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The IDF Trolled Qassem Soleimani On His Birthday

March 12, 2019

Via Wikimedia Commons.

As the notorious Quds Force operator basks in the limelight after being awarded the “Order of Zolfaqar,” an anachronistic decoration billed as the Islamic Republic’s highest honor for servicemen, another institution hailed the Middle East’s favorite bogeyman. On Monday, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) shared a video clip on its official social media accounts wishing Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani a happy birthday, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek. The clip features a cake and a montage of “well wishers” including Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad extend their greetings too.

Fiery rockets blast out of toy cannons and obliterate the scene in heavy-handed symbolism. After all, Soleimani is responsible for guiding the flow of Iranian weapons to its regional proxies.

The video clip, which can be viewed below, was released on March 12 or a day after Soleimani’s actual birthday. It begins with the presentation of a cake amid upbeat background music. The topmost portion suddenly opens with a greeting inscribed, “Hey Qassem, the party’s not over.” A photo of the Hezbollah leader appears with an endearing caption followed by President Assad sharing an invite: “If you need a place to throw a party, come to one of your bases in Syria.”

Of course, unmentioned is how these bases are vulnerable to Israeli airstrikes. Hamas then chimes in with a “thanks for the $100 mil,” which is a suspected amount transferred to the Gaza militants. Before its explosive finale, a fancy script bids the Quds Force leader “Happy Birthday from all your proxies.”

While he’s now a darling of Iranian media, Soleimani’s stature in the Middle East was accidental. An early recruit of the Revolutionary Guard who served multiple tours during the Iran-Iraq War, he stayed in the IRGC until promoted to the secretive Quds (Jerusalem) Force. The late 1990s saw him preoccupied with supporting anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan after the Sunni militia built a reputation for oppressing Shiites. The turn of the century and the US-led War on Terror brought ample opportunities rather than risks to the Quds Force, whose operators were adept at infiltration and subversion. It must be emphasized how the Quds’ playbook is closer to the US Army’s Green Berets rather than a spy ring, although intelligence gathering falls within their purview.

The disastrous US occupation of Iraq from 2003 until 2011 brought Suleimani to the mainstream as he was named by American and British commanders as a nefarious influence on local militias who were supplied sophisticated IEDs by Iran. Undaunted by the Coalition’s overwhelming presence, even US Army General David Petraus, who was credited with “taming” the Iraqi insurgency, received threats from Soleimani via SMS. At this point Soleimani was like a specter haunting the columns of Middle East war reportage, his reputation captivating journalists and spooks alike.

Soleimani graduated to becoming a household name as the horrific Syrian Civil War unraveled this decade. His frequent visits to Damascus, and later Northern Iraq when the Islamic State were at their peak, saw the mobilization of entire volunteer armies equipped and financed by Tehran’s largess. A particular innovations of the Quds Force was orchestrating its proxies across three different states–Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Israel’s animus towards him stems from Soleimani’s role in salvaging President Assad’s regime, paving the way for arms deliveries to Hezbollah and Iranian bases for storing missiles.

The US has done its part to discredit and punish Soleimani too, sanctioning him in 2011 for an attempted assassination on the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC. As his prominence at home and abroad ballooned, so has the amount of scrutiny from the same countries that deem his actions unacceptable. In fact, the most authoritative biographical sketch of Soleimani to date isn’t a glowing essay in a newspaper or magazine, but a public domain report by the Combating Terrorism Center. Besides the IDF, whose humor belies an earnest desire to snuff him, a lot of people between Abu Dhabi and Washington, DC want his head.

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