Since he became Tehran’s anointed leader of Syria in early 2012 with final say over Syria’s military and security agencies, Al Quds Force leader Qassim Solemani has been “Weeding the Resistance.” Soleimani’s “Resistance Weeding” is also designed to help harvest his personal regional political ambitions and neutralize potential post-Assad competitors rumored to include Hassan Nasrallah among others.
A grinning Iranian journalist close to the Al Quds Force leader explained recently paraphased to this observer that Soleimani’s orders from Iran’s “Supreme Leader” focus on “eliminating undesirable up-shoots that threaten the Resistance’ desired Syria harvest” while meshing Hezbollah’s role with Iran’s 16 other Shia militia, Shabiha, PMU’s, NDF’s and allies based in Syria and this region.
Iran’s leadership has been trying without much success the two years to curb the intensifying insurrection within the Shia community across this region which is increasingly led by Lebanese and Iranian Shia families. Both communities are strongly opposed to their sons, husbands, and loved ones being sent by Iran’s current leadership to die in Syria for no justifiable reason except what they view as, and reject, Tehran’s colonization and hegemony for this region.
One recent example of popular Shia rejection of the “Syrian swamp.” Iran’s Nowruz (New Year’s) Festival of Fire, known as Chaharshanbe Suri, was held this year on 3/14/2018. According to eyewitnesses, the celebration quickly evolved from a festival into protest gatherings across Iran and documented also by videos shared by Iranian activists on social media. Many demonstrators called for citizens to take to the streets under the slogan ‘the dictator is in the fire.’ For example, videos and eyewitness accounts document protesters throwing fireworks at security motorcycles patrolling the Falah neighborhood in Tehran, while chanting ‘death to the dictator.”
In July 2015, Lebanese Shia NGO, Hayya Bina published the results of a survey of the Shia communities about Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and its impact on the Shia of Lebanon. 81.3 percent of Lebanon’s Shia warned that “things are moving in the wrong direction. More than half of the 1,000 respondents surveyed (53.2 percent) said they knew someone from their neighborhood, village or family who had been killed in Syria. Over the past nearly three years since this survey was taken, Shia opposition to involvement in Syria has continued to increase in Lebanon and Iran as well as across the region.
The growing numbers of Hezbollah and Shia ‘martyrs’ dying across Syria, has also grown resentment and anger within Hezbollah’s leadership. In July 2015, several Hezbollah MP’s reportedly threatened, during a closed meeting with Hassan Nasrallah, to resign if Hezbollah’s leadership did not stop sending its members to “the Syrian swamp.” MP, Nawwaf al-Mousawi, told a meeting of the Hezbollah Shura Council, according to Naame Shaam, “Every day we lose between 8 and 10 martyrs. Until when can we endure this situation?” In response, Hassan Nasrallah allegedly promised to scale down the group’s involvement in battles in Syria after they are “done with al-Zabadani.” He also promised to “ask Iran to send more fighters from elsewhere to support Hezbollah fighters in Syria.”
A couple of days later, Lebanese Shia mothers, whose sons and male family members who had died in Syria formed a delegation to visit Nasrallah to protest the deaths in Syria. The month before, in June 2015, a group of Shia clerics, activists and intellectuals publicly rejected Nasrallah’s strategy in Syria, saying their loyalties lie with Lebanon and the Lebanese Army rather than Hezbollah. One of the key speakers at the rally, Shia Sheikh Abbas al-Jawhari, said no Lebanese party should be fighting in Syria.
Recent media reports also affect the Shia community’s willingness to accept what is happening in their name in this region. The UN has documented this past week that thousands of Hezbollah fighters are participating in the Assad army’s onslaught on rebel forces in Syria and in the massacre of civilians in the Ghouta district in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Hezbollah has been forced to dispatch fighters to the Ghouta area following orders received from Major-General Soleimani. At the same time, Soleimani has eased the conditions of Iranian fighters in Syria by providing them with the status of “advisors” and “combat trainers” and sparing them from being sent to the front and likely death. Need to say, Shia families are deeply angry over this and similar decisions from Tehran at the expense of their loved ones.
“Resistance” leaders in Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere are pointing their accusatory fingers at one other demanding to leave Syria for others to fight over. Many accusing Hezbollah of the mounting Shia deaths. Some estimates now exceed 4000 dead and 13,000 wounded, but even more rising hostility is being directed at Iran whose hegemonic objectives are well known among its population as is its effects on the people of Iran and their country’s inflation and economy, infrastructure, family’s wellbeing, and Iran’s plunging global respect. Iran’s leadership is also concerned that the Iranian population’s protests increasingly exhibit a lack of fear of security forces.
