Last night, the United States took its boldest action in the Middle East of the past decade. Just after midnight, a U.S. airstrike targeted a convoy close to the Baghdad airport. Inside the vehicles were the masterminds of Iran’s terrorist policy inside Iraq and in the larger region: Qassem Suleimani and his key understudy, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Both Suleimani and Muhandis were killed in the attack—as well as 10 others.
The Pentagon confirmed their deaths on Thursday night stating, “At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (irgc) Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
For a point of reference, the death of Suleimani is far more significant than that of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Ladin and Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi combined. Confirming the danger that Suleimani posed, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal wrote last year that “Suleimani is singularly dangerous. He is also singularly positioned to shape the future of the Middle East.”
The killing marks the end of a tense week in Iraq after U.S. policy shifted from appeasement to limited confrontation.
On December 29, United States forces struck five targets in Iraq and Syria that belong to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah Iraqi paramilitary group, headed by Muhandis, who answers to Suleimani. This was the United States’ first military confrontation against an Iranian proxy in Iraq in a decade, even though the U.S. has been repeatedly attacked and with increasing frequency in the past year.
The American attack was in retaliation to 30 rockets fired at the K-1 military base in northern Iraq two days earlier. Four American troops and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces were injured and an American contractor was killed in the attack, prompting U.S. retaliation.
In response to the U.S. strike, Muhandis and other Iranian surrogates in Iraq ordered a destructive protest at the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday. Protestors chanted “Down, down U.S.A.,” threw stones at buildings, broke bulletproof windows, smashed down a steel door with a battering ram, and set fire to parts of the embassy compound. In response, U.S. President Donald Trump immediately sent more marines to reinforce the embassy. Eventually, the Iranian leadership told the protestors to stand down.
After the black smoke cleared from the burned-out guard house, a graffitied message in red paint could be discerned. It read, “Suleimani is our leader.” According to Dr. Seth Frantzman of the Jerusalem Post, that scribble writing “was a symbol. They were saying Suleimani runs Iraq and Baghdad, not the U.S.”
Now, that leader is dead.
Who Was Suleimani?
It is hard to overstate the significance of Suleimani’s death.
From the West’s view, it may be easy to see Suleimani as just another strange name from a far off place. In reality, no single man has impacted Iran’s worldwide terrorist activities more, or for longer, than Suleimani. For over two decades, Suleimani worked directly with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and had access to an almost limitless budget to expand Iran’s power outside the country.
In late 1997, Suleimani assumed leadership of the irgc Quds Force, a special expeditionary unit that orchestrates Iranian action in foreign domains. Quds is the Arabic term for Jerusalem, which betrays the force’s ultimate goal.
As head of the Quds Force, Suleimani developed and nurtured Iran’s ties with proxy organizations such as Kataib Hezbollah (among many others) in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. Hardly a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel without Suleimani signing off on it. His command over these proxies was direct and total.
He also directly oversaw Iran’s policy to support Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad throughout the Syrian Civil War. In 2015, when Assad’s hold on power looked tenuous, it was Suleimani who flew directly to Moscow to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and invite his assistance.
However, nowhere was Suleimani’s power more evident than in Iraq.
Last year, Suleimani paid regular visits to Baghdad, acting in effect as Iran’s foreign minister to the nation. When Baghdad’s parliament couldn’t decide on a prime minister, it was Suleimani who flew over to help them negotiate between the parties and install a prime minister that satisfied Iran. When, in early October, protests began in Iraq against the increasingly public Iranian influence over the nation, it was Suleimani who again flew to Baghdad to tell the government to use any means necessary to stop the protests. Reuters later reported that snipers belonging to Iran-backed militias were deployed on rooftops surrounding the protesters with orders to shoot to kill. So far, 500 protestors have been killed. No wonder these same protestors celebrated the news of Suleimani’s death today.
But Suleimani had more than just Iraqi blood on his hands. He is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen during the Iraq War over a decade ago. Soon after American and coalition forces expelled Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iran initiated a long-term shadow war against the U.S. in Iraq, led by Suleimani.
In 2004, the Quds Force began flooding Iraq with lethal roadside bombs that Americans referred to as efp’s—“explosively formed projectiles.” These warheads, which fire a molten copper slug able to penetrate armor, wreaked havoc on coalition forces. Efp’s could be made only by skilled technicians and were often triggered by sophisticated motion sensors. “There was zero question where they were coming from,” Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Operations Command at the time, told the New Yorker in 2013. “We knew where all the factories were in Iran.”
In 2008, sensing the success of America’s troop surge, Suleimani reached out to the U.S. general in command, saying, “Dear General Petraeus, You should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who’s going to replace him is a Quds Force member.”
Petraeus refused to negotiate with this man, whose hands were stained with so much American blood. As the Pentagon revealed last year, over 600 United States military personnel were killed as a result of Suleimani’s policies.
Though the U.S. left Iraq in 2011, Suleimani did not. The hasty removal of United States forces by the Obama administration not only created the vacuum for the Islamic State to rise to power, but it allowed Suleimani to act more freely inside Iraq. Many Iraqi Shiites and Kurds in northern Iraq received welcome help from Suleimani in the form of weapons and leadership. The main ground forces fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq was not the Iraqi Army, but the very Shiite militias that had allied with Suleimani years before, numbering over 100,000 soldiers. And they were still answering to Suleimani.
When the Islamic State was eventually defeated, it was Suleimani who was praised. He went from mainly working behind the scenes to a more public figure, taking on hero status among the Shiite masses as the man who defeated the Islamic State and as the bulwark against American power in the Middle East. Last year, when United States sanctions on Iran increased, Suleimani took to social media to openly challenge President Trump, defiantly stating, “I will challenge you.”
