The death of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qasem Soleimani has caused aftershocks in the Middle East and farther afield. His assassination was surprising, with U.S. forces taking advantage of Soleimani’s presence in Baghdad to target his convoy with a fatal drone strike. Hezbollah
Since his death, despite aggressive rhetoric from Tehran and its allies, the military response has been limited; Iranian missile strikes against two Iraqi bases that host U.S. forces that caused no deaths have been the extent of the Iranian response (Middle East Online, January 7).
Long-term repercussions have taken precedence over the short-term implications, as both the United States and Iran have moved away from direct military confrontation. One of the most pertinent questions is what impact Soleimani’s death will have on Tehran’s most important proxy ally—the Lebanese political and militant force, Hezbollah.
Hezbollah and Tehran – Proxy and Commander
The relationship between Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and Soleimani was well documented. In a rare television interview in October 2019, Soleimani recounted how he and Nasrallah were almost killed in an Israeli drone strike during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, while officials have spoken of their “unique and close” friendship (Middle East Eye, January 17). Soleimani also had a close relationship with Imad Mughniyeh, a Hezbollah leader killed in Syria in 2008, and Mohammed Hejazi, who led IRGC forces in Lebanon. The three were at the heart of modernizing Hezbollah weaponry, with Tehran providing high-precision missiles under Soleimani’s direction (Jerusalem Post, January 22).
Soleimani described how he oversaw military operations in Lebanon throughout the 2006 conflict and was in constant communication with Tehran and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Asharq Al-Awsat, October 3, 2019). Hezbollah has remained under the direction of Soleimani and IRGC forces, with Nasrallah taking direction from Tehran. Soleimani coordinated Hezbollah’s intervention in the Syrian war to ensure pro-Iranian President Bashir al-Assad reasserted power over large swathes of the country while also ensuring a permanent presence for both Hezbollah and Iranian forces in south-western Syria (Asharq as-Awsat, October 2, 2019). A second front against Israel is one of many converging military goals for Hezbollah and the IRGC.
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