Those familiar with how Iran’s political institutions work explain Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s intended appearances in photos and films shot in Arab battlefields where his militias fight, and the broadcasting of them on TV and online social networks, as part of the “psychological warfare” that Tehran has mastered.
Soleimani, commander of Al-Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp. (IRGC), is himself engaged in a fight for influence within the country’s security and military establishment, which is currently the backbone of Iran’s power structure.
“Elected” and selected councils, as well as religious authorities, the presidency and the prime minister’s posts, are now of secondary importance compared to the real center of power, which comprises the interests and networks of the security and military apparatuses — led by the IRGC — and its financial mafias, albeit under the cloak of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Thus, Soleimani and his mates in the IRGC and other security and military apparatuses are the ones who today call the shots, decide the national political agenda, and plan and execute Iran’s adventures abroad.
Furthermore, when recalling that most of what is being uttered in now-familiar arrogance may not be true but is primarily reserved for local consumption, and that Iran’s internal situation is much worse than we are led to believe by Tehran propaganda organs, one has to accept that the better part of Tehran’s arrogance is helped by very helpful and accommodating regional and global conditions.
Indeed, it was recently reported that things are not all well between Iran’s leading players and some of its influential lobbyists in Washington, who have different approaches and tactics. However, reliable observers do not see these emerging differences as a critical problem in dealing with Washington under President-elect Donald Trump, unless anti-Iran forces and those at the receiving end of Tehran’s aggression and expansionism succeed in establishing a solid understanding based on common interests with the incoming Trump administration.
Frankly, one has to regard Tehran’s achievements in both Iraq and Syria as outright victories. Tehran has also managed to reach an agreement with Washington, leaving it the freedom to do as it pleases throughout the Middle East, and tie up its tactical interests with those of Russia despite historical Russo-Iranian animosities in the southern Caspian Sea basin. Iran’s de-facto occupation of Iraq began with the 2003 US-led attack and occupation, and gathered pace under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which dismantled Iraqi state institutions and gifted the country to pro-Iran sectarian factions. Now this Pax Iranica is obvious after the successive governments of Ibrahim Jaafari, Nouri Al-Maliki and Haider Al-Abadi.
In the meantime, while the Kurdish north is all but an independent state, the only part of Iraq whose position remains ambiguous in the atmosphere of Iranian hegemony is the Arab Sunni part, awaiting the outcome of the battle for Mosul and clarification of the relationship of the mid-Euphrates (Al-Anbar) with the central government in Baghdad.
The overall picture is not much different in Syria now that the Russia-Iran alliance is applying the final touches to the desired demographic change in “useful Syria” through systematic mass population displacement under full international auspices.
This displacement, or rather “cleansing,” is being meticulously conducted regionally and internationally via multi-party talks and meetings that began in Geneva and may not end in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
In other Syrian areas, while the situation in the militarily-frozen south seems to be controlled by coded messages between Israel on one side and the Syrian regime, Soleimani’s bunch and Moscow’s protectorate on the other, Washington continues to bet on Kurdish secessionist ambitions in northern Syria under the pretext of fighting Daesh. Eastern Syria — Deir Ez-Zor province — is left to share the same fate as the Iraqi part of the mid-Euphrates basin.
Last but not least, there is Lebanon. Here, the majority in both the Christian and Sunni Muslim communities thought they finally managed to “save” independent Lebanon by electing a “strong” Maronite Christian with majority support as president, and appointing a “strong” Sunni with majority support as prime minister.
They felt that the two men (Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri, respectively) would be able to end Lebanon’s political vacuum, which lasted around two and a half years. However, while most level-headed Lebanese knew deep inside that the vacuum was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the reality was much more serious, they gave this development the benefit of the doubt, and trusted yet again promises that have been proven to be worthless.
The grantor of these promises was the “force of the status quo” — Hezbollah — which receives its orders from abroad while exercising its occupation of the country, permeating all government institutions and unilaterally fighting regional wars that serve the interests of its regional master Iran.
This occupation is now about to be legitimized by an electoral law demanded by Hezbollah, and would contribute to the ongoing process of the IRGC’s occupation of Syria. The latter is taking shape through sectarian cleansing of regions, towns and cities such as Qusair, Homs and Aleppo, as well as that in the greater Damascus region, with the intention of bolstering its defenses and linking it with the Shiite human reservoir in neighboring Lebanon.
Hezbollah — an organ of the IRGC — has done its share in changing the demographic map of Lebanon through its military adventures that damaged the country’s economy, driving hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to emigrate.
Thus one needs to reflect when seeing Soleimani’s photos in front of Aleppo’s historic citadel, the weeping displaced being driven away in the Syrian regime’s green buses in a journey of sectarian population exchange, and hearing of forced “conciliations” under threat of famine and murder.
One must reflect and think as the international community chatters about fighting terrorism and extremism, and supporting “legitimacy” through conferences and deals designed — in reality — to facilitate the redrawing of the Middle East map.
We are at a threshold of a regional situation totally different from the one in place around 100 years ago. In this new situation, there will surely be winners, losers and the departed — it is our duty to realize the magnitude of its critical challenges.
Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.