Qassem Soleimani was not Peppa Pig (& Peace now more likely than before he died)

January 08, 2020


[Note by Tom Gross]

(This is a follow-up to my previous dispatches on the death of Qassem Soleimani.)


Cartoon above: “For the Murderer Soleimani, the Bell Tolls.” This cartoon is by exiled Iranian artist Mana Neyestani. Soleimani many times tried to assassinate writers and cartoonists who criticized the Islamic regime.



The Iranian regime’s Mehr News reported today that over 80 American troops were killed as a result of Iran’s missile strikes on bases in western Iraq last night and that the troops “were immediately transferred out of the airbase by helicopters” so that there would be no evidence of Iran’s successes.

As is so often the case, the Iranian regime is not telling the truth.

No Americans or Iraqis were hurt in the assault, in contrast to the Iraqis killed regulalry on Soleimani’s orders in recent months and years.

Mehr is owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization, whose head is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.



Iranian state TV also now says 80 “American terrorists” were killed in Iran missile strikes:

Tom Gross adds: Of course Iran will still continue its hostile actions as long as the Islamic regime remains in power, but without Soleimani’s master strategy, these will likely decrease not increase.

Iran’s minimal response last night (Iran reportedly gave the US advance warning so as to ensure there were no casualties) shows that after four decades of attacking Americans with near impunity, with Trump in the White House they may now finally be frightened. This from an Iranian regime that had no qualms murdering 1500 of its own citizens a few weeks ago as they conducted pro-democracy demonstrations.


Later this morning, President Trump is due to make a statement on last night’s Iranian attack.


Above: A pro-Soleimani leaflet distributed in London by the Corbyn-supporting Communist Party of Great Britain.

Whereas western Marxists (including Corbyn himself) often admire Islamist terrorists, their communist brethren who have actually lived under them, have a very different take.

Here is a statement on Soleimani’s death by the Communist party of Iran, which correctly calls him “one of the most vicious terrorists”.



A friend in London writes:

“Watching Channel 4 News would make anyone think that Trump had just ordered the killing of Peppa Pig, not a bloodthirsty Islamofascist who facilitated the use of chemical weapons on Syrian children, and ordered the murder of Jews in Bulgaria, Thailand, Argentina and elsewhere. These journalists seem to be almost willing Iran’s revenge. Sickening.”



Bucking the trend of several left-wing journalists in the US and Europe, who in some cases have uncritically repeated Iranian regime propaganda, Germany’s bestselling paper Bild titles its editorial “Trump has freed the world from a monster.”

Julian Reichelt, the editor-in-chief of Bild, writes:

“The Iranian terror godfather Soleimani stood for a world that no peace-loving person can want… a world in which entire cities are wiped out – like Aleppo. In which bloodthirsty militia go from door to door and execute civilians... in which Israel is under threat of extinction every day.”

“Soleimani, the world’s most repellant and bloodthirsty terrorist, who brought suffering and harm to humanity, was an enemy of our civilization. He represented the unbearable thought that murderers will live more safely and be more untouchable the more people they kill.

“His violent and overdue end will not stop global terrorism, but the image of his burnt-out car still sends out a powerful message. US President Donald Trump has made it clear that the worst figures in the world, however big-mouthed and ruthless they may be, cannot hide from America’s strength.”



Iran expert Patrick Clawson (of the Washington Institute) writes:

Given the reports about huge crowds turning out in Iranian cities for funeral events honoring former Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani, one might get the impression that he was popular across the region. Nothing could be further from the truth. In most Middle Eastern countries, there has been exactly zero popular reaction to his death; the same is true in Muslim-majority countries elsewhere, apart from one small protest in Pakistan.”

[Tom Gross adds: there was some small pro- Soleimani vigil among a few Muslims in London.]

Most striking is how little reaction has been seen from Shia Muslims outside Iran. Consider Iraq. For months, residents of Baghdad have poured into the streets night after night to protest various problems with their government—but not now, not for Soleimani. Over the same span, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have held demonstrations several times after Friday prayers. Last Friday, however, press and social media reports indicate that only a handful of mosques saw popular protests against the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani just hours earlier, along with leading Iraqi politician Jamal Jaafar Muhammad Ali al-Ibrahimi (aka Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the militia Kataib Hezbollah).

