Lieutenant General Qassem Suleimani, leader of the Quds Force – the most powerful militia in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and now the unit closest to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, recently issued bold statements befitting his increasingly influential stature. These statements impacted beyond Iran’s borders, towards Iraq and Syria. In an announcement detailing his upcoming role in the Iranian spheres of influence, Suleimani claimed that south Lebanon and Iraq both fall under Iranian control.
In fact, Lieutenant General Suleimani told us nothing new with regards to south Lebanon, and the March 14 Alliance has no right to object to such a statement, or claim that this is a violation of the Lebanese state’s sovereignty. Secretary-General of Hezbollah, the party that controls south Lebanon, had previously declared that “the leadership, the will and the decisions of war and peace all are in the hands of the Wilayat al-Faqih [Guardian of the Jurists]”. This statement is an utterly explicit, doubtless and affirmed declaration of loyalty [to Iran]. The Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese government, all being under the command of the party’s Secretary-General, and by extension the Wilayat al-Faqih, can be classed among the decision-makers in the Lebanese state in their capacity as cabinet members. They have extensive authority over the Lebanese people, although they came to power through coercion. Thus, Suleimani was only repeating what was already known to the Lebanese people, and any attempt to feign surprise or anger will not change the facts on the ground.
In Iraq, even Sunni politicians confessed meekly that the Quds Force is the absolute master of Iraqi affairs, even before the withdrawal of US troops, and even before the Quds Force’s presence and domination grew following this withdrawal. The Iraqi Sunni politicians also feel that Qassem Suleimani in particular still harbors the belief that the Iraq-Iran war that began in the 1980s has only just ended with Iran being victorious, and that he is among the prominent leaders of this victory. As for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he willingly submits to the Iranian domination that brought him to power, a domination which is in fact his only way to survive.
Suleimani’s mission in Lebanon and Iraq is a simple one; the Iranian interests there are guarded by Hezbollah and the State of Law Coalition, whilst in Syria the task is harder because the regime there is in need of emergency surgery to survive.
If Suleimani succeeded as planned in delaying the [Syrian] regime’s downfall, such a success, even if seemingly temporary and ultimately futile, would be an indicator of the rise of Suleimani at the expense of President Ahmadinejad. Suleimani could delay the fall of the the Syrian regime using all the customary Iranian practices; by creating peripheral problems to sidetrack the international community’s attention, and distract it from the main issue. These “peripheral problems” would be of great concern to the Europeans and America, such as the kidnapping of foreigners, sabotage operations against Western interests abroad, the assassination of political figures, or perhaps even going beyond this and seeking the assistance of Al Qaeda elements to conduct terrorist activities either inside Syria or in other Arab states.
The Iranian regime’s persistence in trying to rescue the Syrian regime, despite the difficulty of this task, reflects Khamenei’s desire to show that he is not the sort of leader who would give up on his allies easily. This persistence is also meant to exhibit the strength of the Iranian regime, showing it to be as strong as its determination to accomplish its nuclear project. The allies in question here are its closest associates in Lebanon and Iraq, more specifically Lebanon, which has been in a state of limbo ever since its independence. The Syrian regime’s allies in Lebanon are now feeling unprecedented concerns; General Aoun is more worried about the collapse of the Syrian regime than Bashar al-Assad himself, for al-Assad’s fall would be an utterly unexpected political and moral defeat. Meanwhile, Khamenei is deliberately moving Qassem Suleimani from the inner corridors of power towards the limelight, in a message intended for those within Iran, specifically Ahmadinejad. Khamenei is saying that the Iranian regime’s goals have begun to diverge, and that its stances have begun to differ widely, so decisions must take on a more practical dimension.