Table of Contents:
A Post-Soleimani Opportunity: Removing Iran from Syria: Udi Dekel, INSS Insight No. 1253, Jan. 24, 2020
Tehran’s Chinese Dream Can’t Replace its Nightmare: Amir Taheri, Asharq Al-Awsat, Jan. 31, 2020
Qassem Soleimani: Moscow’s Syria Decision – Myth and Reality: John W. Parker, Strategic Insights, Institute for National Strategic Studies, Feb. 4, 2020
Germany Can’t Stop Loving Iran: Matthias Küntzel, Tablet, Feb. 12, 2020
The targeted killing by the United States in early 2020 of Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, was a severe blow to Iran’s ability to score further achievements in its campaign to export the Islamic Revolution and expand its influence throughout the Middle East. Soleimani saw himself as the defender of the Revolution’s values and the rule of the ayatollahs, worked in their name while not hesitating to make independent decisions, and formed close personal ties with leaders, commanders, and other influential figures in the region. Soleimani was able to understand the weaknesses of the regional system, and developed his own creative approach to utilize Iran’s strengths and expand its regional influence, mainly by means of proxy forces. For two decades he was the strategic architect of Iran’s expansion in the Middle East, and his loss leaves Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who had groomed Soleimani, without a replacement of similar stature.
Soleimani identified and implemented Iran’s opportunity to deepen its hold on Syria. It was he who planned Iran’s military and civilian entrenchment there and served as the “contractor” to build a Shiite land bridge from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. He also conducted the campaign to save the Assad regime and defeat the rebels, with methods that included attacking civilian populations and driving them from their homes to other areas inside and outside Syria, on the basis of demographic and geopolitical considerations deemed essential for the survival and stability of the Assad regime and for establishment of Iranian influence in the country. Soleimani personally commanded the battle for Aleppo in December 2015, and in the summer before, travelled to Moscow in order to recruit Russia to intervene militarily in the war against the rebels. Later, Soleimani coordinated the Russian aerial support and the ground war under Iranian command. This was the turning point in the Syrian civil war, which in effect restored the reins of control of the Syrian “spine” to the Assad regime. He continued to plan how Iran could entwine itself further in Syria, and in this sense too, his death leaves a vacuum.
Under Soleimani’s leadership, Iranian entrenchment in Syria included penetration of the military and security systems; establishment and operation of local and national militias; establishment of deployment bases for the Shiite militias operating under Iranian command; construction of an Iranian “war machine” based on surface to surface missile systems and unmanned aircraft, intended for attacking Israel; establishment of an infrastructure to produce and assemble missiles and improve the precision of their warheads; construction of transport and infrastructure systems to store weapons and transfer them to Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon; and penetration of Syrian national systems – education, culture, religion, housing, media, and economic projects.
The Assad regime is entirely dependent on a host of external elements that help it retain its grip on the reins of power, mainly Russia and Iran. This need joins its dependence on internal elements – security apparatuses, militias (under Iranian influence), and criminal elements. The regime is obliged to navigate between pro-Iranian and pro-Russian approaches; the pro-Iranian arm was led by Soleimani, helped by his considerable personal influence on Assad himself and on the command backbone of the Syrian army. It is too early to predict the actions of his successor – the new commander of the Quds Force, General Esmail Ghaani – or the extent of his influence on Assad, and whether he will be able to maintain the achievements of his predecessor in Syria. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Could Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s dramatic demise provide the shock therapy to persuade those who wield real power in Tehran to admit the failure of a strategy that has led Iran into an impasse? This was the question discussed in a zoom conference with a number of academics from one of Iran’s leading universities.
The fact itself that the issue could be debated must be regarded as significant. It indicates the readiness of more and more Iranians to defy the rules of silence imposed by the regime and raise taboo issues more or less openly.
In the course of the discussion one participant drew a parallel between Soleimani’s death and that of Marshal Lin Biao, the Chinese Communist defense minister whose demise in an air crash in 1971 opened the way for a radical change of course by Maoist China.