Baghdad has at least seven million Shia residents, or as many as eight million by some accounts. Yet a very small proportion of them—reportedly 2 percent at most, and perhaps less than 1 percent—showed up at Soleimani’s January 4 funeral. Although that might seem large when translated into raw numbers or seen in video news blurbs of the event, it pales in comparison to the estimated one-third of all Iraqi Shia who participate in the annual Arbain pilgrimage, even in years when marchers are subject to repeated terrorist attacks. Such numbers say much about Soleimani and Iran’s current popularity in Iraq.

Consider also that the funeral procession in Baghdad passed right by the International Zone with no attempt to storm into it or attack the U.S. embassy. That says much about how virulent the reaction to Soleimani’s death might truly be. Many experts had worried that the event might be used for a mass attack on the embassy, leading to mass casualties if the U.S. Marines onsite responded. That did not happen, whether because the U.S. military moved in additional forces to defend the embassy, or because the funeral marchers were simply not incensed enough to go that far, or both.

This relatively muted reaction is particularly telling because it occurred in Baghdad, which has seen less overt anti-Iranian protest than southern Iraqi cities such as Najaf and Basra. There, Iranian consulates have been burned to the ground—not a symbolic scorching of a reception hall (as happened at the U.S. embassy last week, prior to Soleimani’s death), but total destruction by a spontaneous mob, reflecting uncontrollable popular anger. In contrast, the crowds that rioted near the U.S. embassy on December 31 were largely composed of militia members carrying out a highly disciplined and organized operation.

These same militias are widely believed to be responsible for killing hundreds of Iraqi protestors on Soleimani’s orders in recent months, greatly diminishing the popular support they gained during the war against the Islamic State. Such abuses continued this week; in Nasariyah, for example, militia members killed a protestor who declined to join the local mourning procession for Soleimani and Muhandis on January 5. In response, an enraged crowd burned down the headquarters of the militia in question. In other cases, southern protestors have shown their anger toward Iran and its proxies by attacking funeral processions for Soleimani.



Middle East expert and former US ambassador Alberto Fernandez notes that it is worth remembering that while Qassem Soleimani’s policies “led to the deaths of countless thousands of Arabs, he was also responsible for many Afghan deaths”.

Soleimani’s strategy was to create proxy militias in Syria not just using Lebanese, Iraqi and Syrian Shia but also Pakistani and Afghan youth, some as young as 12. As I have explained previously in these dispatches and in TV interviews, they were drafted from Afghanistan and from among the large and destitute Afghan migrant Shia population inside Iran and sent to fight and die in Syria.

More here from Female Afghan MP Belquis Roshan:



Middle East expert Hassan Hassan writes in The Observer (the Sunday edition of the left-wing British daily The Guardian):

The killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani could prove to be the most consequential US slaying of an enemy operative in recent memory. It will eclipse in its significance the killing of Osama bin Laden almost a decade ago or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October. Not because it might spark another Middle East war, as many have warned, or merely because Suleimani was irreplaceable. Rather, his killing came at a time when the project he had led – to create an Iranian hegemony in the region – is facing unprecedented challenges in Iraq and Lebanon, through cross-sectarian and grassroots protests, while in Syria the project is still in its infancy...

In the short term, doomsday scenarios seem far-fetched. Neither side is interested in an outright war… In the long term, Suleimani’s killing will likely mark the end of an era for Iran’s attempts to further expand its influence in the region.

Full article here:



There has been widespread criticism across the Arab world (including inside Gaza) of Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh after he flew to Tehran to attend the funeral of Soleimani.

As one Egyptian government official said, “Shame on Haniyeh! Soleimani is responsible for the murder of thousands of Sunni Muslims, including many Palestinians.”



Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and other senior Hamas officials met in Tehran on Monday with Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s replacement as commander of Iran's Quds Force, responsible for Tehran's military and terrorist campaigns abroad. Iran significantly supports Hamas with weapons and training.



Tom Gross adds: In my view, Hamas will see the death of Qassem Soleimani as having some advantages. They might now feel freer to pursue a more independent policy, more in line with Palestinian interests and less under the dictats of Iran.

