The notorious Quds Force is a unit under Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps with the authority to carry out secretive foreign intervention operations. Its mandate includes unconventional warfare and intelligence activities.
Since 1998, the Quds Force was led by Major General Qassem Soleimani, 62. As most people were recovering from the 2020 new year celebration, Soleimani’s term came to an abrupt end. On January 3rd, he was targeted and killed in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad airport where he was busy planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and military forces, the Pentagon confirmed.
Unsurprisingly, media snowflakes and congressional Democrats were quick to criticize President Donald Trump for allegedly bringing us to the “brink of an illegal war.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats, and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions.”
Such critics need to be awoken to reality: Tehran has been at war with us for 40 years; we have just refused to fight back.
With the hostage-taking of U.S. embassy personnel after the embassy’s 1979 seizure, Tehran demonstrated it would ignore international law in dealing with the U.S. Releasing the hostages the day President Ronald Reagan took office for fear of retaliation, Iran waited three years to test us again. In 1983, it directed its Hezbollah proxy in Beirut to bomb the Marine barracks there, killing 241 Americans. As we did nothing to discourage further violence by Iran, it continues unabated today.
The war Iran has been fighting with us is put into context by the following: as it is estimated that by 2015 Tehran was linked to the deaths of more than 1000 Americans, Iran is most likely responsible for more American deaths than any other nation since the Vietnam conflict. In addition to American lives lost in Beirut in 1983, Tehran has increased this death toll either directly or indirectly by its actions in Iraq — all of which were coordinated through Soleimani.
Iran’s indirect involvement has included the provisioning of advanced mines and other weaponry to anti-U.S. militias during our occupation in Iraq. The author’s son served two tours in Iraq, defusing many of these devices which clearly carried Iran’s signature.
Direct involvement by Iran occurred in an incident 13 years ago this month. On January 20, 2007, twelve men, disguised as U.S. soldiers and speaking perfect English, entered into the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, Iraq, where Americans were conducting a meeting with local officials. All hell broke loose as the twelve-man team began shooting, wounding, and killing several of those present. Four Americans were taken hostage, handcuffed, and later murdered elsewhere. Five U.S. soldiers lost their lives that day in a raid, it is now believed, involving Iranian planning and participation.
But Soleimani’s death puts the mullahs on notice: the one-sided war they have been fighting has now officially come to an end.
The demise of Soleimani hits close to home for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Not only was the general the second most powerful person in Iran, reporting directly to Khamenei, the two were good friends. Khamenei even officiated at the wedding of Soleimani’s daughter.
As a division commander during the 1980-1988 Iraq/Iran war, Soleimani became an inspirational leader for his men. While emotionally embracing them prior to battle, he apparently lacked a similar sensitivity for the hundreds of Iranian children the mullahs gathered as cannon fodder to run through Iraqi minefields to prevent the loss of professional Iranian soldiers. But not until 2003 did Soleimani really come to the attention of U.S. commanders.
Soleimani became an icon to the imams and those supporting them when he began targeting U.S. forces. In 2008, General David Petraeus described him as “a truly evil figure” in a letter he wrote to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Khamenei has called for three days of mourning, describing Soleimani as “the international face of resistance.” It might have been more appropriate for the Supreme Leader to describe him as “the face of international resistance” as Iran’s 1979 constitution is the only one in the world having extraterritoriality application — i.e., it is the basis for Tehran’s exporting the Islamic revolution outside its own borders. Critics worried about an escalation with Iran fail to grasp the fact as long as the mullahs remain in power, they are committed to spawning the Islamic Revolution, either peacefully or forcefully, around the world. No one was better at doing Khamenei’s eternal confrontation bidding in this regard than Soleimani.
A series of moves and counter-moves between the U.S. and Iran during the prior week preceded Soleimani’s death. Rocket attacks by the Hezbollah Brigades, an Iranian-controlled terrorist proxy group, conducted against a U.S. base in northern Iraq killed an American contractor and wounded US soldiers. Trump countered with air attacks in Syria and Iraq on five targets where the group stored weapons, killing 25 terrorists. At Iran’s instigation, locals in Baghdad, supporting Hezbollah, on New Year’s Eve launched a two-day attack against the U.S. embassy, only ending it after Trump ordered 750 troops there as back-up.
As both Iran and Iraq are majority Shia nations, initially the two worked together under Iran’s tutelage. However, ongoing riots in Iraq today reflect Iraqi resentment of Iranian influence. Intelligence revealed the time had come for Soleimani’s demise as recent intelligence indicated he had just arrived in Iraq to lead a coup, arrest the president, and take over the U.S. embassy. Just like Trump asserted there would be no repeat of Benghazi in Baghdad, by taking out Soleimani he was also making it clear there would be no repeat of the 1979 hostage crisis.
Recognizing Trump is no Barack Obama, the mullahs have been testing him to see how far they can push. The killing of Soleimani is causing them to fall back and re-group. While they suggest “harsh retaliation is awaiting,” they need to consider if Trump has been pushed to the limit. The strikes against Hezbollah and Soleimani were all outside Iran, but killing such a senior Iranian official must now have the mullahs in a panic, pondering if they might soon find themselves in Trump’s crosshairs as well.
Khamenei, confident during the U.S. embassy attack that Trump’s hands were tied by Democrats looking for any additional excuse to impeach him, taunted him claiming, “You can’t do anything.” Playing his trump card, the President has demonstrated there is something he could do. The mullahs would be well advised not underestimate him again.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.