It is hardly debatable that this week’s biggest news was the announcement of Trump’s long famed peace plan. Which surely shocked the Palestinian, less for vision and very dark future it promises, or the arrogance that it was only announced together with Netanyahu with no Palestine side even invited, but even more for the noticeable political support is enjoys by even some Arab circles. After all, this plan, the most repulsive of all since 1917, is not only clearly unrealistic, but it is even not a “deal” as publicized, more like a dictate enforced upon the Palestinians. Nonetheless, Egypt officially urged the Palestinians to study the plan, while most of the Gulf press does its best to promote the idea. The very nature of the plan, the arrogance with which it was announced, and long not seen unity in created within the Palestinian ranks clearly shows the plan – at least as it is envisioned – is doomed to fail. Not a coincidence that a large number of the Arab press renamed the “deal” from “deal of the century” – a term widespread in the Arab press for almost a year – to the “theft of the century”.
And one doubts the future of the plan does not have to go back to far the enlist all the failed Middle East peace plans regardless of all the accords, but it is sufficient to just go back to the Kushner version of “the deal of the century” rolled out in the Bahrain Summit in the summer. Does anyone even remember it? The two plans are significantly different, so no one can say that Trump’s new proposal is a continuation of Kushner’s. Which just makes the proposal in the Bahrain Summit the shortest lived plan ever. And the reason of its failure is the same, why this one is unviable. There is not Palestinian side to sign it, nor any significant to Arab block to endorse it. Quite the contrary, it created bigger solidarity for Palestine, reaching even to Yemen. That, of course, cannot be overestimated and most of the political support will have little result on the ground, but that still marks that the Trump plan will not bring about any breakthrough.
While this matter ruled the Middle East, with some other local events, there were news though much less publicized, possibly much more game-changer. Not only the official story of the Iranian missile attack on the ‘Ayn al-Arab airbase keeps changing rapidly, but it is very likely that the mastermind behind assassination of Soleymānī and many other resistance commander died this. Have the Iranians managed to complete their revenge this week, or their prayers found audience?
The details, more precisely the obscurity about these revelations only make the suppositions all the more convincing.
Injuries spreading like a disease
It rapidly slipped from the limelight, but it was in its time it was well covered that Iran on 8 January retaliated to the American aggression, which took the life of General Soleymānī and Abū Mahdī al-Muhandis. Operation Soleymānī was a success and in many ways. Technically, morally and even legally. Iran managed to hit an American military facility taking full responsibility for it, which the Americans could not evade, or did not wish to to. Morally they showed resolve, and especially since the Americans did not retaliate – which on its own should be thought through -, they managed to break the formally held omnipotence of Washington. But even legally, as Foreign Minister Ẓarīf explained in a conference in India, Iran found a legal basis as self defense. And that is even true regardless the major misconduct, which took the life of 176 people on board the Ukrainian airliner.
Yet the real success of the missile attack is not here. Tehran from the very first day claimed it caused severe losses to the Americans. Recently former Iranian Defense Minister Waḥīdī put this number up to at least 70 dead and 200 casualties. That might serve as just a PR campaign, but the constantly changing version of the Americans surely work for their benefit. Initially the claim by the Pentagon was no casualties whatsoever, which was confirmed by the CNN crew on the ground, thought interestingly they delayed days to visit the base. Yet very soon “some” minor injuries were hinted and by 17 January the official version went up to 11 injuries, mostly from explosions caused shockwaves. After a week that arrived to above 30, while Trump still underplayed the case at Davos, as nothing serious. Than, only this week the number went above 50 and this week’s final version is 64 injuries in ‘Ayn al-Asad. And while even after the first admission of some casualties Trump talked about minor injuries, by now the story arrived to “invisible wounds” and “brain injuries”. Which by now even American associations deem as very serious injuries. And as the numbers are rising constantly the result of the Iran hit looks more like a pandemic than a military strike.
Even beyond that there is the mysterious story of alleged fathers, who lost their sons in the hit and still cannot make contact with them, suggesting that with all likelihood there are dead soldiers as well. The most significant, though not the only event came on 16 January, when a someone called the American C-SPAN network’s Washington Journal show, and complained that he lost contact with his son serving in the ‘Ayn al-Asad base. Very soon many Iranian journalists living in the West pointed out the strange Persian accent of the alleged father, and indeed it looks like a trick. What is interesting, however, is that only after two days, by 18 January Voice of America was covering the story with BBC’s Persia together. Strangely lengthy efforts to defuse one single phone call, if it was just a weak trick. Meaning the two most robust and most well known direct foreign policy controlled news networks went great lengths to ridicule a very possibly Iranian prank, instead of simply asking clarification from the Pentagon. Which could have given a list with no names, but with numbers and current station about those who served on ‘Ayn al-Asad that day.
With this tendency it is already highly circled that only in few weeks we will hear about the first dead soldiers, who died in consequence of the Iranian missile attack. By that time, however, given the constantly changing story, the raising numbers and the uncleared suggestions – tricks or myths – no one will believe the Americans anymore. And that is exactly the point, where Iranian officials can claim that those soldiers died 8 January, only the Americans were cowards to admit it, and there will be nothing Washington will be able to do about it.
