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?