Iran Rattled by Top Ally Nasrallah’s Breach with Top General Soleimani
The sudden breach between Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and his boss, commander of Iran’s military operations in the Middle East, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, revealed here by DEBKA Weekly, has taken inner Shiite circles by storm. Never in the past eleven years, since the 2006 war with Israel, has the head of Iran’s most important and loyal surrogate defied Tehran. The mutiny has caused disarray in pro-Iranian Shiite militia ranks in Syria, where some chiefs have opted to sever ties with the Al Qods general and communicate with Tehran via Nasrallah.
This breach in the ranks of Iran’s following is impacting its standing in the Syrian arena. It was also factored in to the discussions US National Adviser John Bolton conducted in Israel this week for finalizing a joint US-Israeli operation to drive the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) foreign arm, the Al Qods Brigades, and the Shiite militias out of Syria. (Read a separate item on this operation). The subject was almost certainly raised too in Bolton’s highly sensitive talks with Russia’s National Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Aug. 23.
Nasrallah has been on the warpath against the Iranian general for the past two weeks, taking steps tracked here by DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources.
- Without a word to the Iranian general, he pulled back home to Lebanon roughly half of the Hizballah expeditionary force which had been fighting for Bashar Assad in Syria. Snatched abruptly from the fighting strength under Soleimani’s command were 4,000-5,000 Hizballah troops, the only professional soldiers at his disposal in Syria. The roughly 40,000 Afghan, Pakistani and Iraqi militia fighters never came near to measuring up to Hizballah’s prowess.
- Nasrallah reportedly keeps on ignoring Soleimani’s orders to send back to Syria at least half of the Hizballah force he sent home.
- The Iranian general tried pulling strings in Tehran with IRGC and regime high-ups for them to persuade Nasrallah to relent. They told him that, after taking a leading role in the most critical battles for saving Assad and his regime, Hizballah can’t possibly quit at the brink of the final and most crucial campaign now approaching to liberate the large northern province of Idlib, the rebels’ last bastion. Even that argument failed to bring Nasrallah around.
- In closed-door meetings with senior Hizballah officials and commanders, Nasrallah is reported by our sources to have laid out a string of complaints against Soleimani’s tactics in Syria. He faulted the general’s decision to maximize IRGC Al Qods and pro-Iranian Shiite bases across the country, claiming they would never stand up to massive US-Israeli air power and would soon be reduced to dust. He also grumbled about the inferior quality of the Shiite militias on which Soleimani depends and said they were unreliable in combat.
- Whereas those militia chiefs, especially the Iraqis, had become accustomed to regarding Hizballah as an integral element of the Iranian strategic array in Syria, they feel free since the Nasrallah-Soleimani rupture to vent their long resentments about the way the general treats them. They accuse Soleimani of handing down diktats rather than orders and expecting to be obeyed without demur. Some now elect to sidestep the Iranian commander and his headquarters and address their requests and proposals to Nasrallah in Beirut for passing on to Tehran.
In former times, Iran could oil the wheels of potential mutiny with bonus funding. However, although the ayatollahs and the IRGC chiefs are fully aware of the damage accruing to their alliances in Syria and Lebanon if the rising dissent is not quickly quashed, its financial predicament is such that stipends for allies are being reduced rather than topped up.