Once again, that might mean little in the US, but it will have a huge impact in Middle East and Iran’s reputation will skyrocket. Especially if the comparison will be made – and on that we can trust Iran that they will do so – that they admitted their mistake with Ukrainian airliner, and late as it was, they were at least honest at the end. Unlike the US, which is already proven.
That matter surely fuels even the wildest speculations that the Iranians might just hit the Americans, even beyond the farthest expectations.
From Aramco to ‘Ayn al-Asad
What further boosts the Iranian prestige now, is the puzzle why the Americans did not evade the hit on 8 January. And more importantly, why did they not strike back. On that notion, it is important to go back to the events of the summer, when on 13 September the al-Ḥūtī Movement and their part of the Yemeni Army hit the Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis lashed out against Iran and the American press did its best to imprint Iran on the hit, but in fact after throughout investigation even the UN could not establish any link between the drones with which the attack was carried out and Iran. That does not necessarily mean that Iran was innocent in the strike, but it surely proves one out of two possibilities. One is that the Yemenis indeed developed to that stage of technology, which they surely delivered by to Iran and Iran has this in its inventory. The second is that this striking capability is that of Iran, and they managed to either deliver it to Yemen in a way no one could detect, regardless of the years of complete blockade on Yemen; or they could hit Saudi Arabia in a way that no one could detect.
Either way, regardless of all the modern technology, the third biggest military budget – bigger than that of Russia – in Saudi Arabia, and all the American satellite and air reconnaissance, the Saudi air defense could not only not evade the hit, but could not even see who hit them and how. Meaning that they are absolutely vulnerable. Even at that time it was strange to see that no major retaliation followed by the Americans, but they could have opted that it is not a threat to them, or it is a one-time success, which cannot be repeated. Whichever way that incident happened, the strike on ‘Ayn al-Asad proves that Iran has a technology to hit the Americans, and apparently in a way they cannot see it, or they cannot evade it. And that raises the risk of a direct war very high for the US.
If a war comes than surely Iran will go for total war for survival. For them, simply surviving a war is victory. However, the Americans cannot afford major losses. Not domestically and not in front of their “allies”, who would rapidly start to slip out of fingers for the first sign of a weakening America. Now with this missile capability Iran showed that it has surprises for Washington, and the Pentagon cannot be absolutely sure that there are no others. Because if there are, and Iran might be able to sink just one carrier, than the damage of humiliation will be unrepairable. Which would be a huge deed, by all present estimates impossible. But it was also held impossible that all American air defense could be penetrated through thousands of kilometers, without any trace of it, like it happened with Aramco, or that any country would even dare to directly fire at an American military installation and cause damage, like in ‘Any al-Asad.
That is a far more important notion that the actual number of victims in the base, or the moral success that they hit back. At least in the military and legal sense, they took revenge for Qāsem Soleymānī. Not in the emotional level, however, by taking out a “big fish”. That had to wait. Apparently until this week.
A mysterious plane
It was first reported on this Monday, 27 January that an American small plane crashed in the Ġaznī province, Afghanistan. The first one to report on it was – not surprisingly – the Ṭālebān, which took the credit for it, claiming that 6 people were killed on board. Probably few would have noticed until the Iranian Mīzān News Agency reported on it, with interesting amount of details, reports and videos. That probably caught some attention, as by midday Russian and Turkish reports, like that of Sözcü started to pour in, all going back to Mīzān’s report, but with more interesting details. At that time Western sources only lightly covered that event, as it is pretty much the case until now.
The spin is that by the time Sözcü, and some other sites, like Veterans Today came out of the story, it had two very interesting extra detail. The plane was a Bombardier E-11A, which is a highly sophisticated communications and recon plane, a flying command center a favored tool of the CIA operations. The initial Ṭālebān report talked about six dead soldiers, the Afghan police about four dead as two missing – so still six all together – while the first Americans official reaction claim that “less than five” were on board. A rather interesting and shady phrasing. Which is even more interesting is that it took the Pentagon three days to name only two on board the plane. Two seemingly unimportant Air Force pilots strangely far from their regular duty stations. But by the same days some sources put the number who died on board as high as 35 CIA operatives, including senior officers. And since the already ongoing obscurity with the Iranian missile attack on ‘Ayn al-Asad, and that they don’t want to admit even the numbers, it will probably fuel even more speculations. But is the number of 35 operatives that high? Not for an operation, but for an ordinary accident most certainly.
The Bombardier E-11A is such a “high valued asset” that it is very hard even to detect and follow, given its sophisticated jamming systems. It is extremely unlikely that such a plane would crash on its own, or for bad weather conditions, precisely for its advanced telecom and reconnaissance capabilities. And was that the case, why is the obviously big secrecy about it? But if it was shot down by the Ṭālebān, that would suggest extreme air detection capabilities, far beyond any expectation. And a good sign of that the Americans also looked for other suspects, its that – probably a coincidence only – on 31 January a senior Central Command commander’s opinion was circulated on Radio Fardā – A Persian language version of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, the other biggest American propaganda grid – saying that Iran’s threat in Afghanistan. What could that mean?
