on January 1.

The Islamic Republic has said the missile strike on Al Asad Air Base was part of a “Hard Revenge” campaign against the U.S.

Yet the carefully calibrated attack was only a face-saving measure aimed at calming domestic public anger and avoiding all-out war with the U.S.

By choosing Al Asad Air Base, the IRGC was hoping to kill two birds with one stone.

The calculated missile attack on the base was a publicity stunt aimed at convincing the supporters of the Islamic Republic that the regime could target American interests anywhere in the region.

Iranian state media, particularly those outlets with close ties to the IRGC — such as the Tasnim News Agency — exaggerated the strength, capabilities, and achievement of the Iranian military in their reporting.

Iranian military officials, however, know that U.S. forces do not have to respond to Tehran’s threats, given that shortly after General Soleimani’s death, they strengthened their defense capabilities and minimized any chance of damage caused by missile attacks to their fortified bases in Iraq.

According to Iraqi and U.S. military sources, Iranian missiles hit areas around the Al Asad Air Base, which suggests that either the IRGC’s missile program is technologically inferior and ineffective or, conversely, that it is sophisticated, with pinpoint accuracy. If the latter is true, then Iran can pose a real threat to the American forces in Iraq and the entire region.

Iran launched a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the impact of the attack on the Al Asad Air Base. Spinning the missile strike as a great military victory was a face-saving ploy to fulfill Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s promise of a swift and “Hard Revenge” on U.S. forces.

Some news agencies and media outlets with close links to the IRGC showed several video clips of the attack, which reportedly consisted of two series of missile launches that were two hours apart.

Some Iranian print and broadcast media even published fake photographs of the missile attacks on the military base.

A tweet by Kayhan London on January 8 said: “Fake news about the Islamic Republic’s missile attacks on the Al Asad Air Base. The state news agencies in Iran have republished photographs of an Israeli attack in Gaza-originally reported by the BBC in November 2109 — claiming that the pictures showed the moment the IRGC missiles hit Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.”

The accompanying screen captures showed the BBC’s original report on the Israeli attack in Gaza and the misrepresentation of the event by the Tehran Times online newspaper and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Kayhan London also posted another tweet on the same day, listing some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks at the White House following the attack on Al Asad Air Base.

The tweet read: “1- Soleimani’s hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood. 2- We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. 3- These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior. 4- The missiles fired last night at us, and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. 5- The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to make a new nuclear deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place. 6- Iran’s campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward.”

Iran launched the missile attack on the Al Asad Air Base, code-named “Operation Martyred Soleimani,” following the burial of the general in his hometown Kerman, capital of the southeastern province of Kerman.

It is abundantly clear that the regime has tried to exploit Soleimani’s death to its advantage.

The Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei described Soleimani’s burial as the start of the “Hard Revenge” campaign against the U.S. Mr. Rezaei is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), who also served as the commander of the IRGC (1980-1997).

The regime assigned specific tasks to various state institutions to ensure that the planned missile attack would achieve the desired goal.

While Senior IRGC commanders made inflammatory and threatening statements, promising “Hard Revenge” on U.S. forces, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spearheaded a more diplomatic approach, insisting that “Iran did not seek war, but had the right to defend itself according to Article 51 of the UN Charter.”

The Spokesman for the Iranian government, Ali Rabiei, also said “Iran does not want war with the U.S. and is not trying to escalate the tensions.”

Most regional and Western officials condemned the missile attack on the U.S. military base in Iraq.

Iraqi President Barham Salih released a statement on Jan. 8, slamming Tehran for “repeated violation of Iraqi sovereignty and using the country as an arena to settle scores.”

“The situation in the Middle East is extremely worrying,” the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said. “The current situation puts at risk the efforts of the past years, and also has implications for the important work of the anti-Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)] coalition.”

“I condemn the Iranian missile attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said. “NATO calls on Iran to refrain from further violence.”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]