Marshall Lin’s elimination enabled Chinese reformists, then led by Prime Minister Chou En-lai to isolate the so-called “Gang of Four” hardliners, led by Mao’s wife Jian Qing, and bring the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to a close as prelude to a historic change of course designed to transform the People’s Republic from a vehicle for a revolutionary cause into a normal nation-state. Within a few years, the People’s Republic under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership was building a capitalist economy with a totalitarian political frame, discarding dreams of “exporting revolution”.
Having lost its revolutionary legitimacy, the Chinese Communist regime started building a new source of legitimacy through economic success and the dramatic rise in living standards for hundreds of millions across the country. The Chinese found out that producing and exporting goods that people wanted across the globe was easier and more profitable than trying to export a revolution that no one, perhaps apart from a few students in London and Paris, thirsted for.
However, the parallel isn’t exact. Marshall Lin was accused of having secret ties with “Imperialism” and plotting a coup against Chairman Mao while Soleimani was regarded as “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s most faithful aide. Lin had a glittering biography, having led the People’s Liberation Army in numerous battles to victory with his conquest of Beijing as the final bouquet.
In contrast, even Soleimani’s most ardent admirers are unable to name a single battle which he fought, let alone won. Even now his adulators only claim political successes for him, including his supposed success in preventing the fall of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and seizing control of the Lebanese state apparatus through surrogates.
Nevertheless, Soleimani’s demise does provide an opportunity for a serious review of Khamenei’s policy of “exporting revolution” which has cost Iran astronomical sums and countless lives with not a single country adopting the Khomeinist ideology and system of government. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
On January 3, 2020, Iran’s Special Forces leader– IRGC Quds Force – Major General Qassem Soleimani, was killed by an American drone strike outside of the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. Commentators noted that Soleimani had been the subject of a United Nations (UN) travel ban and an asset freeze by the United Nations Security Council (UNSCR) since 2007. Soleimani had, however, traveled frequently to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the decade since these prohibitions. Notably, Soleimani also reportedly made a covert trip to Moscow in July of 2015 that was conspicuous for its flouting of UN travel restrictions and for the lore associated with it having facilitated what became a precipitous escalation in Russian intervention into the Syrian civil war.
In the wake of his targeted killing, some have portrayed Soleimani as having single-handedly persuaded Putin to launch Russia’s military intervention in Syria during his clandestine 2015 Moscow trip. One pundit, for example, wrote that, “It was Soleimani who personally persuaded Putin to intervene in Syria in 2015.” Another journalist recalled that, “The man who argued Assad’s case to Russian defense and security officials — and convinced them the war was still winnable — was Soleimani, who traveled to Moscow in July 2015, unfurled a map of Syria on the table and explained what could be done to prevent Assad’s regime from falling.”
But the legend being trumpeted – the narrative being portrayed – does not conform with the facts of the time or the true context for and timing of Russian decision-making about its fateful intervention into Syria. A month after Soleimani’s death and the widespread media description of his pivotal role in convincing Russia to take its Syrian military intervention plunge, it is important to review and correct the record. In the following paragraphs I will demonstrate that Russia’s path to Syria had less to do with Soleimani’s visit and more to do with Putin’s broader policy concerns. I will also explain that January 2020 use of earlier western press reporting about Soleimani’s travels to Moscow in July 2015 has misrepresented what those reports actually stated. Finally, I will establish that parallel Russian and Iranian interests in Syria were – in fact – never fully harmonious. Russia’s role in Syria today remains less about doing Iran’s bidding there and more about Russian pursuit of its particular world view in a critical theater of interaction with the US and the west.
First, western media commentators in early January 2020 have misused reporting about Soleimani in Russia from 2015 in an a-historical manner. The main news story from that time – a Reuters report today cited by these pundits on Soleimani’s exploits with Russian leaders — actually appeared in early October 2015, months after the July visit. Moreover, it was not a reporter-on-the scene record of events. Instead, it was a story filed from Beirut, Lebanon not Moscow, Russia. It also was a report that Reuters consistently and carefully described based upon sources it called “senior regional officials,” rather than Russian officials. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Last week, Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, mistakenly congratulated the Iranian regime on the 41st anniversary of the Khomenist revolution that established the Islamic Republic of Iran. On Feb. 7, the president announced that this year he would not send a congratulatory telegram to Iran’s rulers. But Steinmeier’s change of heart was too late—according to the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel, a congratulatory telegram had already been sent by the Federal President’s Office to the German Embassy in Tehran and then forwarded to the Iranian authorities due to a “breakdown” in the communication system.
