Qasem Soleimani's life: Secrets of his role with Turkey, Russia, Syria

Iran’s former defense minister on how Soleimani confronted “Zionists,” ISIS and helped persuade Russia on the importance of Syria. “He was more than a commander: he was a diplomat and administrator."

Major General Qasem Soleimani (April 2016) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Major General Qasem Soleimani (April 2016)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hajj Qasem, as Qasem Soleimani is fondly remembered by his friends from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, came into his role at a unique time. In an interview with Iranian media, a former Iranian defense minister recalled the life of Soleimani.
It is 40 days since he was killed in a US airstrike, and Iranian pro-government media is full of stories about his life. They emphasize how he helped the Kurdish region in Iraq against ISIS in 2014 and how he conducted himself across the Middle East. Hossein Dehghan's memories shed light on Soleimani’s role in Syria and with the Russians.
“His entry into the [IRGC] Quds Force coincided with the onset of insecurity in the region, with the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan and then the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, “[and with] the evils of the Zionist regime in Lebanon and Palestine, and the takfiri [violent fundamentalist] terrorist movements like ISIS.”
The US was bringing instability to the Middle East by its “activities at the request of the Zionists, and with money from those like Saudi Arabia, to block the Islamic Republic [of Iran]’s influence in the region,” said Dehghan, also a former senior officer in the IRGC air force.
“Look at Iraq prior to Hajj Qasem,” he said. The Americans managed instability to justify their presence in Iraq and also to make a market for their arms sales, he added, and thirdly, they sought to provide security to their allies.
But the US and the Trump administration have made a “big gamble” now, Dehghan said. They have struck at the “tent of resistance” by killing Soleimani. “I think Trump made a strategic blunder with the assassination. No longer can the Americans claim to be responsible [world citizens],” he said.
Dehghan compared the US now to Israel. The Israelis have a “terrorist government,” and the US has now moved in that direction, he said.
Dehghan said he supports new Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani. The revenge for Soleimani’s killing will be a “lasting” policy, he said. The region will be “hardened” against the US. It will not just give the Americans a “slap in the face... The blood of Hajj Qasem will stiffen the axis of resistance and bring world support. In death he has made Iran’s cause more strong.”
This sentiment was echoed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech over the weekend in Lebanon. This is the talking point from Tehran put out to the IRGC, Houthis and allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
TELL US more about Qasem, the interviewer said to Dehghan.
“Well, for example, when the Russians came to Syria [in 2015] to fight ISIS, we had several meetings with Hajj Qasem on various issues of support and communication with the Russians,” he answered. “I was supposed to have a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow prior to the meeting with Qasem and the Russians, which actually led to the Russians entering Syria.”
Moscow told Iran it would take responsibility for command and control of the battlefield in Syria. But Soleimani’s fame was such that Iran asked him to lead in the field.
“We sat with Soleimani, [and] I took the summation of the meetings in the direction we intended,” Dehghan said. He seemed to infer that the Russians moved aside for the Iranians to take the lead in strategy and tactics in Syria, while Russia provided support from the air and other advice to the Syrian regime.
The Iranians say Soleimani was more than a Quds Force commander, he was also a diplomat.
Regarding how Soleimani confronted “Zionists” as well as ISIS and helped persuade Russia on the importance of Syria, Dehghan said that “he was more than a commander, he was a diplomat and administrator.”
“Mr. Putin accepted Hajj Qasem as not just the commander of the Quds Force but also for his political and administrative qualities,” Dehghan said. “Others, such as [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, did the same elsewhere.”
This points to a link between Soleimani and the Turkish government. It is known from Iranian media that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif discussed Soleimani’s death soon after it was announced on January 3. The IRGC and Muslim Brotherhood held a meeting in Turkey in 2014 to discuss regional strategy. Turkey’s ruling AKP Party is linked to the Brotherhood and hosts Hamas, and Iran supports Hamas. So Soleimani would have had much to discuss with Ankara.
“It was Hajj Qasem who dealt with regional issues and the Russians, who were dealing with the same regional issues,” Dehghan said. “It was Qasem’s art to persuade Mr. Putin of the future of the region and even to discuss Russia itself, [and] that ISIS was a danger to the whole world.”
Soleimani was an “artist” in negotiation, a kind of Iranian Clausewitz or Kissinger, according to this telling. Dehghan said Soleimani was able to convince Putin that the cost was justified in a place like Syria and that Soleimani would “make it happen” on the ground to achieve the goals put forth by someone like Putin. “He had a great, persuasive power.”
Dehghan, who served from 2013 to 2017, said he dreamed on the night of January 2 that he saw Qasem in a crowd waving and saying “goodbye guys.” He received the news of Soleimani’s killing on January 3.