After 20 years, for the first time since being appointed as the Chief Commander of Quds brigade, General Soleimani was interviewed by Khamenei.ir. The following is the first part of the interview:
The interviewer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful; and we ask His assistance.
Greetings and condolences on the days of Muharram. We are grateful for the time you are devoting to us. We would like to open the discussion with you, and it might be a good idea at first to ask you about the situation in the region before the war. As the US entered the region in 2001, after the 9/11 event, and staged two wars, which were followed by the 33-day war, our first question for you is: which were the factors that led to the 33-day war [2006 Israel–Hezbollah War]?
Major-General Soleimani: In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; and peace and greetings be upon God’s messenger, and upon his immaculate household. All praise is due to Allah who guided us…
Peace be upon you, O Aba-Abdullah! and upon the souls that gathered in your courtyard. Peace of Allah be upon you from me forever, as long as I am existent and as long as there are days and nights.
I also express my condolences on the days of mourning over the martyrdom of the master of all martyrs, Hussain Ibn Ali (a.s.).
To answer your question, I should say that the 33-day war had some hidden causes which were the principle factors leading to the war. The war had some apparent and some hidden causes, the pretext of which were the hidden goals that the [Zionist] regime sought for a period of time.
When I say there were hidden causes, we had some information about the preparations of the Zionist regime, but we had no information on the fact that the enemy wanted to launch an attack in ambush. Later, based on two circumstances, we concluded that prior to this war, a swift ambush was supposed to be conducted to overturn Hezbollah. Well, this war happened when two important events, one concerning the entire region and another exclusively concerning the Zionist regime were taking place.
In the event concerning the region, following the 9/11 incidents, the US had extensively developed the presence of its armed forces in our region, as much as was the case during the World War II, albeit only in terms of quantity; for its quality was still far more than that of the World War II. In 1991, when the first US attack happened following Saddam’s military action against Kuwait, the US’s invasion and Saddam’s defeat left military remainders in our region, leading to the settlement of a US military base.
But after the 9/11, due to the two heavy military actions the US exercised, about forty percent of the armed forces in the disposition of the US entered our region; and later gradually as a result of the changes and exchanges done, even reserve and standby forces as well as the national guard got involved.
That is to say, approximately over sixty percent of the US Army, including internal and extraterritorial forces were deployed to our region. Therefore, there was a dense presence in a limited area: in Iraq alone, there were more than 150,000 troops, and over 30,000 US military were present in Afghanistan.
Yet, this excluded the coalition forces which were about 15,000 in Afghanistan. Thus, a 200,000-member, specialized and trained force was present in our region, next to Palestine. This presence naturally provided opportunities for the Zionist Regime. That is, the presence of the US in Iraq was an obstacle to the dynamism of the Syrians in Syria, as well as a threat to the Syrian government, and a threat to Iran.
So if you look at the geopolitical position of Iraq, you will see that during the war in 2006, the 33-day war, the US placed an obstacle in the country that linked the principle country of Resistance; an obstacle made up of an armed force of 200,000 troops, hundreds of planes and helicopters, as well as thousands of armoured vehicles.
This naturally provided the opportunity for the Zionist regime to take advantage of this situation and take a measure. The grandeur [of their facilities] supposedly frightened Iran, frightened and halted Syria, so these two governments wouldn’t take actions. Based on this assumption, the Zionist Regime found the situation suitable for taking such a measure, especially due to the approach of the Bush administration—a harsh and fast-deciding administration—with the leading team in the White House supporting the Zionist Regime. Thus they found the situation apt for taking such a measure.
The principle root therefore lied in the Zionist Regime’s seeking advantage from the military presence of the US in the region; from Saddam’s fall; from the initial victory of the US in Afghanistan; and the fear that the US had created in the region, by considering a huge range of political groups of the region and of the world, as terrorist groups if they were deemed as opposing the US policies.
