After the killing of General Suleimani, there was a brief missile attack on an American facility that miraculously killed no American troops (though there were many cases of traumatic concussion injuries that Mr. Trump dismissed as “headaches.”) De-escalation followed.
There was no real response to the explosion at Natanz, also attributed to Israel, other than the subsequent installation of some advanced centrifuges to make the point that Iran’s program would move ahead, slowly and methodically. Attacks aimed at American forces in Iraq, many by Iranian proxies, have diminished in recent weeks, and Iran’s feared cyberattacks on the American election system seemed more like amateur hour — emails to some voters purporting to be threats from a far-right group, the Proud Boys.
But the hard-liners are angry, and some experts fear that the combined loss of Iran’s most revered general and its most revered nuclear scientist is too much. Pressure is already mounting for some response — either a calculated one, presumably on the orders of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or an unscripted lashing out, perhaps by a rogue element of the Iranian military or an Iranian-sponsored militia that does not get the memo to wait for Inauguration Day.
That may be exactly what Mr. Netanyahu — and Mr. Trump and his advisers — is betting on. Any retaliation could result in American military action, exactly what Mr. Trump contemplated, and was argued out of, two weeks ago when news came that Iran was continuing to produce nuclear fuel above the limits of the 2015 accord. (That move, of course, was in response to Mr. Trump’s decision in mid-2018 to break out of the agreement himself.)
American military officials said on Saturday that they were closely monitoring Iranian security forces after Iran’s vow to retaliate for Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s death, but that they had not detected any usual Iranian troop or weaponry movements.
The officials declined to comment on any heightened U.S. alert levels or additional measures to protect American forces in the Middle East, noting that the more than 40,000 troops in the region are already at a relatively high level of alert.
A cycle of military action could make it all but impossible to reconstitute the Iran nuclear deal, much less negotiate a bigger, longer-lasting diplomatic arrangement.