If Iran decides to follow through on its vow of harsh retaliation for the killing of its top general, it can call upon heavily armed allies across the Middle East that are within easy striking distance of U.S. forces and American allies, including Israel.
It's a network that was developed over nearly two decades by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed along with senior Iraqi militants in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's international airport overnight on Friday. He enjoyed the fierce loyalty of tens of thousands of fighters in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Gaza Strip who received aid, arms and training from Tehran.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.”
An adviser to Iran's supreme leader is threatening U.S. troops in the Middle East and says “this is the time to clear the region from these insidious beasts.”
Iran's Revolutionary Guards and anti-U.S. forces across the Muslim world will avenge the assassination of Soleimani, a Guards spokesman told Iranian state television on Friday.
"Soleimani's martyrdom will make Iran more decisive to resist America's expansionism and to defend our Islamic values," Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in a statement on Friday. "With no doubt, Iran and other freedom-seeking countries in the region will take his revenge."
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said "A crushing revenge will be taken for Soleimani's unjust assassination ... We will take revenge on all those involved and responsible for his assassination," according to state news agency IRNA.
"The brutality and stupidity of American terrorist forces in assassinating Commander Soleimani ... will undoubtedly make the tree of resistance in the region and the world more prosperous," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a statement.
Tehran's allies in the Middle East have begun condemning the attack and assasination Soleimani.
Iran has trained, financed, and equipped Shiite militias in Iraq that battled U.S. forces in the years after the 2003 invasion and remobilized to battle the Islamic State group a decade later.
The groups include Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataeb Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, all three led by men with close ties to Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force.
The leader of Kataeb Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed in the strike that felled Soleimani. The U.S. blamed his group for a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base last week that killed a U.S. contractor. It responded with airstrikes over the weekend that killed 25 of his fighters.
Iraqi leaders condemned the strike. Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi called it "A flagrant breach of sovereignty and violation of international agreements" adding that "Iraq must avoid becoming a battlefield or a side in any regional or international conflict."
Iraqi President Barham Salih said in a statement Iraq must put its put national interest first and avoid the tragedies of armed conflict that have plagued it over four decades.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi slammed the "assassination" of Soleimani and al-Muhandis in a statement, adding the strike will bring war to Iraq and the region.
The strike also violated the conditions of U.S. military presence in Iraq and should be met with legislation that safeguards Iraq's security and sovereignty, he added. He also called on parliament to convene in an extraordinary session.
Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the attack and called on all parties to practice restraint. "These events and more indicate the country is heading towards very difficult times. We call on all concerned parties to behave with self restraints and act wisely," he said.
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who positions himself as a nationalist rejecting both U.S. and Iranian interference in Iraq, called on all sides to behave with "wisdom and shrewdness."
"As the patron of the patriotic Iraqi resistance I give the order for all mujahideen, especially the Mehdi Army, Promised Day Brigade, and all patriotic and disciplined groups to be ready to protect Iraq," he said in a statement.
Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday his powerful Shi'ite militia group would continue the path of Iran's Major-General Qassem Soleimani after his death in a U.S. air strike, broadcaster Al Manar reported.
Nasrallah said the United States would not be able to achieve its goals with this "big crime" and just punishment was the responsibility of all fighters, Al Manar reported.
The militia was established by Iran's Revolutionary Guard during Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s. Today it is among the most effective armed groups in the region, extending Iran's influence to Israel's doorstep.
Syria also strongly condemns the "treacherous, criminal American aggression" that led to the killing of General Soleimani, state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying on Friday. The source also said the attack constituted a "serious escalation" and reaffirmed U.S. responsibility for instability in Iraq, according to SANA.
Hamas spokesman Bassem Naim said on Twitter: "The assassination "opens the doors of the region to all possibilities, except calm & stability. The United States bears the responsibility for that."
Islamic Jihad has issued a message mourning Soleimani's death, saying his assassination reflects U.S. crimes and its ongoing support for Israel and the occupation.
Islamic Jihad official in Gaza Muhammad Alhandi also said: "The U.S. administration and President Trump prove to be working for Israel. They live in the illusion that this assassination and the removal of Soleimani are creating an opportunity for strategic change for the benefit of the U.S., Israel, and their allies in the region, but this will be an opportunity to change the trend and actions against the U.S. and Israeli intervention and expansion in the Middle East."
Deputy Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Abu Ahmed Fouad also said "Soleimani is a popular commander who did not abandon the territory and supported the resistance movements in Palestine, Lebanon and Yemen." Adding that "the U.S. opened the gates of hell with his assassination."
Iran has long supported Palestinian militant groups, including Gaza's Hamas rulers and particularly the smaller Islamic Jihad group.
Hamas fell out with Iran after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, losing millions of dollars in monthly assistance, but Tehran is said to have continued its military support to Hamas' armed wing.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now