The Zionist Regime wanted to take advantage of this, thinking it was the best opportunity for a war; because the Israeli regime had suffered a defeat in the year 2000, and had retreated—or actually escaped—from Lebanon. Hezbollah had defeated it. So, it wanted to go back, not to occupy, rather to demolish and alter the demography in southern Lebanon. This was revealed during the war—or almost with the commencement of the war.
The main goal was to completely change the demography so that the people living in southern Lebanon—who had some religious connections with Hezbollah—would be moved out of Lebanon. The Israeli regime sought to implement the same plan as what happened after 1967 to the Palestinians in southern Lebanon to force people to evacuate and settle in various refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and other Arab countries. The same plan that was previously implemented for the Palestinians, was now outlined for the Shias in southern Lebanon.
They made the Palestinians to leave southern Lebanon, and to be dispersed in different camps in Lebanon, Syria and other areas of the Arab world. Even Arafat was obliged to relocate his major place of activity from Lebanon to Tunisia, in Maghreb, actually creating a displaced organization. The same assumption existed about the Shia community of Lebanon. So now I will move from the background, prior to the war, to the period during the war, to complete the discussion.
On this matter, the US and the Israeli officials have two important statements. On the early days of the war, Bush used inappropriate words—his microphone was turned on—but the words he used are at his own level, I won’t repeat them. He said this in support the aftermath of the war, not the war itself. In affirming the outcome of the war and the matter, Rice used more polite and diplomatic words.
She said it when the massacre and howls culminated in the south of Lebanon. The bombings showed utmost intoxication by technology; by precision of technology, they bombarded and obliterated any area they wished to. Murders were committed that actually swallowed and obliterated Qana. She used the words; she used an analogy, describing the howls—with blatant words—as the pain of delivery for giving birth to a new Middle East. She drew an analogy between the cries of the children, women and innocent people from under the rubbles and the labor pain of delivering a major event.
Therefore, these remarks indicated that a big project was underway. But as for the Zionist regime, the regime had prepared a big camp and a number of ships. The camp was provided to initially transfer the people they captured—as many as they could—to a camp inside Palestine, which was estimated to house up to 30,000 people. Then, they planned to send those who were ordinary civilians to other places, and abduct those who were considered convicts—in their view— or had some organizational affiliations with Hezbollah. They had prepared ships for the migration of the people.
Therefore, unlike other wars that affect all similarly, this war at this stage was done precisely, using technology–That is, the war targeted one single community. At first, they tried to limit it to a party, namely Hezbollah. Later, it was expanded to include all the Shia community in southern Lebanon, to completely change the demography of the south.
Hence, the initial hidden intention—as they also confessed later, when Ehud Olmert and later the Minister of Defense and the head of the Army said that they intended to conduct a raid— was to launch an ambush. If the ambush had happened, the major part of Hezbollah’s cadre would have been destroyed by a massive airstrike.
In the first stage, Hezbollah would have suffered severe damage to at least 30 percentage of its main organization. Then in the next stages, they would have inflicted absolute destruction. But the basic factor was taking advantage from the powerful presence of the US in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in the region; as well as other Arab countries’ willingness to support Israel in such a war to uproot Hezbollah or the Shia community of southern Lebanon. This was mentioned by Ehud Olmert.
He said that for the first time all the Arab countries [had reached a consensus]. By all Arab states, he meant the majority of the Arab countries; namely, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf was, in particular, considered. Egypt was also included, and other countries were generally not exceptions. Yet, we could find a few exceptions at that time. You know, Iraq had no governing body at that time; the ruler of Iraq at the time was Paul Bremer—the US military ruler—so Iraq was ruled by the US
The Syrian government was a young government, due to the passing away of Hafez Assad, and had just started working. So when he said all the countries, he meant that majority. So he made this remark that for the first time, all the Arab countries supported Israel in the war against an Arab organization.
The remarks he made reveal a fact, an important serious reality. Therefore, we should consider three hidden factors with respect to the war. First, the opportunity provided by the presence and reigning of the US in Iraq, and the fear the extensive presence of the US had caused in the region.
