Did Iran intend to kill Americans when it attacked U.S. bases?

In the immediate aftermath of Iran’s missile attacks on U.S. bases — in response to the killing of Gen. Soleimani — there was speculation that Iran, feeling compelled to do something but not wanting to risk an attack by the U.S., had conducted the attack in a way designed not to kill or injure any Americans. U.S. officials expressed this view. They noted that, in fact, no Americans were killed or injured, and argued that Iran could easily have inflicted casualties if it had wanted to.

Now, however, a counter narrative is emerging. This narrative holds that Iran did intend to inflict casualties, and that it is only by a near miracle that the attack failed to do so.

The Washington Post says that this is the view of “U.S. commanders at the Iraqi military bases targeted by Iranian missiles.” They report that at least two soldiers were thrown through the window of a tower on one of the bases and that several dozen soldiers were treated for concussions as a result of the Iranian attack.

I don’t know which of these competing narratives is correct. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that if Iran wanted to kill Americans, it would not have succeeded. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that, if Iran came as close as the Post’s reporting implies to killing some, it did not intend to kill.

What we can say is that it’s fortunate that no Americans were killed — not just for the U.S., but for Iran as well. Speaking at a rally in Milwaukee yesterday, President Trump said that, by virtue of not killing any Americans, Iran saved itself “a trillion dollars and a lot of lives.”

Iran’s gross domestic product was less than 500 billion dollars last year, so perhaps Trump was exaggerating. But I don’t doubt that Trump would have hit back hard if Iran’s missile attack had killed even one American.

If Iran didn’t intend to kill Americans with its missile attack, then it’s reasonable to expect no further such attacks. Retaliation will likely be limited to much lower level military action and/or cyber attacks.

If Iran intended to kill Americans but failed, there may be more such attacks in the future. But maybe the regime will take advantage of its luck and think better than to repeat this sort of action.