Qasem Soleimani’s assassination was a triple bomb that hit each the Mullah regime, the Assad regime and Hezbollah. As Soleimani was one of the Mullah’s regime heroes, they believed that death could not beat him, not to forget his unlimited power in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
His powers were extended to the limits that he brought President Bashar al-Assad for a meeting in Tehran without consulting Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, prompting Zarif to resign and retract his resignation.
Soleimani was the subject of an extensive report issued by the Middle East Research Institute, written by Danny Mackey, chief investigator of the institute, who says: “While Soleimani was seen as a fearful opponent of his enemies, a public image for him was designed – especially in Syria – as a humble and peaceful man, as one of the stories supporting this image says that left a handwritten thank-you letter and some money for the owner of house he seized in Albukamal”.
The report describes the reactions after Soleimani’s assassination, as Syrian diplomats and officials flocked to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, small and coordinated gatherings were organized in Latakia, Aleppo and Homs to condemn the attack that killed Soleimani, posthumously he was honored with the Hero’s Medal, the highest honor awarded to a non-Syrian citizen.
Because of Soleimani’s role in helping to crush the anti-Assad armed rebellion, his death sparked a wave of grief in Syria’s government-controlled areas. Despite the controversy on Iran’s presence in Syria and the ideological and political differences between the regions controlled by Assad loyalists on one hand and groups backed by Iran on the other, Assad’s loyalists worldwide expressed grief for his death, appreciating his military assistance in difficult times, but necessarily supporting Soleimani’s and Iran’s goals in Syria and the region.
Syria has shown solidarity by sending Ali Mamlouk, the head of the Syrian National Intelligence Bureau, to the Iranian capital Tehran to attend Soleimani’s funeral; and this was a clear indication that the assassinated Quds Force commander had been dealing directly with the Syrian intelligence and military apparatus.
A few days later, a high-level delegation headed by Prime Minister Imad Khamis visited Tehran, offering official condolences for Soleimani’s death; but the absence of a non-intelligence official at the funeral might reveals the hidden Syrian desire of keeping Soleimani away from Syrian politics.
Soleimani Saved Assad from the Fate of Qaddafi
It was believed that Soleimani’s first participation in military operations in Syria was in al-Qusayr near Homs, when a strategic battle took place back in 2015. However, new information emerged, indicating that Iran and Soleimani in particular played a much greater role in the conflict, which began much earlier than the al-Qusayr incident.
The Syrian Minister of Defense, Major General Ali Ayoub, has recently revealed that he met Soleimani for the first time in Homs in 2011, and that “the first battle that we planned and carried out was at Bab Amr in Homs,” Ayoub said.
This indicated that Iran’s military presence started from the first day of the Syrian conflict, and that it had an inextricably relation with the leaders of the military and intelligence apparatus in Syria in terms of strategy and planning for the regime’s survival.
Iran has recruited a number of local forces in both Syria and Iraq serving its interests, such as the Liwa Fatemiyoun division, which is believed to be a vanguard of Suleimani militias in Syria and the number of its soldiers had reached 20,000 fighters. Other sources report that the division has more than 10,000 soldiers in Syria alone.
During the war, Syrians with a Shiite background from Nubul, al-Zahraa in Aleppo, and Kafraya and Foah in Idlib, joined Soleimani’s groups for military, ideological and financial reasons. As the economic situation deteriorated in Syria, men at the age of military service couldn’t have stable employment opportunities, thus, they saw that joining the battling groups would be a practical solution, a situation that greatly benefited the Iranians.
According to Nicholas Heras, an analyst in the Syrian affairs at the British War Studies Institute, Qasim Soleimani was the man who saved Bashar al-Assad from a fate like Gaddafi’s. Soleimani was the engineer of the foreign internal defense strategy in 2012, stabilizing the internal security situation of the Syrian government, when Damascus should either loose or hand over the Syrian territories to the rebels.
Soleimani Has Gone, His Militias are Present
The Institute’s report confirms that the US decision to assassinate Soleimani was a severe blow to Iran and its regional network of proxies, allies, and armed groups. However, this does not necessarily mean a decline in Iran’s influence or military presence in Syria. On the contrary, Soleimani did not only prevent the fall of Damascus, but also formed an army of militias that could fight and excel for decades.
His role in the Syrian conflict has been controversial. For some, he was the mastermind behind the Syrian regime’s military successes, while others saw him as a dangerous war criminal.
Rawan Roujoli, an analyst specialized in the Syrian conflict says: “For Syrians opposing Assad he was a war criminal, and the first to be responsible for demographic changes in many places in Syria, including Damascus and Homs.”
Although Soleimani’s death will definitely have an impact on Iran’s activities in the region, its power and influence will not disappear overnight. It might have created some tactical disruptions and weakened the ability to control Soleimani’s militias, but in any case, the Iranian Shiite militias will always be a source of instability in the region.
Was Syria Involved in Soleimani’s Assassination?
Soleimani’s legacy in Syria seems to be well established in Syria. Nevertheless, another crisis has emerged in media reports, indicating the possibility of a Syrian involvement in his assassination.
Soleimani may have been an enemy of the US for decades, but his death will not mark the end of his goals and ambitions in Syria and the region. There are tens of thousands of fighters, and enormous numbers of trained leaders in Syria who could continue Soleimani’s tasks helping Iran to enhance its influence and hegemony in the Middle East.