Khamenei Sacks Qassem Soleimani from Command of the Syrian War Arena

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has relieved Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Al Qods Brigades chief and supreme commander of Iran forces in the Middle East, of his Syria command, DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive Iranian and intelligence sources reveal.
This was taken as a major affront by the elite arm of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The ayatollah’s marching order left Soleimani in charge of Iran’s military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon for the time being, but excluded Syria, where military setbacks were piling up too critically to overlook. The Al Qods chief’s promise of “major developments,” on June 2 – after he had rushed over to Damascus to deal with the crisis of Palmyra’s fall to the Islamic State – turned out to be empty rhetoric. His bravado in stating “In the next few days the world will be pleasantly surprised from what we (the IRGC) working with Syrian military commanders are preparing,” was not been followed up. The suggested dispatch of thousands of Iranian troops to the Assad regime’s rescue never materialized.
(In the last DEBKA Weekly #666, we outlined the situation in an article titled: Syrian and Hizballah Forces Driven out of Strongholds with No Iranian Troops Coming to Their Aid.)
Since then, the plight of the Syrian regime has gone from bad to worse, with the Islamic State and Syrian rebels taking turns cutting off chunks of territory; Hizballah stalled in its effort to dislodge rebel forces from the Qalamoun Mountains and, worse still, helpless to stem the war’s spillover into Lebanon.
The Iranian command governing the two campaigns has ground to a halt pending Tehran’s appointment of a new boss to replace Soleimani.

Jafari vindicated in his case against Soleimani’s generalship

It was rumored in Tehran this week that Khamenei had chosen the sacked general’s second-in-command, Deputy Al Qods Brigades chief Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghani, to take over the Syrian-Lebanese front. We have not yet heard of a final decision on this. Soleimani is meanwhile conducting a rearguard action to save his job by lobbying influential circles in Tehran.
For the IRGC’s supreme commander, Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, Soleimani’s dismissal from the Syrian warfront was a victory. For months he has been trying to convince Khamenei to remove the Al Qods chief from all Iran’s military fronts: Iran’s declining situation in Syria and Iraq is down to Soleimani’s management, he has explained, because those fronts call for a professional army general. Soleiman, an expert in subversive and clandestine intelligence, is not up to conducting ground warfare in an arena dominated by several armies, he argued.
From the moment the Al Qods chief took command of the battle for Tikrit on March 2, not an inch of ground had been won in Iraq, said Jafari. The Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias he mustered failed to achieve any strategic advance against Islamic State forces. The subsequent fall of Ramadi on May 4 to ISIS was the inevitable consequence of this downward spiral.

Nothing but setbacks for Iran in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

The situation in Syria is still more acute. There, the anti-Assad opposition turned the tables on Soleimani’s plan of campaign.
Whereas he had mapped out three simultaneous offensives, to be conducted by the Syrian army, Hizballah and the imported Shiite militias, in Aleppo in the north, Qalamoun in the center and Deraa in the south – Syrian rebels Nusra Front and the ISIS ran off with the initiative. Their onslaughts forced the Syrian army and its allies to retreat. Because of the al Qods chief’s fiascos in Syria and Iraq, the Revolutionary Guards are reduced to building defense lines for the two capitals, Damascus and Baghdad, as a last resort.
Had a professional military tactician been in charge, said Jafari, neither Iran, the Shiite regime in Baghdad, Bashar Assad in Damascus, nor Hassan Nasrallah’s Hizballah would have been in this tight spot.
Jafari also damned Soleimani’s handling of the Yemen conflict, in which Tehran owns a major interest due to its proximity to the strategic Red Sea waterways of the Gulf of Aden and Straits of Babel-Mandeb.
Tehran’s protégées, the Houthi rebels, have not been able to break the tie with the Saudi-led coalition fighting to restore the internationally recognized president, and, in Jafari’s view, Soleimani committed a dangerous blunder by trying to shift the war across into Saudi Arabia. If the advantage tilts slightly in favor of the Houthis, he said, it was only due to Saudi “incompetence.”

Iran may pull in its horns and keep hold only of Shiite areas

Tehran must ask itself, he said, whether it makes sense to take on Saudi Arabia and lumber itself with a fourth Middle East war on top of its entanglements in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
At this point, Khamenei appears to have bought Jafari’s case against Soleimani, but opted to take it one step at a time, to avoid unduly rattling the IRGC, the Tehran regime’s main military and economic buttress. He decided to start by removing the Al Qods chief from the Syrian command where the situation is more precarious than on any other front.
Our sources add that it is not yet clear whether this dismissal also applies to his responsibilities for Hizballah and Lebanon. If it is followed up by Soleimani’s removal from the Iraq front too, it will most likely presage an Iranian decision to pull its horns in against the encroaching Islamist advances in both countries. DEBKA Weekly predicts that Iran may at some point consider cutting its losses by falling back into southern Iraq, where the Shiite holy cities are situated, and into the central and western Syrian Alawite towns of Homs, Hama, Tartous and Latakia, to provide the Lebanese Hizballah with a hinterland. Damascus may have to be written off as a loss in Tehran’s eventual Middle East power ledger.

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