DUBAI: The US air strike that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani, 62, and six others as they traveled from Baghdad’s international airport early on Friday morning put an end to the two-decade career of the Middle East’s most dangerous man.
For the US, Arab countries and Israel, Soleimani was a shadowy figure in command of Iran’s proxy forces, responsible for fighters in Syria backing President Bashar Assad and for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.
When it came to authority, he was Iran’s second man after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Being a staunchly loyal confidante to Khamenei, Soleimani developed great influence over foreign policy.
While many others in the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have experience in waging the asymmetrical, proxy attacks for which Iran has become known, Soleimani was easily the most prominent general.
As the architect of Iran’s outsized military influence beyond its borders, he prioritized offensive tactics and operations over defensive ones, and rejoiced in taking overconfident selfies with his troops and proxies in battlefields in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
The Iran nuclear deal of 2015, also known as JCPOA, provided financial, strategic and geopolitical opportunities for Soleimani. His greatest notoriety would arise from the Syrian civil war and the rapid expansion of Daesh in the Middle East. Iran, a major backer of Assad, sent Soleimani to Syria several times to lead attacks against fighters opposed to Assad and Daesh.
After 2011, Soleimani had declared that the unrest and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa “provide our (Iran’s) revolution with the greatest opportunities … Our boundaries have expanded, and we must witness victory in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. This is the fruit of the Islamic revolution.”
Taking advantage of regional unrest and instability, Soleimani and the IRGC’s elite Quds Force infiltrated top security, political, intelligence and military infrastructures in several countries and exercised control over which foreign leaders and politicians came to power.