The Iranian general who will remain in America's crosshairs

Sanctions against two Iranian nuclear scientists, who were reportedly Mossad targets, will be removed in eight years, but the US will continue to punish Quds Force leader Suleimani.

July 19, 2015 17:03
General Qassem Suleimani

commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, attending a religious ceremony in Tehran to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed.. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

The historic agreement reached between world powers and Iran aimed at limiting Tehran's nuclear program is a complicated and hard to understand labyrinth. It is 150-pages long, includes five appendices and contains some 30 thousand words. Two-thirds of it consists of names of companies, corporations, government offices and individuals included on the list of sanctions levied against Iran since 2006 by the UN Security Council, the US and the European Union.

Iran was already a nuclear threshold state three years ago, before the especially painful sanctions were placed on it. Because of the hard blow that the sanctions dealt to Iran's economy, its leaders understood that it was time to go to the negotiating table, which it had previously refused to approach.

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Alongside maintaining the appearance of national pride and its efforts to minimize international inspection of its nuclear facilities, Iran's main concern in negotiations with the West was to get the smothering sanctions removed. Iran achieved its goal. A senior Israeli official told journalists that during the 15-year life of the agreement Iran will enjoy - in addition to the unfreezing of some 100 billion dollars of assets in foreign banks - a direct flow of money from the renewal of oil exports and a renewal of trade with the world. This will be worth some 500 billion dollars to Iran.

The blacklist includes the names of some one thousand banks, insurance companies, ships, oil, gas and petrochemical corporations, airlines and aviation companies as well individuals, who are connected directly or indirectly to Iran's nuclear program, its missile program or its weapons trade. The assets - both liquid and real estate - of everyone on the blacklist were frozen, and all UN member states were forbidden from allowing them into their territory or engaging in commerce with them.

According to the agreement, the sanctions will be lifted, but in the next five years the conventional arms embargo on Iran will continue, and for eight years Iran will not be allowed to import or export missiles and their parts.

Three names on this list stick out in particular: First, is Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, a senior nuclear scientist, who served as the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran from 2011 to 2013. In November 2010, shortly before he took up his position, he was wounded in an assassination attempt while entering his vehicle. The failed attempt was attributed to the Mossad. Abbasi Davani's name was removed from the list of people involved in Iran's nuclear program, but he will continue to be subject to sanctions connected to involvement in the missile program.

The second is Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who was, according to foreign reports, responsible for Iran's military nuclear program, known as "weaponization." The group, made up of nuclear scientists and engineers, dealt with experiments using highly powerful explosives and computer simulations that checked how to assemble a nuclear weapon and how to miniaturize it and turn it into a warhead on a Shihab missile. If Iran were to assemble a nuclear weapon, Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi would be considered, "The father of the Shi'ite nuclear bomb." According to the same reports, he was the Mossad's number one target for assassination, but went into hiding, and the agents could not get close to him.

Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was put on the blacklist because of his involvement in work on Iran's nuclear and missile programs, and because of Iran's refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to question him. It can be assumed that his name will be taken off the blacklist of those involved in the nuclear program if Iran allows IAEA inspectors to question him. In any event, he will remain under sanctions for the next eight years due to his involvement with the Iranian missile program.

The third name, and perhaps the most interesting of them all, is General Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. He is considered one of the most influential people in the Islamic Republic and an extremely close confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The fact that there are two people with the last name "Suleimani" on the list shows how tangled up it is. One of them is Gassen and the second is Qassem. Gassen Suleimani will be taken off the list. As for General Qassem Suleimani, the situation is more complicated.

At the age of 22, with the eruption of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Qassem Suleimani joined the Revolutionary Guards, and took part in the bloody war with Iraq, which lasted eight years. In 2000 he was appointed commander of the Quds Force.

"Al-Quds" is the unit formed in 1980 with the goal of "fighting the Zionist occupation." However, over the years, its authority was widened and it became Iran's special forces branch tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution. The force is responsible for training, arming and providing aid to Shi'ite militias in Iraq and Yemen, for Iran's ties to Hezbollah, Hamas and more. Suleimani is responsible for managing the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and for helping the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

After many years in which he operated in the underground and secretly, General Suleimani has resurfaced. He has attended public functions in Iran, given interviews to the media and been filmed on the battlefield in Iraq. However, despite his high position and great influence, his prestige has taken a hit in the past four years and his image as a superman commander has been damaged.

It happened amid the "Arab Spring." When the demonstrations and rebellions began in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, Suleimani believed, and promised to Khamenei, that the table was set for increasing Iran's influence in the Middle East. But that did not happen as Iran had hoped. The Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in Egypt, while in Iraq and Syria, Suleimani, the Quds Force and the militias they ran, struggled to win the war against ISIS and other rebel groups. Assad's rule has weakened even more in recent months and his people have lost additional land.

General Suleimani was sanctioned from a number of directions: First, the US named the Al-Quds Force a terrorist group. He was also put on the blacklist for exporting weapons to Shi'ite militias. The United States in particular has a score to settle with Suleimani because Washington sees him as responsible for the deaths of many American soldiers, caused by his people or their proxy Shi'ite militias in Iraq such as "The Bader Force" and "The Mahdi's Army," which were responsible for IED attacks against American soldiers in the previous decade. The second reason is his involvement in an attempt (uncovered by the FBI in 2011) to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, who today serves as the Kingdom's foreign minister.

American officials confirmed that indeed his name will be removed from the sanctions list that appears in the nuclear agreement. But in actuality, only the European Union countries will unblacklist him. In the United States, he will remain on the terrorist black list. Because this is an extra-territorial list, the sanctions will apply to all those who hold commercial dealings with him, irregardless of where they reside.

At least this is some consolation.

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