Faced with growing resentment and criticism among the public and inside Hezbollah leadership and under intensifying pressure from Tehran and specifically from Al Quds leader Qassim Solemani, Hezbollah has become more aggressive towards its critics, accusing them of being “American embassy agents,” and “traitors.” In addition, to trying to justify its continued involvement in the ‘Syrian swamp’ and to be able to recruit more supporters and fighters, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime adopted a few years ago a new raison d’être with current indoctrination focused less ‘resistance to Israel’, than to fighting Sunni ‘takfiris’ and ‘terrorists’. But this excuse is also being rejected by an informed Shia community. Hezbollah and Iranians attending funerals are being urged to follow the traditional chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” with “Death to the takfiris”.
Whatever his rumored personal doubts about sending Hezbollah fighters to Syria and across the region, Nasrallah has consistently publicly supported Iran’s theocratic leadership. He has repeatedly said that Hezbollah is simply an extension of the Iranian project and that it stands ready to make sacrifices for the sake of Iran’s “Supreme Leader”, the Wilayat al-Fakih, Ali Khameini. Sometimes Nasrallah’s statements have caused a strong negative reaction among Lebanese Shia and others who do not share his view of Lebanon’s Islamist future and he has been forced to backtrack. On 3/14/2018, Hezbollah’s media office denied a statement published by the Iranian Farda News Agency attributed to Nasrallah that “the guardianship of Wilayat al-Fakih is above Lebanon’s Constitution and the implementation of its orders are compulsory.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Nasrallah, seeking in vain to tamp-down the growing opposition and criticism, has been promising Hezbollah families to minimize Hezbollah loses and even its fighters’ participation in Ghouta. Yet the public in this region, especially with family members in Syria who know well the details of last week’s UN study documenting that Syrian troops and government-linked militia, including Hezbollah, have systematically for the past six years used rape and sexual violence against civilians, atrocities that amount to crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, Qassim Solemani’s “Resistance Weeding” projects have intensified since 2012 and Iran’s organized “Crisis Cell” bombing. Over the past nearly six years, Gen. Solemani continues to traverse Syria and Iraq in addition to other regional locations orchestrating and overseeing military and political operations, including “Weeding’s” to keep the “Resistance” on track.
The “Crisis Cell” assassinations. Shortly after the popular demonstrations began in Daraa, South Syria demanding freedom, dignity and the end of government corruption the regime unsuccessfully sought ways to stem the uprising. It soon became clear that much of the Syrian army was too sympathetic to the revolt and many sided with their families and neighbor’s well-being and did not have the capacity to control scores of demonstrations as they rapidly spread. One regime measure was to establish a “Crisis Cell” chaired by Bashar Assad that was comprised of security and military officials and charged with ending the demonstrations by any means necessary.
On 18 July 2012, a few months after Al Quds leader Qassim Solemani was given the Syria file by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, a bomb was detonated during the Crisis Cell meeting at the National Security HQ in Damascus, killing several top regime military and security officials including the Defence Minister, Dawoud Rajha, his deputy and Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Deputy Vice-President, Hassan Turkmani. Other members of Bashar Assad’s inner circle were severely wounded.
The Assad regime claimed that “terrorists” targeted the officials who were attending its daily meeting but no evidence of outside involvement has materialized to answer the crucial question, why were top officials and commanders, known to be suspicious of Iran’s role in Syria assassinated and others not in attendance included Assad loyalists, such as the head of the Air Force Intelligence, Jamil Hasan, the head of the Military Intelligence, Abdul-Fattah Qudsiyyeh, the head of the Political Security Directorate, Deeb Zeitoun and the head of the General Intelligence, Ali Mamlouk. Subsequently, regime defectors have revealed that Bashar and Maher al-Assad received intelligence from Soleimani that the assassinated officials were plotting an internal coup, that would have removed Bashar and Maher from power and replaced them with a transitional government led by Farouq al-Shara’, and Bashar Assads brother-in-law Assef Shawkat. It was this Iranian operation organized by Soleimani that also sent a message to the Syrian regime that henceforth Tehran would be making Syrian security and military decisions via Solemani.