At the Jerusalem Post, Franztman described Suleimani’s growing public persona this way:
It was only in the last two years that their dream of a Middle East dominated by Iran was reached. They were arrogant. They had the kind of arrogance they accused the West of. No longer in the shadows, those like Suleimani and Muhandis came into the open. They acted like the heads of state. Their militias in Iraq, called the Popular Mobilization Units (pmu) appeared to dominant not only the security forces, but also the parliament. They had the second largest party in Iraq and access to 300,000 men they had recruited. Most of these were just young Shiites who wanted to fight [Islamic State]. A smaller cadre of men in pmu brigades were what mattered. They stockpiled munitions, and since August 2018, moved Iranian ballistic missiles across Iraq to Syria. In Syria they built a network of bases from Imam Ali to T-2, T-4 and others. This network sought to move precision guided munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also sought to import air defense, the 3rd Khordad system, in April 2018. Israel carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes against Iranian entrenchment in Syria and Israel’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said in December that Israel would act against Iranian entrenchment in Syria and Iraq.
For Suleimani and Muhandis, all was well in December even as U.S. rhetoric increased. They did not believe the U.S. would decisively respond, as Pompeo threatened. They had seen national security adviser John Bolton and other Iran hawks go. They judged U.S. President Donald Trump an isolationist. They tried to push the U.S. via attacks in the Gulf and against Saudi Arabia and then against U.S. forces. The U.S. said 11 attacks targeted bases since October.
Finally, after the killing and wounding of Americans on December 27, the U.S. acted.
Get Prepared for Iran’s Response
Early Friday morning, the irgc released a statement acknowledging Suleimani’s death. The Popular Mobilization’s Units, a conglomeration of largely Shiite militias under Suleimani’s control, blamed America and Israel for his death. “The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the Mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Suleimani,” a pmu spokesman related.
Khamenei has called for three days of mourning for Suleimani, which will likely also be used to discuss a coordinated response. Khamenei warned on Friday that harsh revenge awaits the “criminals” who killed Suleimani and that the attack will double the motivation of the resistance against the U.S. and Israel.
Some commentators have already come out and criticized President Trump’s decision to kill Suleimani. They fear retaliatory attacks by Iran against not only U.S. forces, but likely also against Israel and Saudi Arabia. America’s allies were likely given early notification of the United States’ plan to kill Suleimani, however, given by the slew of phone calls by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to leaders in the region over the past couple of days.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut his trip to Cyprus short and returned to Israel to be on hand to assess the situation and prepare for a response from Iranian proxies. Already, Foreign Ministry officials have told Israeli embassies and consulates around the world to be on high alert. According to Ynet News, security was bolstered at some embassies as well.
While it is still early, a response from Iran and its proxies throughout the region should be expected.
Suleimani was a patient tactician and saw all Iran’s proxies as a single entity under his command. Now that he is no longer directing them it’s possible that proxy organizations will be more trigger happy. This could mean a larger attack against Israel by Hezbollah or an attack on the limited American forces inside Iraq.
Nevertheless, given how central Suleimani was in coordinating Iran’s proxy network, his death is definitely a victory for the United States and the region.
The question now is: Will President Trump be willing to reinforce the United States’ presence in the region to deal with coming attacks? If Iran attacks hard, will the United States attack harder? While the death of Suleimani is significant, it is still only a tactical victory against the Islamic regime in Iran. While warranted, Suleimani’s death will only make the region safer if the United States is willing to use its force to back up what comes next.
If Suleimani was as good of a leader as Western generals think he was, he has likely trained someone under him to grow into his role.
For over 25 years, we have highlighted Iran’s rise to dominate the Middle East. Most of that was completed under the guiding hand of Qassem Suleimani. Over this time we have followed Suleimani and Iran’s developing proxy network closely because Iran fulfills a biblically prophesied role as the “king of the south” spoken of by Daniel the prophet. Daniel 11:40 reads, “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him ….” The king of the south is defined in this prophecy as having a pushy foreign policy. Over the past three decade’s, no other nation in the world has been as proactive as Iran about growing its global power through force.
However, it should also be noted that this steady growth in power under Suleimani was attained without Iran incurring any significant losses. Iran’s push was dangerous and violent, but not rash. Suleimani understood that there was a time to fight, and there was a time to hold back.
However, the prophecy in Daniel 11 talks about a more reckless king of the south, one that seriously underestimates the power of his enemy, and the willingness of that enemy to use its power to destroy Iran. The last part of Daniel 11:40 reads “… and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.” Pushed too far by Iran, the king of the north responds overwhelmingly and forcefully.
It’s true that the Islamic empire in Iran does have a fanatical ideology to just provoke a worldwide war to motivate their savior’s return. However, Suleimani was not guided by a “war at any cost” scenario. He tempered his pushiness to where and when he could be victorious.
Now that Suleimani is dead, are we about to see a more reckless Iran? Suleimani is gone, but the arsenal at Iran’s disposal is as great as ever. And the motivation for Iran’s militias to fight has only increased. The Bible reveals clearly that Iran will instigate a war that it will not win. With Suleimani’s death, we are closer to that event.
Watching the suffering and death in the Middle East can be extremely depressing. However, as the prophecies in Daniel reveal, the war started by Iran is just the first battle in a war that will eventually involve all major world powers. It actually begins the true end-time scenario that won’t bring back the 12th imam, but the true Savior of all mankind. Maintaining the focus on the conclusion to this event is the only way to endure. For a full account of that hope-filled ending to Iran’s violent push, please read Watch Jerusalem editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s booklet, The King of the South.