How Soleimani talked Russia into Syria
Major-General Qassem Soleimani is widely seen as one of Iran’s most dangerous tacticians and astute military commanders who has acquired power by outmanoeuvring the Islamic Republic’s enemies. One of his major achievements − from Tehran’s point of view − was convincing Russia to join it in rescuing the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad from almost certain defeat.
That was in the summer of 2015, when Assad’s badly battered forces were facing defeat by rebel forces backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and others in a complex civil war that erupted in March 2011.
The first step in planning what proved to be a major intervention that saved Assad’s harsh regiment from falling came when Soleimani, commander of Iran’s al-Quds Force, and Shia Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon flew to Moscow in early July 2015.
Iranian-led forces were crucial to keeping Assad in power, but they badly needed air cover that the Syrian Air Force was unable to supply.
Soleimani, it was reported, pored over a large-scale map of Syria with Russia’s leaders for hours to show that, with air support, Assad, a former key regional ally during the Soviet era, could be maintained in power.
“Soleimani put the map of Syria on the table,” an inside source disclosed. “The Russians were very alarmed and felt matters were in steep decline and that there were real dangers to the regime” as it suffered defeat after defeat.
“Soleimani played a role in assuring them that we hadn’t lost all the cards.”
Diplomatic sources said the high-level contacts had actually begun weeks earlier, but it took Soleimani’s aggressive intervention to get things moving.
He returned to Moscow in August to warn that air strikes were imperative if Assad was to be rescued and the growth of the Islamic States (ISIS) blocked before it spread from Syria.
The Russians moved into Syria a month later.