The Assasination of Qassam Soleimani and the Weaponization of Drones


Jul 2, 2019
Gen. Qassam Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a drone strike by US forces early on Friday morning. Soleimani’s death was confirmed by the Pentagon, which stated that the drone strike was ordered by President Donald Trump, to deter “future Iranian attack plans.” According to them, "Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” Granted, this probably isn’t news to anyone at this point. But, how does the assasination of Qassam Soleimani and the weaponization of drones point to a future in warfare that is arguably more terrifying than anything we’ve seen before?

Iran’s response

The drone strike that killed Soleimani was in response to pro-Iran protestors attacking the US embassy in Iraq. The protests are a result of US-led airstrikes, and drone strikes in the region.

Trump has taken a hard stance on Iran throughout his presidency. He previously withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, signed under President Barack Obama in 2015.

Late on Friday morning, Trump tweeted that Soleimani had “killed or badly wounded” thousands of US citizens, and that he was “both hated and feared” in Iran.

He continued on Twitter, "They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!"

Top Iranian officials have condemned the attack, vowing retaliation. President Hassan Rouhani said that the drone strike was a “cowardly act'' and “another sign of America’s frustration and helplessness in the region.”

Trump’s drone strike has kicked off a domino effect of threats that could result in a deadly war between the US and Iran. When rich people declare war, it is the poor that suffer. Trump has made a move that will cost the lives, not just of military personnel, but American and Iranian citizens. Those who wanted nothing to do with the conflict in the first place. It seems that, once again, Trump has acted without a plan or any foresight - letting his ego get in the way of reasonable and targeted decision making. Threatening to bomb Iranian cultural sites proves that the assasination of Qassam Suleimani was not in response to a “plan” to attack United States’ interests. Rather it was an outright declaration of war, planned or not.

The issue here is not that Suleimani was a threat to the United States - he clearly was. It’s that Trump, once again, took matters into his own hands, lied to the American people and congress, and is attempting to use this farce of a war to distract from his failures as a president.

Weaponization of drones

Let’s look into the assassination of Qassam Suleimani and the weaponization of drones.

It should not go unmentioned that Suleimani’s assasination was facilitated by a drone strike. Drones are pilotless aircrafts, manoeuvred remotely from a distance of up to thousands of miles. Drones have been used in combat for years now, but they’re becoming more advanced - and vastly more deadly.

The United States used to rely on conventional methods, like deploying soldiers. As technology evolves, the threat of war and terrorism changes. Thus, US foreign policy becomes more militarized, and warfare techniques in counterterrorism evolve too. The boundaries of war have changed to include nuclear weapons, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), known to the general population as military drones. Drones enable the US to target threats with greater specificity, more precision, and increase the number of potential targets while reducing damage to surrounding areas and civilians. Drones can essentially be a force for a more ethical style of war, but not when you have Trump manning the helm.

The US Army is developing UAVs that can spot and target vehicles, sites and people with little to no human involvement. AI drones raise serious questions over the legal and ethical ramifications of such actions. Military drones like MQ-9 Reaper are currently guided by pilots (remotely), who have the final say in where a bomb or missile is launched. Just like the introduction of the AI Kalashnikov, AI drones prove complicated when it comes to the ethics of modern warfare.

UAVs have their benefits; with fewer boots on the ground, less civilian casualties, and damage to property among them. However, the impersonal nature that modern warfare has adopted makes committing acts of war, and war crimes, just that much easier.

Suleimani’s assassination was conducted via drone strike. Would the US have been able to conduct this operation without the assistance of drones? Targeting and killing “terrorists” in this manner proves so much easier with UAVs, but also highlights serious ethical questions regarding the use of drones in this kind of operation.

US and Iran on the brink of war

Top Pentagon officials reported that there was little to no change in Iran’s behavior towards the US in the last few weeks - so why did Trump decide to go with the most extreme measure? Assassinating Suleimani was arguably a risky move - did drones make it that much easier? The assassination of Qassam Suleimani and the weaponization of drones has highlighted the importance of implementing clear guidelines in modern warfare. How far will we get before this all implodes? The US and Iran are on the brink of war, and this time there’s likely no going back.