With the assassination of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, the US has sent a clear message that it will not hesitate to protect its citizens, interests and allies against attacks from Iran or its proxies, experts said.
The US strike that killed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander has "overturned the assumption" that Soleimani was unstoppable, said University of Aden political science professor Ahmed Khalil al-Kamali.
"It also has diminished the idea that his movements were surrounded with utmost secrecy and no one could track him," he told Al-Mashareq.
"Iran's proxies are still in shock even though it has been [two months] since Soleimani's elimination," he said.
Iran-backed militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are worried that because the US was able to track down and kill Soleimani, they are vulnerable as well, al-Kamali said, noting that Soleimani had travelled regularly to meet with them.
They are now likely to have "second thoughts when they contemplate threatening US interests or citizens", he said, as well as US allies.
US will respond to threats
Soleimani's assassination served as a warning to US adversaries that the Americans "will no longer stay silent" in the face of Iran's harassment or attacks carried out by its proxies, al-Kamali said.
It sends a signal that "in the future, the US will eliminate its enemies pre-emptively, and prior to them harming its citizens or interests", he said.
The US had warned of the consequences of attacks on its citizens and interests, "but Iran and its proxies believed Washington would not actually follow through on its threat", said Future Iraqi Constitutional Party chairman Entifadh Qanbar.
"The killing of Qassem Soleimani was the blow that brought them back to reality," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The only thing that can be certain is that Washington will not ignore or stand by without action as its citizens or interests in the region are threatened," he said.
It can now be assumed that "the US may carry out pre-emptive operations to foil threats", Qanbar added, noting that "Soleimani's elimination for his involvement in killing US citizens is the best proof of this assumption".
"Katyusha rockets threaten personnel at the US Embassy in Baghdad, and those who work on Iraqi bases to assist the Iraqi army in its war against terrorism," he said. "I doubt that Washington will continue to remain silent to such threats."
"The areas from which the rockets are launched against US interests have an active presence of Iran-affiliated militias, such as Kataib Hizbullah and Harakat al-Nujaba," he said, noting that the US knows this full well.
In fact, Qanbar added, US officials informed the Iraqi authorities some time ago "that they will respond in a way that they deem appropriate in defence of their interests and objectives in Iraq".
'Severe and clear' response
Soleimani's killing "forced several parties accused of undermining the region's stability to recalculate their strategy in dealing with threat against US interests", Saudi military expert Abdullah al-Qahtani told Al-Mashareq.
"In the past few years, there was a general assumption that the Americans would not respond to these threats or attempts at flexing muscles by Iran or its affiliated militias," al-Qahtani said.
But when US citizens were threatened, "the response was severe and clear", he said, noting that the response was targeted and was conducted with precision, so that there was no loss of innocent life in the process.
It is likely that the response will be similarly swift, he added, "in the event that Iran's proxies or Iran itself repeat similar threats".
"Next time, the response may even be stronger," he said.