Exclusive: After long service to Shiite Iran’s expansionist goals, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah’s close ties with Gen. Soleimani are on the rocks, after he strongly disparaged the general’s tactics in Syria, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal. The sudden breach between Iran’s most dedicated surrogate and his boss, commander of Iran’s military operations in the Middle East, has taken the Shiite world by storm. It has also thrown other Shiite militias fighting under Soleimani’s command in Syria in disarray.
DEBKAfile reveals some of the defiant steps Nasrallah has taken in recent weeks:
- Without a word to the Iranian general, he pulled back home to Lebanon roughly 5,000 Hizballah troops from the Syrian warfront, depriving Soleimani of more than half of the competent fighting strength at his disposal in Syria. The Pakistani and Iraqi militia fighters never measured up to Hizballah’s combat standards.
- Nasrallah has ignored Soleimani’s orders to send back to Syria at least half of the Hizballah force he sent home.
- The Iranian general turned to pulling strings in Tehran with Revolutionary Guards and regime high-ups. They tried to cajole Nasrallah into relenting by arguing that, after leading so many critical battles in the Syrian war, he must not quit when the final campaign was at hand in Idlib. Nasrallah still refused to toe the Iranian line.
- In closed-door meetings with senior Hizballah officials and commanders last month, 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 scatter a large number of IRGC Al Qods and Shiite militia bases across the country, asserting that massive US-Israeli air power would soon reduce them to dust. He also grumbled about the inferior quality of the Shiite militias on which Soleimani depends and said they were unreliable in combat.
- Since the Nasrallah-Soleimani rupture, those militia chiefs have vented their own beefs, primarily about their treatment at the hands of the Iranian general who issues diktats and expects unquestioning obedience as his only form of communication. Some are now going behind the Iranian commander’s back and addressing their messages to Nasrallah in Beirut for passing on to Tehran.
The fractured ties between Iran’s top surrogate chief and its senior Middle East strategist surfaced in the past fortnight when Iran’s defense minister Amir Hatami and foreign minister Muhammed Javad Zarif, who paid important visits to Damascus, skipped side trips to Beirut and contacts with Hizballah leaders. Our military sources also disclose that the withdrawal of Hizballah troops from most of eastern Syria to Lebanon was the catalyst for violent battles over territory between Soleimani’s Shiite militias and Syrian contingents, mainly in the Deir ez-Zour and Abu Kamal regions. In the fighting which broke out on Aug. 8 – and is still ongoing – both sides are using artillery, mortars, heavy machine guns and automatic sidearms. Both have inevitably suffered substantial dead and wounded casualties. In an attempt to curb the unfolding catastrophe, the Russian high command in Syria acted in the second half of August by posting Russian military police on the Euphrates River bridges to try and separate the warring forces in the two embattled areas. Those same military police were originally assigned to man 8 positions on the Syrian-Israeli border opposite the Golan.