SINGAPORE: Iran's missile attack on military bases housing United States troops in Iraq did not intend to kill, said Middle East expert James Dorsey hours after the incident on Wednesday (Jan 8) on CNA's Asia Tonight.
Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing US troops in Iraq on Wednesday in retaliation of the killing of an Iranian general. US President Donald Trump had ordered the drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Dr Dorsey, who is a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the weapons could have caused casualties, but were calibrated not to.
"These were precision-guided missiles. They could've hit hard. They could've caused casualties, particularly American casualties. They didn't. They were calibrated not to cause casualties because casualties would've given Trump no option," said Dr Dorsey.
READ: Top Iran commander Qasem Soleimani killed in US strike on Baghdad airport
The casualty toll remains disputed, with one source saying there were no US casualties and no major damage at the bases, and Iran saying 80 "American terrorists" had been killed.
Iran swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was its response to the US killing of Soleimani.
Dr Dorsey said this response was "in strategic terms ... brilliant".
"It occurred at the moment that millions of people were in the streets shouting for revenge. It served a domestic purpose."
The killing of Soleimani was a dramatic turn in a long period of Iran-US tensions, beginning with Washington unilaterally withdrawing from an international 2015 deal curbing Iran's nuclear programme and reimposing sanctions.
"The rationale behind the Iranians' actions of the last few weeks is basically that once they realised that the Europeans, Russians and Chinese could not salvage truly the nuclear accord and that there was no economic out, their only other option was to gradually escalate, bring it to a point of an all-out war that neither the Americans nor the Iranians want, in the hope that that would force everybody back to the negotiation table," said Dr Dorsey.
MIDDLE EAST AN ABYSS TO TRUMP: DORSEY
Speaking hours before Trump was expected to issue a statement, Dr Dorsey said he saw two "conflicting trends" in the president.
"One is the belief - that has so far proven to be false - that bluster, intimidation and harsh economic sanctions are going to force his opponents into line. It hasn't happened with North Korea, it hasn't happened with Iran.
"But there's a different picture ... The Americans have counted 90 attacks on US targets in Iraq by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias in the last eight months. Trump didn't respond. In a sense, he was practising the same strategic patience that Iran was practising earlier.
"Which side of the coin do you want to read?" said Dr Dorsey.
He added that Trump was showing restraint "simply because ... he looks at the Middle East as an abyss".
"He wants to get out. He doesn't want to be sucked in," said Dr Dorsey.
"What I think persuaded him was sitting in front of a television looking at those images of a besieged US embassy and don't forget that what happened in Benghazi, Libya with the killing of the US diplomat at the time of the election campaign was a major issue to him."
"A TOTAL MISUNDERSTANDING" OF THE IRANIANS
When asked what he thought is the biggest misconception the US has about Iran, Dr Dorsey said "that goes not only for the US but for the West in general including Europe".
"This is not a nice regime, let's be clear about it, but if you look at this from an an Iranian perspective, the last 40 years have been an Iraqi invasion funded by the Saudis and the Gulf states, a perception all along that the Americans and their allies want regime change.
"They signed an agreement on the nuclear agreement ... and what they got was a US withdrawal and harsh economic sanctions. This is a country that's been on the defensive and perceives itself as having been threatened ... Iran has a very weak military hand. Its one conventional military force are missiles. It doesn't have anything else," said Dr Dorsey.