The ‘Crisis Cell’ incident was not the first time that the Syrian and Iranian regimes, through Solemani, have been accused of orchestrating attacks against Syrian security officials and sites and blaming them on ‘terrorists’. One of more than a recorded 150 was the twin car bomb attacks in May 2012, which killed 55 people outside a military intelligence complex in the Qazzaz area of Damascus. A high-ranking regime defector claimed at the time that the regime was behind this and other apparent suicide bombs. Leaked security documents, obtained by Al-Arabiya and others in September 2012 supported this claim.
Another Soleimani arranged death was that of Hilal al-Assad, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad who was killed in March 2014. Hilal was the chief of the NDF in Latakiya. The Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army both claimed he was killed by rebels during battles in Kasab that were raging at the time. But Syrian opposition sources convinced Naame Shaam at the time that Hilal al-Assad was assassinated by Solemani’s Al Quds Force and Hezbollah because he had become a “loose cannon” and “was not obeying orders.” In May 2014, Al-Arabiyya TV reported that Gen. Qassem Soleimani had made a ‘secret trip’ to Syria to pay tribute to Hilal al-Assad’s family in person. A picture showing Soleimani sitting with Hilal al-Assad’s wife and son was circulated online without a date or source. If this turns out to be true, a Syrian proverb sums up the situation pretty well: ‘He killed the killed and walked in his funeral’
Gen. Solemani is reportedly currently very concerned about the relationship of Gen. Suhail al-Hassan, nicknamed the “Tiger,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hassan is said to be on Solemani’s “Weed list” because Iran wants Bashar Asaad as its window dressing “President” answering only to Solemani. But Russia wants General Hassan as Syria’s President. Putin has warned Solemani and Assad to guarantee Hassan’s security and he assigned a Russian security unit to stay by Hassan’s side. Russian media has reported that, unlike the protocol for correspondence between heads of state, Putin broke customs by sending a post-election note to Hassan accompanied by the words, “Wait for a pleasant surprise from me personally.”
The Iranian Al-Alam channel broadcast news of Hassan and Putin exchanging the messages of election congratulations, but then quickly deleted the news item on orders from Gen. Soleimani. EU sources claim that Putin initially bet on Assad but his weak military performance and total dependence on Iran has enraged the Russians, who seek a Syrian officer who does not work on Iran’s orders and is able to hold ground with Russian cover and without needing to resort to Iran’s many out of control Shia militias.
Among other “Resistance” leaders eliminated on orders of Gen. Solemani is Hezbollah’s military leader for Syria, Mustapha Baddredine. He was assassinated in May 2016, and Hezbollah announced that Syrian rebel shelling caused his death. But in fact, recent analyses have argued convincingly that Iran and Hezbollah wanted Badreddine, brother-in-law of former Hezbollah military commander, Imad Mughniyeh “Weeded” because of strong differences over the military campaign in Syria. Increasing numbers of Hezbollah and other Shia militia were agreeing with Badreddine that Lebanese dying for Iran betrayed their fellow countrymen. Nasrallah, said to be very close to Badreddine gave the green light for his killing and ten minutes before witnesses reported two gunshots were heard near where Badreddine was meeting with Solemani, the Al Quds leader was seen leaving the airport. The triggerman was said to be Badreddine’s bodyguard. Nasrallah and Solemani attended the funeral and praised Badreddine during a visit with his family.
Rumors, unproven, also connect Solemani to the killings of Jihad Mughineh, son of former Hezbollah military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, and to the death of Samir Kuntar for similar reasons. Literally, hundreds of other “Resistance” operatives have also been “weeded’ on orders of Gen. Solemani.
Against this grim backdrop, the concern is rising fast in Hezbollah areas of Lebanon for the feared fate of Hezbollah Sec-Gen. Hassan Nassrallah who is today in a tough spot. On the one hand, Nasrallah also has problems with all the Lebanese and other Shia and growing pressure from his political base to end the Syria fiasco. But Solemani is watching closely and has reportedly decided on Nasrallah’s replacement if he crosses the line or slips in his shower or somehow dies.
Gen. Solemani sees Hassan Nasrallah as a competitor and is said to be deeply ambitious for future leadership in Iran and the region and fears risking conservative Mullah support for the billions of dollars in business enterprises which he controls on behalf of the IRGC, “Supreme Leader” Ali Khameini, and others.
Hezbollah obviously in taking increased security measures to protect Hezbollah’s Sec-General Nasrallah but then so presumably did most of Gen. Solemani’s earlier “weeded” Resistance martyrs.