Second, the willingness of Arab countries and their discreet announcement of cooperation with the Zionist Regime for obliterating Hezbollah and changing the demography in southern Lebanon. Third, the goals the Zionist regime pursued by taking advantage of this opportunity in order to get rid of Hezbollah forever. These three factors represented the main hidden goals or intentions that played a crucial role in the roots of this war.
Interviewer: Could you please also elaborate on the apparent reasons that you categorized? Upon which pretexts was the war was staged?
Major-General Soleimani: The main reason was Hezbollah’s commitment to the Lebanese people. There was no other power, apart from Hezbollah, who could make the commitment to free the young Lebanese imprisoned and captured by the Zionist Regime. Sayyid [Hassan Nasrallah] promised this in one of his speeches, saying they [Hezbollah] will surely free the Lebanese prisoners from the Zionist prisons, as they had done so previously too.
The Lebanese people, including the Druze, Muslim and Christian prisoners, had no hope or haven apart from Hezbollah; so do they today. In any event, the main refuge of the Lebanese people in defence against the violent regime has been Hezbollah. So, Sayyid made these remarks. In the previous swaps, Israel refused to deliver the main prisoners, some of whom were teenagers; and these teenagers spent their life in prison and had grown into young and middle-aged adults.
Hezbollah promised to liberate them; but it was not realized at the first swap [of prisoners], as Israel refused to free them. Therefore, in order to realize the promise, Hezbollah engaged in an operation to achieve the desired swap—which was later on actually successful.
So a special operation was performed, and it was commanded by someone named martyr Imad Mughniyeh. I don’t know what title can describe him, I wonder if I can use the title General, which has become popular today. Now the titles ‘general’ and ‘brigadier general’ are often used in our country. But, he was beyond those titles; he was a general, in the true sense of the word. He was a general with the most similar features to Malik Ashtar on the battlefield.
On his martyrdom, I felt the same feeling that Imam Ali (a.s.) experienced on the martyrdom of Malik, was now felt by the Resistance. By martyrdom of Malik, Imam Ali was grieved and sorrowed; and he cried while giving a speech on the pulpit—as some ahadith narrate, where he said: ‘how [extraordinary] was Malik! If he was a mountain, he was a huge and strong mountain. If he was a stone, he was a hard stone. Be aware that the death of Malik made a world sad, and a world happy.’ The passing of a man like Malik should be mourned and wept by men. Is there a companion like Malik? Will women deliver children who will ever again grow into someone like Malik? This saying by Imam Ali (AS) was very important; he said, ‘Malik for me was like I was for the Messenger of Allah (PBUH)’.
So, the same was true in the case of Imad. That is, Imad could be described in the same manner for the Resistance, as I mentioned. If I want to surpass our conventional ways of describing, I’d use the same sentence Imam Ali (a.s.) used for Malik. He said, ‘women should give birth, so a person like Malik would be born again.’
Imad had such a personality. As he had managed many difficult battles, he managed this operation, supervising and leading closely. His operation was successful. He managed to attack a vehicle of the Zionist regime, inside the occupied lands and captured two wounded persons from inside the vehicle as hostages. I don’t care about the previous operations at this point; this operation was not a one-day operation; rather it was a few-month operation wherein the Israeli regime was monitored.
Based on a plan worked out by Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah as the Commander-in-Chief of the Resistance in Lebanon, and with Imad Mughniyeh as the head of Hezbollah’s jihad, measures had been taken before this operation for it was very important—and as it is not the topic of our discussion, there is no need to address it.
The operation represented a number of operations, not a single one; there were four separate special operations were included. First, it was about planning the operation. Second, it was the time and situation of the attack.
The third step was to surpass the vast, dense and tall barbed wires of the Zionist regime, and to reach there; because the operation didn’t only consist of striking a point. They had to surpass the border, reach the prison and take the prisoners. So every operation had to be done so carefully that the people inside the tanks wouldn’t get killed.