The contradiction between the delivery of the official congratulations and the German president’s public attempt to disavow the substance of its message revealed the Janus-headed nature of Germany’s relationship to Iran. If there is any country that might be expected to distance itself from Iran, it is Germany because of its history and its special relationship with Israel. But the opposite is the case. Germany of all European countries is also the weakest link in the chain when it comes to renewed sanctions. Why?
Many believe that the special German-Iranian relationship has to do with German economic interests, but this is only a secondary aspect. In 2017, German exports to Iran comprised only about 0.2% of total German exports. In the same year, Iran was 33rd among recipients of European exports, behind countries like Kazakhstan and Serbia. Other causes are more important, but less discussed.
For example: the historical dimension. Germany and Iran have been allied since the beginning of the last century; a relationship that began because Iran (then called Persia) required foreign technical support for the development of infrastructure and industry. Persian leaders could have turned to other European countries for assistance but distrusted the imperial powers of Great Britain and France, and so looked to Germany. Germany needed Persia because it was the only country rich in raw materials but as of yet “unclaimed” in the 19th-century struggle for colonies among Europe’s “great powers.” Thus, in the mid-1920s, Germany provided Iran with both the backbone of its industrial infrastructure and the trained personnel needed to run it. Soon the “German work ethic” gained a literally legendary reputation, which was later exploited by Nazi propaganda. Between 1933 and 1941, the Nazi share of Iranian imports rose from 11% to 43%, while the German share of Iranian exports rose from 19% to 47%. Another aspect of the Nazi period, which continues to be important in Iran, was pointed out in 1996 by Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani: “Our relations have always been good. Both [peoples] are of the Aryan race.”
In 1952, West Germany again became Iran’s leading trading partner, a position it held almost continuously until the upheaval of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Even then, the country’s new leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stated in a 1979 interview that, “we feel no special enmity toward the German people or the Federal Republic. … We want friendly relations at all levels.” According to Peter Rudolf, a researcher from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Germany’s relationship with Iran is thus based on “historically shaped strategic preferences.” Still today, the website of the German ambassador in Tehran gushes over this connection: “German-Iranian relations have a long tradition and great potential. Let us work together to further deepen the good relationship.” It goes without saying that these good relations over the last century have always been with rulers who have oppressed the Iranian people. Still today, the German government shows little solidarity with ordinary Iranians, who are being gunned down, tortured, and thrown in prison by the regime. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
For Further Reference:
Study: Israeli Public Favors Military Action Against Iran, Even at Risk of War: Yoav Linor, Cleveland Jewish News, Jan. 20, 2020 — The Israeli public supports the continuation of military activity against Iranian entrenchment in Syria even if it means going to war, according to a new study by the Institute for National Security Studies.
Bennett: US Agreed to Counter Iran in Iraq While Israel Fights it in Syria: Nati Yefet And Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, Feb. 10, 2020 — Jerusalem and Washington have divided up the fight against Iran, with Israel taking responsibility for countering the Islamic Republic in Syria and the United States in Iraq, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Saturday.
Why the U.S. Is Vulnerable to an Iranian Cyberattack | WSJ: Feb. 12, 2020, YouTube — U.S. tensions with Iran have escalated after the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and experts are worried about retaliatory cyberattacks. Cybersecurity expert John Hultquist and WSJ’s Dustin Volz discuss what new tactics hackers have at their disposal and whether the U.S. is vulnerable.
In Standoff With Iran, U.S. Sailors Say the Threat Level Was Unlike Anything They had Seen in Years: Don Lamothe, Washington Post, Feb. 12, 2020 — The captain of this warship loaded with Tomahawk missiles delivered the news to his crew: Hours earlier, the United States had killed Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike.
Iran’s Embattled Leadership Calls for Support in Face of Electoral Test: Sune Engel Rasmussen, WSJ, Feb. 11, 2020 — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to rally support for the country’s leadership on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, urging Iranians to turn out in large numbers to vote in parliamentary elections next week and bolster the government as it confronts the U.S.