Soleimani's death rattles Hizbullah: analysts

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizes IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, both killed in a January 3rd US strike in Baghdad. [Photo circulated on social media]

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah eulogizes IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, both killed in a January 3rd US strike in Baghdad. [Photo circulated on social media]

Analysts and Hizbullah opponents in Lebanon said the Iran-aligned militia was rattled by the Friday (January 3rd) killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Soleimani's Quds Force was responsible for the external operations of the IRGC and its proxies, including Lebanon's Hizbullah.

The US decision to kill Soleimani "was a strategic decision that targeted the second most powerful figure in the Iranian leadership", said Lebanese Centre for Research and Consulting director Hassan Qutb.

"Iran lost one of its main pillars who directed military and security operations in the region in a deliberate and harmonious manner, from Yemen to Lebanon, to serve Iran's interest and strategic objectives," he told Al-Mashareq.

The leaders of Iran-affiliated militias must now be feeling lost in the absence of Soleimani, who controlled and directed their affairs, he said.

Leaders of IRGC-aligned militias, particularly those of Hizbullah, "are now without cover or protection and feel that they may be targeted", Qutb said.

'Not easy to replace Soleimani'

"The Iranian leadership is in turmoil, as it is not easy to replace Soleimani with someone capable of following through with his plans," Qutb said.

Although Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei quickly appointed Maj. Gen. Ismael Qaani to replace Soleimani, a number of officers close to the slain IRGC-QF commander were killed alongside him, Qutb noted.

Soleimani "was in charge of sensitive external dossiers and led the armed confrontation against Iran's political and ideological opponents inside and outside Iran, from Lebanon to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan", he said.

Qutb noted that Soleimani "moved between these countries without announcement or going through border-control procedures".

The militias in these countries followed his orders and directives, he said, adding that there will be "huge" repercussions resulting from his absence from the political and security arena.

Soleimani's death comes as Iran faces growing internal and external crises, said religious scholar Sheikh Mohammad Ali al-Haj al-Ameli, co-founder of the Shia Reform Movement in Lebanon.

Lebanon is going through its own crisis, he said, with thousands taking to the streets to protest corruption and worsening economic conditions.

Hizbullah might attempt to exploit Soleimani's assassination to "rally the resolve of its supporters" and shift their attention to other issues, he said.

Impact on Iran-backed militias

Soleimani's killing is a huge loss for all the IRGC's affiliates, particularly Hizbullah, political analyst Elias al-Zoghbi told Al-Mashareq.

"All the militias directed by Iran were deeply affected by the killing of Soleimani," he said, noting that the IRGC-QF commander was no ordinary operative, but rather served as the main focal point of Iran's expansionist policy.

Tehran today "cannot bear any tactical error made by Hizbullah or any other militia" that is aligned with the IRGC, al-Zoghbi said.

This is why Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah's eulogy for Soleimani in the southern suburbs was largely rhetorical in nature and could not be considered as a call for explicit and specific action, he said.

Soleimani's killing "reduced to zero all the margins for error for Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq", he said.

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These are all lies. No one should think that he was harmed. Hizbollah