What does Iran’s Soleimani think of Hezbollah’s Nasrallah?

In Soleimani’s narrative, Nasrallah is an insecure little man whose reckless decision to kidnap Israeli soldiers ignited a catastrophic war.

By Ali Alfoneh
Source: The Arab News
Striking revelations. Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani speaks during an interview in Tehran, October 1. (AFP)

Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani may forgive but never forgets disobedience among his subordinates, even one as prominent as Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.

By forgiving the transgression, al-Quds Force’s chief pragmatically uses pawns available to him on the chessboard but by reminding the likes of Nasrallah of the catastrophic consequences of their rogue action, he keeps them in line and maintains discipline.

Soleimani’s reminder to Nasrallah is on full display in his 90-minute interview posted October 1 on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s website and follows a 5-hour, 30-minute-long interview by Nasrallah regarding the 2006 Lebanon war, released September 27.

In contrast to Nasrallah, who praised the divine genius of Khamenei as the main factor behind Hezbollah’s “victory” in the war, Soleimani does not flatter the turbaned and robed clerics.

In Soleimani’s narrative, Nasrallah is an insecure little man whose reckless decision to kidnap Israeli soldiers ignited a catastrophic war. Under Israeli bombardment of Beirut, Nasrallah’s survival depended on the efforts of Hezbollah strongman Imad Mughniyeh and Soleimani.

Discussing who was to blame for the war, Soleimani indirectly admits Hezbollah’s July 12, 2006, cross-border raid and abduction of two Israeli soldiers provoked all-out war. Soleimani recalled that he rushed to Lebanon to see the scene for himself and returned to Iran within a week to report to Khamenei. “My report was a bitter report. What I had witnessed did not show any prospect for victory,” the Iranian general said.

Soleimani also reported: “This was a highly technological war, a war of precision” in which Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles targeted Hezbollah safe houses in villages without harming a non-Hezbollah family next door.

What Soleimani does not say directly is how frustrated he — and probably Khamenei — must have been by Nasrallah’s recklessness. Khamenei found a face-saving formula that politically protected Nasrallah against criticism in Iran and, more important, within Hezbollah, which was paying the price for abducting Israeli soldiers.

Khamenei allegedly told Soleimani: “I believe Israel had prepared this plan [of invasion] previously and wanted to execute it in a surprise attack annihilating Hezbollah. However, Hezbollah’s kidnapping of the two soldiers neutralised the element of surprise.”

In the interview, Soleimani, cautiously but sarcastically said: “I was not aware of this intelligence, neither were the Sayyed [Nasrallah] nor Imad [Mughniyeh]. None of us was aware of it and they are at the border themselves seeing everything!”

Of course, they were not aware of such an Israeli surprise attack because there was no such plan but as Soleimani explained: “For me, [Khamenei’s claim] was a message of hope because it helped the Sayyed [Nasrallah]. It put him at ease.”

Why? Soleimani further explained: “Someone may criticise him [Nasrallah], asking why did Hezbollah expose the entire Shia community to danger by taking a couple of prisoners?” Khamenei’s spin about an imaginary Israeli surprise attack, on the other hand, provided Nasrallah with a narrative in which “Hezbollah escaped from total annihilation” by pre-empting Israel.

Soleimani’s description of Nasrallah’s timidity is just as remarkable: “As the war became more extreme, the number of the martyrs increased and scope of destruction got vaster, the Sayyed [Nasrallah] would use words and expressions that saddened me. I have no desire to utter those words.”

Nasrallah appears physically helpless in Soleimani’s account, in which he explained how he and Mughniyeh dragged Nasrallah from one ruined building in Dahieh to another, under constant threat of drone attacks.

Soleimani’s account is not without heroes. Predictably, Mughniyeh, his slain comrade, is one. Another is a child soldier killed in the war with Iraq, whose purity of mind and nobility of spirit qualified him as a Sufi and a mystic of the highest order. Without doubt, Soleimani considers them closer to God than the turbaned and robed clerics, whose recklessness brings calamities upon the community of believers.

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