They may be able to come to an accommodation (long term truce) with Israel and concentrate on economic improvements within Gaza and less on rocket firing / ‘the resistance’.



Malak Chabkoun writes for Al Jazeera:


It is inexcusable to ignore the crimes of Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and those whom they served. Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and other Arabs posted celebratory comments on the assassinations of two commanders they perceive as war criminals, while self-identified “anti-war” activists [in America] once again downplayed the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the region. For them, the only civilian deaths that can be acknowledged are those caused by the military intervention of the U.S. or Israel.

It is hardly surprising that Syrians who have gone through the trauma of losing friends and family in the siege of Aleppo and the insult of seeing images of Soleimani marching through their city (which they may never be able to return to) are celebrating his demise.

It is also hardly surprising that Iraqi protesters, who have had to drag the bodies of friends shot during attacks by Iranian-backed militias on their demonstrations, would now be cheering the demise of al-Muhandis who had been directing the crackdown.



While Russian officials have officially criticized the US airstrike, many believe that President Vladimir Putin is happy with the weakening of Iran following Qassem Soleimani’s death.

Russian journalist Arkady Dubnov wrote that Putin privately welcomed the killing of Soleimani with a mixture of “satisfaction, envy, and admiration” -- satisfaction because his removal will greatly weaken Iran’s position in the region and thus elevate Russia’s; envy because the US demonstrated it is still the most important power in the world; and admiration because the operation was “efficient, targeted, and lightning fast.”

Russia and Iran have increasingly been competing against one another in Syria. For example, Moscow has monopolized Syria’s phosphate industry and pushed Iran out of that market.

But as leading Washington-based Russia analyst Anna Borshchevskaya points out:

“Whatever the complexities of their bilateral relationship, Russia and Iran’s common geostrategic goal of reducing American influence has kept them together and will likely continue to do so in the future, despite their tactical differences and periodic friction.

“Soleimani’s killing will present challenges to Putin given his reliance on Iran’s help in propping up Bashar al-Assad. If Iran is weakened, Moscow risks getting bogged down in Syria in the type of costly quagmire it has worked hard to avoid. All in all, Soleimani’s killing leaves Putin with more problems than opportunities.”



Answer: No.

I attach this article in The Times of London yesterday by the former British foreign secretary (foreign minister) as an example of the often muddled thinking on Iran by many west European diplomats and policy makers.

Was America to blame for Soleimani’s worldview?
By Jack Straw
The Times (of London)
January 7, 2020

General Qassem Soleimani’s worldview was forged as “a direct result of US involvement in the Iran-Iraq War”. That’s the judgement of US General Stan McCrystal, a former commander of US forces in Iraq.

The significance of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War on the psyche not just of Soleimani but on the whole of the Iranian regime cannot be overstated. Most of the senior figures in Tehran, from Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rouhani downwards, had searing experiences in that war.

The conflict began as an unprovoked adventure by Saddam Hussein. The Iranians found themselves completely isolated. The Soviet Union and France piled in to support Saddam, quickly followed by the US, the UK, and virtually every other world power.

There was just one, extraordinary, exception – Israel. It became the only reliable western supplier of arms to Iran – an estimated $2 billion worth. China, North Korea and Libya also sold arms to Iran but their kit was principally Soviet-made. Since most of Iran’s arms were of US (and UK) origin Iran’s greatest need was for US-compatible spare parts and for an endless supply of missiles.

Israel took this position because it judged it had much more to fear from Saddam than it did from the nascent Islamic Republic of Iran. But part of its deal with Supreme Leader Khomeini was that any Iranian Jew who wished to emigrate to Israel could do so without hindrance. Around 50,000 of the estimated 75,000 Jews in Iran left in this way. One consequence of this influx has been to give the Israelis an unrivalled capacity for intelligence on Iran.

Soleimani was the second-best protected person in Iran after the Supreme Leader (who has not set foot outside Iran since he assumed that role in 1989). The Iranians did not advertise Soleimani’s movements since they knew he was a potential target. It is almost certain that the intelligence on him came from the Israelis.