And the notion of the Ṭālebān’s involvement in this is strange, right now, as they are conducting negotiations with the Americans about the pull out. After all, six American soldiers, and a small plane is not a valuable target for the movement, unless they who were on board.
Who is Michael D’Andrea?
It might all be very interesting, but the reason why this incident got special attention is because of one alleged passenger, Michael D’Andrea. An American with a Muslim wife and a long Middle East career, who was head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center between 2006 and 2015. D’Andrea was the main responsible for the drone attacks campaign in Afghanistan and in Yemen, among many other places. Since 2017 he was the CIA’s Iran Mission Center, and for years he was head of all operations in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Allegedly he was the one, who lead the strike team finding Usāma ibn Lādin, but it is sure that he was the main mastermind for the joint CIA-Mossad operations, when ‘Imād Muġniyya, legendary commander of Ḥizb Allah, was assassinated in Damascus 2008.
But much more than that, he was the most directly responsible person for the killing of Major-General Qāsem Soleymānī. And that mean that not only after a month the Americans are hit militarily, and their most valued man in the Middle East is dead. That is why D’Andrea’s death was the main story.
Of course the Americans hasn’t commented yet on the report about D’Andrea, but their silence of the most talkative now. And here the notion that he died – if indeed that happened – on board of that plane is extremely important, because if that was intentional someone could not only track an untraceable plane, but new much about the CIA as well.
Few other notions are also interesting, all supporting the idea that it was not a minor thing. Strangely the story is not only almost completely missing from the Western media, but also Iran is strangely silent on the matter. No state official picked up the news, nor any major news outlets vented the story. Even the original Mīzān Agency article about the crash cited by everyone did not include D’Andrea. Very strange why the Iranians are not celebrating now, but given their nature, by them it says that the fact is enough. If the Americans want to accuse them – once again, if it happened and if it happened in such a way – they have to expose themselves and humiliate themselves that they got caught. That puts the Iranians in a very comfortable situation, where they avenged Soleymānī militarily in Iraq, and now practically in Afghanistan. And they won’t even stop here, as surely Tehran will pressure Iraq to continue on path expelling the Americans.
An eye for an eye
At the end it is practically impossible to know whether truly the Iranians took revenge – directly of indirectly – for Soleymānī, or faith would have it such way. At least at this stage. Most likely the story will soon sink into obscurity and for long years it will not appear, unless one leading voice in the Resistance reveals secrets. After all, no one really heard the secrets of the 2006 war and Soleymānī’s role in it until last year.
Whichever way it happened, if Michael D’Andrea is truly dead, which is getting ever more likely by the passing days, the score would seem even now between the US and Iran. One powerful puppeteer murdered, and the his murderer is dead. But in this context there is one major difference, and in this Iran undoubtedly won.
Qāsem Soleymānī was a known figure in the whole region, way before his death. When he got murdered that not only caused outrage, and far beyond the borders of Iran, but he was also mourned and glorified as national hero. With his martyrdom his life story is made complete and will be an eternal role model for all those wishing to resist the American influence in the region. Whatever Washington says, millions celebrated and mourned him, and the even bigger pride for Iran lies in the fact that Teheran never tried to hide his loss, or the pain it caused. Soleymānī became immortal. However, D’Andrea, the similarly resourceful American spymaster, regardless all the Hollywood mystification, was not know and now no one morns him. Not only there will be no national rallies for him, one of the biggest American assets, but even his government denies his very existence and death. Meaning one side take pride in its deeds and even its losses, the other one cannot even admit them. Not only this, but the growing number of casualties in the ‘Ayn al-Asad base with all the obscurity surrounding it shows a very tangible difference in mentality.
In one side heroes are celebrated by allies and supporters, hated by adversaries, yet respected by both; in the other side even the most resourceful ones are held as expandable assets. Used and forgotten. That is a huge moral victory for Iran now.
As the score is even now the tension is likely to calm down for a while. At least until both sides rearrange their lines. But after such a sharp debacle Washington has to think its strategy once again. A week ago they were threatening the successor of Soleymānī, Esmā‘el Qāānī that he will suffer his predecessor’s faith, and where are they now? After all, even if just faith had its revenge, the changing realities are noticeably. D’Andrea had almost twelve years to live after he planned to assassinate ‘Imād Muġniyya, yet only survived Soleymānī with less than a month.
Can it be that the words of Soleymānī became true, when he said “Even in places you cannot imagine, we are right next to you”?
 The change is a word joke in Arabic. The term Ṣafqat al-Qarn (Deal of the Century) became Sirqat al-Qarn (Theft of the Century).
 One of the biggest state owed American multilingual news network directly payed by the Congress. Until 2013 it was forbidden to broadcast VOA programs directly to the American public under the Smith-Mundt Act, otherwise known as U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948. It is because the law directly prohibited “propaganda” to be transmitted to the American citizens. And when the restriction was removed the biggest criticism was exactly this propaganda attempt, as VOA reputation is well established. For more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/07/14/u-s-repeals-propaganda-ban-spreads-government-made-news-to-americans/
 BBC is directly controlled by the British Foreign Office.