Given these limits to Iran’s short-term capabilities, it will likely focus on assessing the impact of Soleimani’s killing, plugging holes and vulnerabilities in its intelligence and security apparatus, reevaluating its strategy and approach, and streamlining its operations throughout the region. Tehran will also seize opportunities for détente with its regional archnemesis, Saudi Arabia, and seek rapprochement with the region’s Sunni Arabs, whose animosity toward Iran worsened after it partnered with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crush an uprising in Syria, primarily carried out by the country’s Sunnis, that began in 2011.
Over time, the United States, Israel, and their allies—and all those perceived as harming Iran’s regional strategy—will face retribution, though, most likely in the form of covert operations and actions that will be much harder to trace back to Tehran. It would, in a way, be back to basics: bombings, assassinations, and stealth tactics long attributed to Mughniyeh. Indeed, Soleimani himself touted such efforts both at the memorial service for Mughniyeh and in a rare TV interview he gave in October. As Soleimani put it, it is the technique of “appearing like a sword and disappearing like a ghost.” It’s as if he were instructing his soldiers on the path they would have to take after his demise.
During the memorial for Soleimani, Nasrallah vowed to avenge his comrade’s killing by driving U.S. troops from the region and returning them to America “in coffins,” echoing the vow Soleimani made in 2018 to avenge Mughniyeh by “eradicating” Israel. Hezbollah will not shy away from carrying out operations against the U.S. and its allies, and may even resort to the campaign of assassinations and bombings that it turned to in Lebanon starting in 2005, when it felt under siege and compelled to defend its existence.