Iranian media are denying a report circulating in various Arab media sources, which has reached the White House, claiming that General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s notorious special Quds Forces, was injured in Syria by rebel fire while fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya reports the rumors first surfaced on the Persian language website AsrarIran, which claimed “Soleimani and two of his companions were seriously injured 12 days ago in Aleppo’s battles after they had been targeted with a TOW anti-tank rocket.” The United States has provided these anti-tank rockets to the Free Syrian Army, which published a video on Tuesday of a militant using the rocket to blow up a Russian helicopter.
The AsrarIran report alleged that Soleimani is now in Tehran receiving treatment for his injuries after having received initial emergency care in Syria. Al Arabiya notes that Amir Mousavi, director of the Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations in Tehran, independently verified the report. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the news outlet American officials are “aware” of the incident but could not confirm whether the report was true.
The UAE-based Al Aan television outlet has also picked up the Soleimani report. Al Aan adds some intrigue to the Al Arabiya report, claiming that Soleimani had been working to fight “opposition forces” in Syria instead of the Islamic State (ISIS) “as a prelude to achieving the agreed target with Tehran.” Soleimani was reportedly dispatched to Syria with “thousands” of Iranian troops in October and has been cooperating with elements of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah in that nation in defense of Syrian pro-Assad troops, which have been fighting both anti-Assad moderate elements as well as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Some on Twitter have attributed the original report on Soleimani’s health to Arabic-language website Al Quds Al Arabi, though their report also appears to harken back to the AsrarIran report. It cites “Iranian sources” as confirming the report to them directly and claims Amir Mousavi, director of the Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations in Tehran, posted on his Facebook page that Soleimani, a personal friend, is recovering from injuries in Tehran.
Iran’s Mehr News Agency, which is closely linked to Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, has denied the reports, publishing a photo it alleges is of Soleimani on Tuesday in good health.
Despite rumors about General Qassem Suleimani sustaining injuries, new photo shows him safe & sound. pic.twitter.com/ioaJWaWcGN
— Mehr News Agency (@MehrnewsCom) November 24, 2015
Soleimani is a published columnist at Mehr.
The Iranian government supporting Tasnim News Agency has also denied the reports, quoting a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards as saying the report is a “sheer lie.”
Reports have surfaced since Soleimani’s deployment to Syria that Iran had been working with Russia to negotiate an intervention on Assad’s behalf in Syria as early as July. Soleimani personally visited Russia in August; it is believed his appearance there was directly related to strategy on the ground in Syria, though he arrived there nearly two months before Russia announced its plan to enter Syrian airspace and begin attacking the Islamic State. In practice, a study found that up to 80 percent of Russian airstrikes have been in areas where ISIS has little or no presence.
Soleimani was previously under international sanction due to his role in expanding Iran’s Islamist agenda in the Middle East, though the United States dropped sanctions on him as part of the Iranian nuclear deal brokered earlier this year. Soleimani remains a “designated individual.”