Qassem Suleimani's successor keeps Iran's focus on Syria intact
Recent unannounced visits by Ismail Qaani, the Commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles. The Syrian Observer and Al Souria report that these visits are reminiscent of the maneuvers of his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, known for his bold disregard for borders and diplomatic norms in Syria.
Iranian Tasnim news agency unveiled that Qaani was recently in the Syrian capital, Damascus. His itinerary involved engagements with security and military officials and supervising military exercises, notably in al-Bukamal, where militias affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards operate.
While the Assad regime remains tight-lipped about such incursions, both of Qaani and the late Soleimani, the latter's assassination in 2020 by a US strike at Baghdad airport adds layers to this silence. Assad's government hasn't ever commented on how the Quds Force commanders access the country or the implications of these unannounced visits on Syria's sovereignty.
Interestingly, Qaani's most recent visit coincided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's vacation to China, leading to speculations about the implications. Tasnim's coverage of Qaani's visit portrays it as a comprehensive review of Syria's operational and strategic areas, entailing meetings with security, military, and political figures. The news agency also quoted him condemning the US as the central catalyst for corruption, terrorism, and conflict in Syria and beyond.
Following Soleimani's demise, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, appointed Qaani the successor. Mahmoud al-Bazi, an expert on Iranian matters, observes that Qaani is attempting to step into the large shoes left by Soleimani in Syria and the wider region. This endeavor is evident through Qaani's repeated unannounced visits.
Saad al-Shara of the Orient Center for Studies opines that while comparisons between Soleimani and Qaani are challenging, Soleimani's charisma and profound understanding of military operations were unparalleled. He also held a revered stature among militias across Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Qaani's visits hold multifaceted strategic implications. Primarily, they underscore Iran's significant influence in the regions of interest, either directly or via militias. These silent incursions challenge traditional diplomatic decorum reserved for high-level visits. The Assad regime's hushed reactions suggest a growing acceptance of Iran's overarching sway, treating Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon nearly as "colonies."
Qaani's interest in the western bank of the Euphrates in the Syrian desert seems to send a covert message to the US, especially in the eastern Euphrates and the Tanf area. This subtle message could assert Iran's expanding footprint in this contentious region.
*Photo: The Syrian Observer