This briefing is provided by a friend of RZIM.
- Born in Rabor, eastern Iran in 1957.
- He was the son of a farmer and he began to work as a labourer at the age of 12.
- Killed near Baghdad Airport on 3rd January 2020 by a drone strike
- He was a young soldier during the Iran-Iraq war and it is thought that his experiences during that period shaped his worldview, especially the desire to see Iraq as a weak vassal-state of Iran.
- QS was head of the elite Iranian Quds Force
- ‘al-Quds’ is the Arabic name for Jerusalem and the ‘Quds Force’ name speaks to the aspiration for Muslims to control the whole of Jerusalem.
- The Quds Force is a branch of the Revolutionary Guards whose role was to foreign affairs orientated: specifically, developing and nurturing guerrilla, militia and insurgency forces around the world (especially in the Middle East) such as Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
- The Quds Force was proscribed as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2011 and has retained that status ever since.
- In the Iranian hierarchy, he was widely believed to be second only to the Iranian Supreme Leader himself Ayatullah Khamenei
- Suleimani was behind the successful campaign in Lebanon which forced Israel to eventually withdraw from the country in 2000 and was instrumental in the chaos of the insurgency which followed the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq from 2003 - 2012.
- The strength of Iranian influence in Iraq today is a direct result of Suleimani’s strategic operations in that period.
- In 2008, the US even entered into negotiations with Suleimani to use his influence to stop the insurgency.
- According to Tamir Pardo, (former Head of MOSSAD) Suleimani became a ‘major player in the geopolitics of the region’, especially in relation to the fight against ISIS which, through Hizbullah, Iran was able to prevent from defeating the government of Bashir Al-Assad in Syria.
- The sophisticated operation Suleimani developed to prop-up the Syrian Government included the secret recruitment of a volunteer force which was flown in from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, recruited from the Shi’a communities.
- In 2014, pictures of Suleimani field military dress fatigues which were spread around social media were believed to be an initial step along the road to a possible run for the Iranian Presidency. Nothing had come of it though at the time of his death and it is likely that the leadership had bought his loyalty.
- It is worthwhile noting that Suleimani actually worked with the US against ISIS – attacking on the ground as US planes bombed ISIS targets from the air.
- Suleimani was active in assisting the Houthi rebels in Saudi Arabia as well.
- In 2014, on his own authority, QS was able to order the building of a highway from Tehran, through Iraq, Syria to Lebanon: thereby ensuring an easy supply route for Hizbullah in their war against Israel, as well as giving Iran its desired access to the Mediterranean Sea.
- However, the online portal The intercept published leaked internal Iranian government documents which show that Suleimani was not as revered within Iran as might have been believed. Furthermore, he was in a power struggle with other branches of Iran’s Military intelligence.
- His huge public funeral was attended by almost as many people as for Ayatollah Khomenei himself.
There are many who are predicting that the killing of QS will cause a war. (Fore example; Ensor, 2020) As the rhetoric ramps up in the wake of the killing and QS’s subsequent funeral, Iran has already announced that it will no longer comply with the non-proliferation agreement and will continue to seek to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities .
As the only state which openly acknowledges that it seeks the destruction of the state of Israel, this is a frightening prospect, both in terms of Israelis themselves, and the potential for any conflict to spread, drawing in allies on both sides. For the Israelis, this would mean the US would be drawn in, and possibly, Saudi Arabia (who has been a quiet, long-term ally of Israel and also has a clear interest in the destruction – or reduction – of Iran and its regional influence).
For Iran, it could count on the support of Syria’s government as well as that of Iraq and Lebanon. In addition, it is likely that many foreign fighters would be drawn to fight for Iran both in relation to recruitment from the Shi’a diaspora (including the growing diasporas in the US and Latin America), as well as the cross-sectarian desire to oppose America. For some Muslims, it could be seen as helping to usher -in the Apocalypse (as understood in Islamic theology; see Gunther and Lawson, 2016): something that ISIS had also sought to initiate. Indeed the highly regarded Arabist, Professor David Cook at Rice University has observed that there has been a surge in apocalyptic pamphlets and writings in the Middle East over more than a decade. (Cook, 2008)
There are therefore numerous reasons to believe that war could happen and that it would be potentially catastrophic in its implications well beyond any narrow regional confines.
However, whilst these are not unreasonable assessment, it is unlikely that these awful scenarios will play out in reality for at least three reasons: Firstly, because Iran knows that it cannot win in a direct military confrontation with the US. Secondly, any war will dent its capability to continue to expand its influence around the region and will further destabilise a country which already has significant internal issues, such as water-shortage and ongoing unrest amongst the young. Thirdly, as alluded too above, QS was not as universally revered as might have been understood by the outside world. His death will enable other military leaders within Iran, including officers from among other branches of the Revolutionary Guard, to seize control of the prestigious Quds Force, and, by extension, control of Iran’s foreign policy.
But, whilst war is unlikely for the reasons outlined above, there will almost certainly be reprisal attacks through the terrorist networks both in the region and beyond. That will, one assumes, have been factored into the US government’s decision-making process when deciding whether to assassinate QS or not.
Yet, the problem with the decision to assassinate QS lies not in the potential for anti-Western attacks: that existed whether QS was alive or dead, but rather Suleimani got his wish to be martyred by America. In the long-run, the decision to kill him rather than, for example, doing what MOSSAD did with Adolf Eichmann: capturing him, putting him on public trial and then sentencing him, means that Suleimani’s legacy will be that of a soldier fighting for his cause. Something that could become a rallying cry for others. Whereas, if Suleimani had been captured, put on trial at the international criminal court at The Hague and then given a long sentence, which carried the weight of international condemnation behind it, not only would Suleimani’s legacy be very different, but it would also serve to enhance the standing of the International Criminal Court and underline the desire for the international community to crack-down on behaviour contrary to international society.
It is therefore likely that, whatever the short-term consequences, the assassination of QS will not reap the kind of long-term rewards that could have resulted from an international trial.
Cook, David, (2008) Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature New York: University of Syracuse Press
Ensor, Josie, ‘Missiles fired after Iranian general Qassim Soleimani’s body paraded through Baghdad’ Associated Press 3 January 2020.
Gunther, Sebastian and Todd Lawson, Eds. (2016) Roads to Paradise: Eschatology and the Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam Leiden: Brill
Lister, Tim, ‘Iran drives another stake into the heart of the nuclear deal’ CNN 5 January 2020.