The fourth point was that the operation had to be conducted very swiftly: not within 15 or 30 minutes, but in a few minutes or seconds. They had to very speedily move the now liberated captives to a safe place before the enemy could get to them. Usually, the enemy is within a distance of a few minutes away from the operation place — for the ground force; since for the air force it could take much shorter, of course, and the enemy would reach very rapidly. So it had to be planned very precisely.
One of Imad Mughniyeh’s features was his meticulousness and his attention for details. Hence, since he usually devised the operations himself closely, the outlining of the plan was by him, so was the implementation of it. And Imad came out victorious.
We have mentioned and emphasized two points so far. One was the reasons why the Israeli regime wanted to stage an ambush to get the most out of it. The second point we discussed was that the war was designed in a manner different from all the other previous wars. The process it wanted to adopt was not the process of a war against an organization like Hezbollah. Rather, the goal and the process of the war was to uproot a community in Lebanon and to move this community to dispersed areas. The victory of the enemy was aimed at achieving this.
[The goal was to] get rid of Hezbollah forever, and the prerequisite was to get rid of a big part of the Lebanese people who lived in a significant part of the country—not only in the south but also in Beqaa Valley and the north of Lebanon. Indeed, the regime wanted to remove this community, which stemmed from the regime’s past experience in confronting and uprooting the Palestinians from southern Lebanon, forcing them to live in confined camps. So the regime displaced the commandment [headquarters] of the Palestinians from Lebanon. This was the second issue we raised.
The third point was the reasons for Hezbollah’s action. With this regard, we said that firstly for returning the Lebanese prisoners there was no other hope apart from Hezbollah. Secondly, Hezbollah had no other option but to realize this swap for a swap. Bearing in mind that the Israeli regime doesn’t understand the language of diplomacy at all. The language the regime uses in communication with all the neighbouring countries is the language of coercion. And except for the language of force, it doesn’t understand any other languages. Just as it has been the case of dealing with the Arabs.
Another matter in the first part of our debate that I don’t want to miss and which is very important is the Arab countries’ support of the Zionist Regime in this war. This was unprecedented in the history of the Arab world and the Zionist Regime to openly support the Zionist regime, as this was previously done discreetly. The Zionist regime announced it at the highest level, Ehud Olmert, the head of the Zionist regime. He said that for the first time the Arab countries supported the Zionist Regime in a war against an Arab organization. By Arab countries, he didn’t mean all the Arab countries, but mainly the countries of the Persian Gulf, with Al Saud regime leading them.
So here we concluded that Hezbollah had no other way for realizing its promise and giving a positive response to the Lebanese people’s expectations, rather than engaging in an operation to make the regime do this prisoners swap. This was the only possible way, and there were no other alternatives.
Then comes the question that the operation was a big operation. It was more than one single operation. Even regardless of the prerequisites, it was not a one-day operation, but an operation that needed several months of hard work. The regime was monitored. Based on the decision made by Sayyid of the Resistance, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, as the chief-commander of the Resistance in Lebanon, the commandment of the operation was undertaken by the jihadi official of Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyeh (r.a.), who performed the background measures needed for the operation, and they were very important. Because it is not the topic of our discussion, we don’t need to focus on it.
Thus, the way the operation was performed is important because firstly, this was an operation consisting of 3 or 4 different steps or operations. One point I forgot to mention is the time designated for the operation. The operation needed to be carefully outlined as they needed to accelerate the pace of reaching the target area. Tactically, the chance of action should be slim for the enemy while there should be a bigger opportunity for Hezbollah to take action. Moreover, fast reversing should be possible.
Therefore, these nuances were carefully considered prior to the operation. One of the characteristics of Imad Mughniyeh was his careful attention to details. Because he usually managed everything himself, the designing and the executing were all done by himself. So he had done all the different steps consisting of entering the occupied lands, taking hostages, taking them out of the carrier, and transferring them rapidly to a safe place, out of reach of the enemy.
Here the first part of the talk ends. Now either you can ask questions, or I can continue my debate. But I think I am invited here so you can ask questions.