But “intelligence” has two meanings. One is secret information; the other is the wise application of knowledge and skills. The Israelis have both in their dealings with Iran. Soleimani had been in their sights for many years. They, and presidents Bush and Obama, refused to kill him, not out of misplaced sentimentality but because they judged that the costs of doing so far outweighed any benefits.

They were right. Aside from any deaths of American, Israeli, or other westerners in reprisal for Soleimani’s killing, there will be wider consequences adverse to the United States’ and Israel’s interests, and beneficial to Iran, in two linked ways.

Trump’s actions over the past two years, from pulling out of the nuclear deal to today, have played into the hands of the hardliners in Iran, weakening the power of reformists. The regime is using Soleimani’s death further to strengthen its hold on an otherwise alienated population. Beyond Iran’s borders, it is highly probable that US and other western forces may have to leave Iraq. Hezbollah in Lebanon, itself facing a loss of popular legitimacy, is also using this opportunity to shore up its support. The net result will be an increase in Iranian (and Russian) influence in this benighted part of the Middle East, and a loss of traction for the US and the West. Whether it all helps President Trump’s re-election remains to be seen. But if so, what a price to pay.



Appeasement or war? Trump proves the Iran ‘experts’ wrong again
By Jonathan Tobin
The New York Post
January 7, 2020

In 2015, as the debate over President Barack Obama’s proposed­nuclear accord with the Iranian regime roiled the nation, mainstream reporters insisted there were only two choices: the deal or war.

It was understandable. Left-of-center media (that is, most outlets) so adored Obama that one of his aides called them his “echo chamber.” Following the White House line was the dutiful, echo-chamber thing to do –even if it meant ignoring rational alternatives to Obama’s appeasement of Tehran that didn’t entail waging war.

Today, liberals are regurgitating the same claims about the consequences of President Trump’s decision to take out Iranian arch-terrorist Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s threats of retaliation and the statement that it is abandoning restrictions on its nuclear program are evidence, they say, that Team Trump is sleepwalking to war. The only option, in this line of thinking, is returning to the deal.

According to Obama administration alumni and other voices on the left, the deal was keeping Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check, and it was only Trump’s decision to pull out and reimpose economic sanctions that caused the current trouble.

But these are barefaced lies. Obama’s deal didn’t solve the nuclear problem. And Soleimani and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps began to make trouble for America long before Trump’s pullout from the deal.

Obama’s deal, for starters, made it certain that Iran would eventually gain a weapon. It included generous sunset clauses, permitted the regime to inspect its own military facilities and never required Tehran to come clean on its past weaponization activities. As bad, the deal ignored Iran’s use of state-sponsored terrorism, run by Soleimani’s outfit, even as it enriched the regime’s coffers.

Sooner or later, the West was going to have to junk the deal and start pressing Iran to abandon both Soleimani’s terror operation and its nuclear quest. Trump chose not to wait. His withdrawal from the deal and reimposition of sanctions hit Iran and Soleimani’s terrorists hard. The despotic regime is tottering, and Iran’s­people again took to the streets to protest, only to be gunned down by IRGC gunmen led by, yes, Soleimani.

Rather than seize Obama’s invitation to “get right with the world,” the ayatollahs and Soleimani stepped up their terrorism. They shot down a US drone. They attacked our embassy in Iraq. They tested long-range missiles.

Trump chose to deal with reality as it is. Rather than starting a war, he merely recognized that the ayatollahs have already been waging one against Washington for years. The regime counted on Trump to follow the conventional lie that the only choices are abject appeasement or apocalyptic war.

Trump is no foreign-policy guru, but his instinctive distrust of these so-called experts has served him well. The experts vastly overestimate the regime’s strength in suggesting that the Iranians would try to break out to a nuclear weapon — or that they could inflict more pain on the United States than Washington is prepared to dish out. Just as was the case when Obama folded in the nuclear talks, the West’s hand is far stronger than the pundits who are abusing Trump imagine.

The Soleimani operation makes it clear to Iran’s leaders that the costs of their crimes are now going to be borne by them and not only by their foes or the population that groans under their despotic rule.

Trump understands that playing by the old rules previous administrations respected served the interests of a rogue regime.

