With US forces in the middle-east in chaos and disarray, with Saudi Arabia unsure if it wants to side with Israel or other Arab nations, and with its ally Russia increasingly more influential in the region, Iran is not only increasingly flexing its muscles, but is hardly ashamed to show it off.
Over the weekend, we reported that according to source information, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp, Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani sent a formal verbal message, via Russia, to the head of the US forces command in Syria, advising him to pull out all US forces to the last soldier “or the doors of hell will open up”.
“My message to the US military command: when the battle against ISIS will end, no American soldier will be tolerated in Syria. I advise you to leave by your own will or you will be forced to it,” said Soleimani to a Russian officer. Soleimani asked the Russian officer to make known the Iranian intentions towards the US: that they will be considered as forces of occupation if these decide to stay in northeast Syria where Kurds and Arab tribes cohabit together.
IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani
Soleimani’s message to the US clearly indicated the promise of ‘surprise measures’ against the US: “You shall face soldiers and forces you have not experienced before in Syria and you will leave the country sooner or later.” Furthermore, Russia conveyed to the US that Iran will stay in Syria as long as President Assad desires, and he insists on liberating the entire territory from all forces without exception (although Russia confirmed to the US its intention to refrain from offering any air support to Iran and its allies in the case of attacks on US forces).
The exchange took place days after CIA Director Mike Pompeo said last week that he had sent a letter to Soleimani expressing his concern about Iran’s intention to attack American interests and “will hold Soleimani and Iran accountable for any attack in Iraq.”
If the threat was meant to spook the veteran Iranian general, it failed to do that, and on Tuesday, Soleimani expanded his preemptive war message, saying his nation is ready to support Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip, days after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital unleashed anti-Israel and anti-US violence uniformly around the world. As a reminder, Palestinians claim Jerusalem’s eastern sector, where the mosque stands, as the capital of a future state, and they oppose the U.S. move. As we reproted last week, Hamas has repeatedly called for another Intifada against Israel in response, though so far protests have been limited.
According to Bloomberg, Soleimani made the offer in a phone call late Monday with leaders of groups in Gaza, according to the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ website, Sepah News, which didn’t give details of the assistance proffered. Other forces in the region are ready to defend the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Soleimani also told the Gaza faction leaders, without identifying them. The mosque is Islam’s third-holiest shrine and a frequent flashpoint for tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.
Soleimani spoke a day after the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, called on all “resistance” groups in the region to come up with a unified strategy to take back Jerusalem. Iran’s Quds force operates beyond the country’s borders and has fought Islamic State in Iraq and backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Iran also supports proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas that have warred with Israel.
Meanwhile, Robert Gates, the former U.S. defense secretary in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, sided with Iran, noting that Trump’s decision is “counter-productive to the administration’s own objectives,” Gates told Bloomberg News. “There was a sense this administration really thought it had a shot at making some real progress,” he said in an interview in Dubai. This announcement “makes it much tougher to try and get any kind of political progress” between Israel and the Palestinians. Gates concurred with European and Arab leaders who say it is liable to fuel more conflict in the Middle East. The international community doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.