Interviewer: The war was launched on that pretext and an intense rage was conducted on Hezbollah’s bases. How did Lebanon’s Hezbollah react in the first hours and days of the war? Particularly given that Israel declared the reason for this barbaric attack as Hezbollah’s taking captives— and this had normally created a psychological pressure.
General Soleimani: Two points are important to note. Hezbollah was facing a constant animosity on the side of an enemy that is impossible to compromise with. That is, in Hezbollah’s view, from religious and political perspectives, the enemy was impossible to compromise with. For the enemy, too, it was unacceptable to acknowledge Hezbollah. Therefore, this hostility is a perpetual hostility. So Hezbollah was always ready to defend. This was for point one. Hezbollah wasn’t unprepared and caught surprised; Hezbollah was prepared.
Hezbollah’s readiness was not only because of this operation as it was always prepared, however, the operation increased the readiness and vigilance in other dimensions, but readiness in terms of the combatants, facilities and equipment was already there. Today it is the same; that is, Hezbollah is always a hundred percent ready.
Hezbollah’s readiness is not like that of others where there might be different levels of readiness, announced by yellow or red alert; or by 30 percent, then 70 percent, and finally 100 percent. No, Hezbollah was constantly prepared 100 percent. Hezbollah was a hundred percent ready on that day too, and so is it a hundred percent ready today. However, the quality of the readiness varies at different times due to their facilities.
The second point is that before taking any measures, Hezbollah adopts security stratagems. So when Hezbollah decided to perform the operation of capturing the two Zionist soldiers, to attain the determining and important prisoners swap, first it developed the necessary preparedness. The preparedness was in two levels: for confrontation, and for reducing damage.
All during the time when the Israeli regime took military actions during the 33-day war, especially during the first hours and days, it attacked all the targets it had designated on a data bank it had prepared in advance. So the Zionist regime provided its air force with the list of all targets prepared in advance and the air force took action based on the precise geographic coordinates of the designated Hezbollah bases listed on the data bank. But because of the stratagems devised by Hezbollah, it suffered the least damage in terms of human resources and also important facilities; we can even say it didn’t suffer any damage during the beginning hours.
Ten days after the war began, the enemy announced the data bank was over, that is, all the determined targets related to Hezbollah were hit. But it was later revealed that thanks to the measures and innovation taken by Hezbollah before commencing its operation, as well as regarding the prediction of the enemy’s response, whatever Israel had done contradicted their own assumptions.
This was the first point. The second point is that, regarding the prediction of the war and given the previous cases of reactions, usually, such events would never a lead to war. Normally there was a one-day reaction with some intensity, targeting a few points or areas of the Zionist regime and then stopping. But this time, from the very early minutes, all the operation that was designed in advance was put to action completely. That is, they started to perform the secret plan they wanted to execute all at once.
Of course, now, we say it was a secret plan. I will explain later, we concluded this about two weeks after the war began, guided by our faith rather than by information– I will explain how. It was almost the final days of the war that we knew by information that the enemy had a plan in advance and had wanted to catch us by absolute surprise, and we understood this mainly because the enemy itself announced it. So, very fast, the war became a complete war, like a huge warehouse of explosives and gunpowder that explodes all at once by one spark. And this major explosion which was named the 33-day war unfolded.
Interviewer: What was the opinion inside Iran? For such an important event, it was expected that the Leader would hold a meeting, inviting senior officials, where discussions are raised and a decision is made.
Were there any opposing views among the officials? Or they all unanimously agreed that [Iran] should support Hezbollah at that time taking the same approach?
[Where were you when the war unfolded?]
General Soleimani: Before answering this question, I should say that on the first day the event happened, I returned to Lebanon. I was in Syria, but all the roads were under attack, especially the only official road which was the Lebanon-Syria cross border road. It was constantly bombarded by planes and the jets wouldn’t leave it a second. So we contacted a friend through a safe line and Imad came to pick me up to move me Syria to Lebanon through a rad where we walked a part of it and drove through the rest.
