Sources in Beirut are confirming reports from various Middle East media outfits that Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ expeditionary unit, was wounded in the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo recently. Fighters from Hezbollah, according to sources close to the party of God, believe the Quds Force commander may be in a hospital in Tehran, or already dead.
According to AsrIran, an anti-regime website close to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Suleimani was seriously injured along with two other personnel in an anti-tank rocket attack 12 days ago. Other sources say the wounds he sustained were not that serious. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, told AFP that Suleimani was "lightly injured three days ago in the Al-Eis area in the south of Aleppo province.”
All lies, says the IRGC, which contends that reports of injuries are Israeli fabrications. Hajj Qassem is “in perfect health and full of energy," says IRGC spokesman Rameza Sharif. “Often, the Israelis write down their dreams in the form of news and spread them through their media in the cyberspace,” he said. “The fake news about Major General Qassem Suleimani’s martyrdom is of this sort.”
It’s certainly the case that there have been rumors of Suleimani’s death previously, but the overly animated nature of the Iranian denials is evidence of an anxiety that runs much deeper than the fate of the IRGC’s celebrity general. While pictures of Hajj Qassem at Middle East battlefields, from Syria to Iraq, have become a fixture of Iranian propaganda the last few years, the fact is that the regime’s Mr. Fix-It has a mixed record, at best.
As Israeli analyst Yossi Mansharof explained recently, the anti-regime opposition has long been documenting the numerous battlefield deaths of senior officers and other key figures close to the Quds Force commander—the “Curse of Suleimani,” they call it. If Suleimani has fallen victim to his own curse, then so eventually will the rest of the regime. The stark reality is that Iran and the Shiite International it has enlisted to fight in Syria will someday lose the war it has started in the middle of the Middle East. It’s simply a matter of numbers.
The war is destined to take many more twists and turns and shows no signs of stopping. If John Kerry thought the Vienna negotiations were on track to put an end to the fighting, Turkey’s shooting down a Russian jet suggests that the fighting is about to take another turn for the worse. There is plenty of killing and dying that remains to be done in Syria, and the Iranian side will suffer the worst. After all, the Shiites are the regional minority. If the Shiite community once believed that the Islamic Republic of Iran was on course to overthrow more than a millennium of history, politics, theology, and war that identified the Shiites as also-rans, right now the Shiites are fighting to defend themselves against the majority Sunnis. Eventually, they will be fighting for their survival. The question then is, looking down the road, what role will the nuclear weapons program play in the thinking of a millenarian regime with its back against the wall?
In July the Obama administration and its European and Russian partners met with Iran in Vienna to sign the so-called nuclear deal. The general idea was to at least delay nuclear proliferation in an already volatile part of the world. No doubt the White House was hoping for much more—that the Islamic Republic of Iran could be welcomed back into the community of nations, bringing stability to a violent Middle East. But it is now clear that Obama’s great diplomatic endeavor has had the opposite effect: Sectarian war is engulfing the Middle East.
Yesterday, members of Congress observed a moment of silence to commemorate casualties suffered by a community aligned with Bashar al-Assad in his exterminationist war against Syria’s Sunni Arab population.
In remarks a few days ago in Turkey, President Obama said this:
when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution -- that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.
President Obama does not believe ISIS is getting stronger. At least, that's what he said this morning in an interview that aired on ABC News:
"I don't think they're gaining strength," Obama said of ISIS. "What is true is that from the start our goal has been first to contain and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq and in Syria ... you don't see the systematic march by ISIL across across the terrain."
Democratic senator Tim Kaine admitted this morning on national TV that the U.S. has no strategy in Syria:
"The problem is, we don't have a comprehensive strategy," said Senator Kaine.
Kaine went on to blame Congress for the lack of strategy. "It's time to really have a strategy between Congress and the president. And that involved Congress being wiling to engage. And Congress hasn't been welling to do that."
Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, my friend Ahmad Chalabi would often carry fat tomes about America’s occupations of Germany and Japan. An Iraqi exile after 1958 who lived mainly in London and Georgetown and maintained an off-and-on, love-hate relationship with Western intelligence agencies, he was blessed with a voracious, curious, and sensitive mind. He had a prodigious memory, too, and was well-schooled beyond mathematics, in which he held a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. But knowledge ultimately failed Chalabi.
The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Michael McCaul (R., TX), is trying to get the White House to pay attention to what Iran is doing around the Middle East. Earlier in the week, McCaul wrote a letter to Obama arguing that the clerical regime “has demonstrated hostility towards the United States and our allies through a series of increasingly provocative actions.”
With the war in Syria becoming ever more complex and murderous, it’s worthwhile to revisit a guiding principle of Barack Obama: The use of American military power is likely to do more harm than good in the Middle East, and even in the region’s violent struggles, soft power is important, if not decisive, in resolving conflicts. If Islamic militancy is to be defeated, better ideas, advanced by Muslims, backed up if necessary by Muslim soldiers, must be the principal means.
The Yom Kippur liturgy, just followed in synagogues around the world, repeats several times references to God as one who rescues captives. The central daily Jewish prayer as well refers to God who “supports the fallen, heals the sick, sets captives free.” And throughout Jewish history, the redemption of captives has been considered an important commandment. This is the background to the repeated decisions by the state of Israel to free a hundred or a thousand Arab prisoners in exchange for one single captive Jew.
The United States, President Obama said at the U.N. General Assembly last week, “worked with many nations in this assembly to prevent a third world war—by forging alliances with old adversaries.” Presumably, the president was not referring to his deeply flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the recent agreement that the White House has marketed as the only alternative to war with a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran.
The Palestinian press has been saying for weeks that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas would “drop a bombshell” when he spoke to the United National General Assembly today. In the event, the bomb did not go off.