However much emotion eclipses reason, the Iranian regime is not likely to become so reckless as to trigger a war it cannot possibly win.
The regime must know devastation would surely come if it seeks to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani by attacking what one senior American intelligence official figure said would top even the White House as its dream target.
“Why hit the White House when you can hit the center of the Earth?” the official told The Daily Beast on Monday.
He meant the epicenter as seen by President Trump, whom the Iranians hold personally responsible for the death of their hero general.
They can surely imagine how The Donald would react to the destruction of his beloved Trump Tower.
Trump recently shifted his official address to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, but the tower remains his first big success: the place where The Apprentice was shot and where he announced his candidacy for president in 2015.
“It’s his pride and joy,” the official said.
The helmeted cops with assault rifles and body armor posted by the entrance and backed by a host of Secret Service personnel could probably defend the tower should a team of gunmen try to storm it.
But the concrete barricades that line the curb would do little to protect it against a vehicle-borne bomb detonated outside the Fifth Avenue entrance.
“What do you do, close Fifth Avenue?” the official asked. “And if so, for how long?”
Around noon on Monday, a truck of the same type that Timothy McVeigh used to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City with such devastating effect in 1995 stopped for a red light on West 57th Street, a half-block up Fifth Avenue from the tower. An Iranian sleeper agent with a load of explosives would have needed only to make a right to do his worst before anybody could have moved to stop him.
This truck was just delivering produce and it continued on across town when the light turned green. The four-faced black and gold clock outside the tower ticked on from 12:02 to 12:03 to 12:04 as the city and the rest of America waited to see exactly how the Iranian regime will seek revenge.
One of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inner circle, Hesameddin Ashena, tweeted a link to a Forbes magazine list of Trump properties, implicitly suggesting an addendum to the potential targets Iranian-sponsored sleeper agents have surveilled in recent years. The previous possibles ranged from the Brooklyn Bridge to Macy’s in Manhattan to the Prudential Center in Boston to the Panama Canal.
Even the lesser Trump properties still bear the name dearest to his heart and therefore might have the dramatic impact the Iranian clearly seek.
“I declare to the whole world that if the world wants to stand up to our religion, we will stand up against their whole world,” Ashena tweeted in Persian, quoting Ayatollah Khomeini while linking to Forbes and to a video about Trump’s real estate portfolio.
The hitch for the Tehran crew is what may also protect the Trump properties, and Trump Tower in particular: The greater the impact of the attack, the greater the possible consequences for the attackers. And as much as they extol martyrs, their passion wanes when they themselves might end up martyred.
We must hope the Iranians are wary of starting an all-out war they cannot possibly win. They should not imagine that blue-state Americans would countenance mass murder on our shores even if the bodies were in the ruins of The Donald’s pride and joy.
The intelligence official guessed the Iranians will take action of some kind in the next few weeks. He figures it will likely involve operatives already in place, utilizing intelligence that has already been gathered. He suggested the Iranians may seek a big enough body count to argue some equivalence with the loss of Soleimani; one of him partially offset by 100 dead Americans, for instance. Or they may try to kill a single American of social and political importance, a U.S. ambassador or a traveling U.S. senator. They also might go with their old fallback, taking hostages.
In the past, the Iranians have sought deniability by enlisting a proxy or simply hiring hitmen, as they did when they sought to contract a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S in a Washington, D.C., restaurant. The person they thought was a representative of Los Zetas was in fact an informant. He recorded an Iranian operative’s response when he warned that the attack might result in the death of as many as 100 innocents along with the ambassador.
“They want that guy done,” the Iranian operative was recorded saying of his bosses. “If the hundred go with him, fuck ’em.”
The operative added that the cartel could expect more work if the ambassador was killed, no matter how many others died.
“The first one, they want it for [a] test,” the operative said.
That ended with the operative being arrested and sent to prison.
Even if that killing by proxy had worked out as the Iranians had hoped, they have been too public in their vows to avenge Soleimani not to take credit for the next attack.
But they will surely proceed with the same willingness to kill innocents if it furthers their goal.
To stand outside Trump Tower on Monday was to see how easy it would be to attack if massive retaliation were not a prohibitive concern.
To look at the folks coming and going was to hope the Iranians are deterred by the likely consequences not just in Trump Tower, but everywhere.
To hear the elevator-style Muzak wafting through the lobby was to wonder how we ever got to where we are.
And out front that four-faced clock kept ticking toward whatever will happen next.