At that time, the main spectrum of the war included a focus on the administrative buildings of Hezbollah, the majority of the areas in the south, and some points, in the north and center. Toward the end of the first week, I was asked to go to Tehran to report on the war. I returned via a secondary road. At that time the Supreme Leader was in Mashhad. I went there to meet him at a meeting held between the heads and the senior officials of the three branches of power which were also members of the National Security Council and worked mostly in security and intelligence sectors.
The Interviewer: in Mashhad?
General Soleimani: Yes, in Mashhad. I reported on the events. My report was a sad bitter one. That is, my observations didn’t reflect any hope for victory. The war was a different one; a technological and precise war. 12-storey buildings were knocked down by a bomb. The targets were chosen with precision.
In the meantime, when the war’s target had moved from Hezbollah to the Shia community, in general, the situation was totally different in Shia-populated village from a village where our Christians or Sunnis brothers were living. That is, in one place people were safe and had their normal lives, smoking their hookahs, whereas, in another place, thousands of bullets were fired. I reported these in that gathering.
Prayers time arrived, and everyone left to perform ablutions (wudu). So did I. The Leader performed wudu; his sleeves were rolled up; on the way back, he pointed to me, asking me to go closer, and I did. He said, ‘did you want to tell me something about your report?’ I said, ‘no, I just wanted to describe the facts.’ His Eminence held, ‘I know. But didn’t you want to add anything else?’ I said, ‘no.’
We performed prayers and returned to the meeting. My report was over. His Eminence started to speak. He mentioned several points. He said that, the facts I had reported regarding the war were true, and that the war was a difficult and very intensive war. He continued: ‘but I assume this war is like the Battle of the Trench.’
His Eminence recited the ayahs (Quranic verses) about the Battle of the Trench [khandaq] –also called the Battle of the Confederates [ahzab]. He described the status of the Muslims and the companions of the Prophet, as well as the spirit of combatants. He then stated, ‘I believe that the victory of this war will be like the victory of the Battle of the Trench.’
I was daunted; because I didn’t have such a perspective from the military point of view. I secretly wished the Leader hadn’t said that the war would end in a victory–the Battle of the Trench was the big victory of the prophet (p.b.u.h.). He then mentioned two points which were very important.
His Eminence stated, ‘it seems to me that Israel had prepared this project in advance, and wanted to conduct a raid to destroy Hezbollah by launching a surprise attack. The action of Hezbollah—capturing two Zionist soldiers—disturbed the surprise plan. I didn’t have this information; Sayyid didn’t have this information; Imad didn’t have this information. None of us had this information.
I always believe and say to the friends, based on the twenty-year experience of working with the Leader, I well saw in the Leader how piety (taqwa) can result in sagacity and deep insight in one’s words, heart and wisdom. Therefore, now whenever the Leader raises suspicion about something, I am sure that the matter will finally fail somehow; and whenever the Leader reassures us about something, I know that it will have good results.
This remark was very promising for me—as it helped Sayyid a lot, and relieved him. The beginning of the war wasn’t so distressing, but the end was appalling. The number of martyrs and ravages rocketed. Some of Sayyid’s remarks impressed me. I found this remark (the Leader’s) very good for him. Because some might mal-intend and say ‘Why did Hezbollah endanger the whole Shia community by capturing two Zionists?’ But this perspective was promising and important, because accordingly, by seizing two captives, Hezbollah had saved not only itself from complete destruction, but also the Lebanese nation.
He also mentioned a third point which had a spiritual aspect. He recommended the Hezbollah members to recite the supplication Jowshan Saqir. Among the Shias, Joshan Kabir is often recommended. Jowshan Saqir is not very popular, at least among the masses-the elites are different.
The Leader explained that we shouldn’t doubt the effectiveness of this supplication. It’s like when some say, by reciting four Towhid verses or the Fatihah verse, the problems will be solved. His Eminence said that Jowshan Saqir is for a person in a desperate situation who wants to speak with God. On the same day, I returned to Tehran and then to Syria.