That is what endangered American lives and made Iran stronger. Despite the bluster from Tehran, it’s likely that the ayatollahs know that they can’t afford a widening conflict in which they will have far more to lose than does the global superpower.

Trump’s political foes need to stop pretending that the president is the one who created this crisis — or that the only choices were appeasement or all-out war. It was high time that someone had the nerve to break the wheel that perpetuated Iran’s power and violence. Whatever happens next, Trump’s resolve to defend American interests is the first step toward undoing the damage that Obama and his media cheerleaders did to American power and prestige.



Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes (Monday, January 6, 2020)

(Extracts only)

… But with Friday’s US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani — the leader of Iran’s murderous Quds Force, a monster with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands — came something new: vehement partisan denunciation of a president for a successful military action.

In the past, the killing of major terror chieftains has called forth bipartisan applause.

When SEAL Team Six, carrying out President Obama’s orders, killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, Americans across the spectrum rejoiced, conservatives and Obama critics (such as yours truly) very much included. A few years earlier, when the US Air Force targeted and killed the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a New York Times editorial cheered: “It is good news for Washington, and even better news for Iraq, that the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was finally killed on Wednesday by an American air strike.”

The operation last October that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terror organization, was welcomed by both Republicans and Democrats; pretty much the only thing about that operation that evoked criticism was President Trump’s bombastic mockery as he announced Baghdadi’s death (“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.”)

But the death of Soleimani — a more deadly enemy than Bin Laden, Zarqawi, or Baghdadi — set off a paroxysm of recrimination and outrage from many on the left. Some claimed that Trump exceeded his authority in ordering a drone strike without first clearing it through Congress. Others accused him of violating the US policy against assassinations.

“But that long-time ban has never applied to terrorists, which Soleimani clearly was,” the Wall Street Journal noted on Saturday.

He ran Iran’s Quds Force, which the Bush Administration designated as a terror group in 2007. He was also a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Trump designated as a terror group last year. If Trump’s drone strike was illegal, then so were Barack Obama’s raid on Osama bin Laden and his hundreds of drone strikes over eight years as president.

Actually, it was thousands of drone strikes over Obama’s eight years as president. In April 2015, the Washington Times reported that “US forces have now surpassed 2,800 strikes against targets in Iraq and Syria under President Obama’s war against the Islamic State, all as part of a conflict Congress has yet to specifically authorize.” Feeling pressure from Congress, the New York Times story added, the Obama White House had “finally submitted a draft authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State,” but it languished on Capitol Hill, neither approved nor rejected by Congress. Meanwhile, the Times reported,

“The US military has been conducting strikes in Iraq for 10 months, and began striking directly at targets in Syria last September as part of Obama’s announced campaign to degrade the capabilities of the Islamic State.

“This past weekend’s attacks brought the total to 1,458 strikes in Iraq and 1,343 in Syria by US forces. Coalition forces allied with the US have conducted another 655 attacks on Iraqi targets and 95 in Syria.

Obama has justified the attacks under his commander-in-chief powers and under the 2001 resolution authorizing force against al Qaeda, and the 2002 resolution authorizing the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.”



I would like to note with sadness the death yesterday of Dr. Emily Landau, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Iranian nuclear program. She died aged 59, after a long illness, though she was able to continue working until the end, and indeed was answering journalists’ questions on Soleimani’s death the day before she died. (She was also a subscriber to this email list.)

She was a scholar in residence at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies, a center-left think tank in Tel Aviv.

Like most Iran experts, she thought Barack Obama and John Kerry’s JCPOA nuclear deal was a very bad idea which all but guaranteed the Islamic republic would get a nuclear bomb in a few years from now, a deal she predicted (correctly) would also embolden Qassem Soleimani to carry out his murderous rampage across the Middle East.



The Soleimani-Heydrich comparison made in my dispatch last Friday a few hours after Soleimani died, has now been taken up by many subscribers to this list, including by Professor Niall Fergusson in the (London) Sunday Times and Boston Globe on Sunday, by Israeli Middle East expert Ehud Yaari on Israeli TV on Saturday evening, and in the Washington Post on Monday by Iranian feminist dissident Masih Alinejad.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.