A generation of fighters who died by the sword

In some ways it is a tragedy that these men turned their fire and anger against Israel and the US.

Clockwise from top left: Qasem Soleimnani ,Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Imad Mughniyeh (photo credit: CANVA.COM)
Clockwise from top left: Qasem Soleimnani ,Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Imad Mughniyeh
(photo credit: CANVA.COM)
There was a time when Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, his No. 2, Imad Mughniyeh, and IRGC Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani would sit together and feel safe. They were leading the “resistance” against Israel, and the Jewish state would soon be defeated, or so they believed. These men had come through the fire of the 1980s, the civil war in Lebanon or the Iran-Iraq War, and they knew the privations of the past.
In some ways, it is a tragedy that they turned their fire and anger against Israel. These men, like nuclear scientist and general Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed over the weekend, possessed qualities that surpassed others of their generation. They had legitimate grievances as well, coming from a time when Shi’ites were a suppressed minority and suffering the slaughter that Saddam Hussein’s regime and others had imposed.
However, they channeled their energy from those grievances to set their sights on the US, Israel and their partners in the region.
Arrogance led them to confront Israel and the US. This was born of the years in which terrorists could do as they pleased, bombing Jewish centers like the AMIA in Argentina, killing Jews at synagogues in Europe and being freed quickly by local authorities with a wink and a nod. After all, the Israeli Olympic team had been seen as a legitimate target by Palestinians, and most European countries and coffee-sipping Western diplomats had barely shed a tear.
Surely Hezbollah could stockpile rockets and threaten and kill as it pleased. Hezbollah’s narrative was that it was resisting Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Then when Israel left, the organization didn’t put down its arms with any kind of Good Friday Agreement; it planned more killings instead.
That was their mistake. In 2000 when the Second Intifada broke out, these men could have channeled their resources elsewhere.
THEY BELONGED to the same generation. Mughniyeh was born in 1962 and died in 2008. A car bomb killed him in Damascus. The CIA and the Mossad were behind it, The Washington Post reported. Hezbollah vowed revenge.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was born in 1954 in Basra, Iraq. An activist in the Dawa Party, he fled to Iran to fight alongside the IRGC against Saddam Hussein. He planned bombings of US and French embassies in Kuwait and eventually came to lead Kataib Hezbollah, the Iraqi version of Hezbollah.
A deputy of the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq, he was a key part of Iran’s operations in the country. He also played a role in defeating ISIS and supporting the Syrian regime, which in turn worked with Hezbollah. He was killed in January by a US airstrike after he went to Baghdad International Airport to greet Soleimani.
Soleimani was born in 1957 in Kerman, Iran. He was a fighter in the 1980s in the Iran-Iraq War and gained experience on the front line and in suppressing Kurdish dissidents. He also was put in contact with foreign fighters, such as the Badr Brigade of Iraqis serving with the IRGC. This led him to command the Quds Force of the IRGC in the late 1990s, putting him in charge of foreign operations.
He became a key figure in support of Hezbollah and worked closely with Nasrallah, Mughniyeh, Muhandis and Fakhrizadeh. They were a kind of brotherhood and leaders of their generation in Iran, men whose worldview was formed in the 1970s and who came of age during the Revolution in Iran. Now in their 60s, these men were at the pinnacle of achievement, before retirement. They didn’t live to enjoy it, however: Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike with Muhandis in January.
Fakhrizadeh was born in Qom in 1958. Like Soleimani, he joined the IRGC after the revolution and grew up in its ranks. Photos now published online show him in the fatigues of the time, clearly an operator and later an officer, despite his ostensibly having a more technocratic role as head of the military industrial complex that was building Iran’s nuclear weapons.
He was on America’s radar by the early 2000s and spotlighted by sanctions, by the UN in 2011 and by Israel in 2018. He died in his car driving east of Tehran on November 27, 2020.
IT’S IMPORTANT to understand the generational aspect of these four men who were killed in assassinations. Two of them were killed by a US drone strike, and Iran and its allies have sought to blame Israel for the other two, although commentators have also suggested a US role.
What’s clear is that this is a generation of men who came to the pinnacle of achievement in their various roles: one in Lebanon, one in Iraq and two in Iran. This was the arc of Iranian influence, what some call the “Shia crescent” – a corridor of influence from Tehran to Beirut.
They are unique and different from the Iranian-backed Houthis, because they knew each other and came of age during the same struggles. For Hezbollah, the struggle was against Israel in the 1980s and to assert a muscular Shi’ite role in politics alongside Amal and other groups.
For the Iraqi Shi’ites, it was a struggle against Saddam, and later they had the good luck of having a US invasion topple Saddam and having Baghdad handed to them. All they had to do was go and vote, and demographics brought them to power.
The question was then whether to turn Iraq into a colony of Iran or make it a nonsectarian state. Muhandis chose to make Iraq a launchpad for Iranian ambitions in the region. Similarly, Hezbollah hijacked Lebanon, making it a tool for military power in the region.
And what of Fakhrizadeh? His goal was to give Iran a nuclear option by becoming a military nuclear power. This goal was slow, and it was slowed by various assassinations of other scientists and the Stuxnet computer virus.
Eventually, like his colleagues, he met his fate with an explosion and died by the sword – the same sword that he and Mughniyeh, Soleimani and Muhandis had sought to unsheathe and wield against their enemies in Washington, Jerusalem and the Gulf.