Iranian Commander Who Killed Americans Tours Syria, Violating International Travel Ban

Iran demonstrates control in Syria, boosting Hezbollah presence

Qassem Soleimani
Qassem Soleimani / AP
December 19, 2016

A top Iranian commander responsible for the deaths of Americans was photographed touring the war-torn city of Aleppo in Syria over the weekend, in violation of a United Nations travel ban that the Obama administration swore to enforce while selling the landmark nuclear deal with Iran to Congress, according to multiple sources and photographs.

Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani—a top general who leads Iranian militants across the globe and is directly responsible for the death of Americans—was recently photographed touring Aleppo in a demonstration of Iran's waxing influence in Syria and disregard for international resolutions barring such behavior. Soleimani's presence in Syria is a direct violation of the United Nations resolution governing the nuclear deal.

Soleimani's visit coincided with moves by the terror group Hezbollah, which is controlled by Iran, to establish its own claim in Syria, according to regional reports and footage.

Iran's public presence in Syria has not been met with action by the Obama administration, which has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks to explain why it is not enforcing current sanctions against Iran. Soleimani continues to direct Iranian forces in both Iraq and Syria and has long been sanctioned for the murder of U.S. citizens.

Mutliple sources who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon about the matter disclosed that the Obama administration is taking a soft approach with Iran, including not enforcing sanctions, in order to preserve the nuclear deal and diplomacy with Tehran, which has threatened repercussions for any new sanctions.

Soleimani's visit to Syria is viewed as a sign that Iran is not worried about facing repercussions for its continued military presence in Syria in support of embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

Iran has breached international laws for some time without facing consequences. The Obama administration repeatedly assured Congress it would enforce sanctions on Iran when lawmakers expressed doubt about the viability of the Iran nuclear deal.

The absence of consequences for Iran's behavior has paved the way for Hezbollah to stake it own claim in Syria, according to congressional and foreign policy insiders who told the Free Beacon that the Obama administration is working behind the scenes to prevent any new sanctions against Iran.

"The Obama administration has been working overtime to prevent any U.S. official from doing anything new to punish the butchers of Syria, because they know that would force them to take action against Iran, and then Iran would walk away from the deal," said one veteran insider who consults with Congress on the issue. "Now they're ignoring even old sanctions against the Iranians. They'll do anything to keep the Iranians in the deal for just a couple more weeks, so they can blame the inevitable collapse on Trump."

A senior congressional aide apprised of the situation said the administration would continue to turn a blind eye to blatant violations in order to preserve diplomacy with Iran.

"This administration's refusal to enforce sanctions explicitly allowed under the nuclear deal is not only cowardice—it's dangerous," said the aide. "What does it say about U.S. leadership when a terrorist like General Soleimani—someone with American blood on his hands—can freely travel to the ground zero of genocide in Syria without penalty? President Obama knows his nuclear deal is on thin ice, so he's willing overlook blatant sanctions violations like this one even if it means more carnage in Aleppo."

A second senior congressional source warned that refusal to enforce sanctions was empowering Iran's radical regime, which has increasingly taken hold in Iraq as well, where the U.S. military has been accused of training Iranian-backed militias.

"The outgoing Obama administration struck a Faustian bargain with Iran, the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and Soleimani, head of the IRGC terrorist organization that's responsible for the death of many hundreds of Americans, continues to do victory laps throughout the Middle East" the source said. "Unless the Trump administration changes course, this short-sighted Iran policy cannot and will not end well."

Troops in Aleppo, as well as an Iranian reporter, have been spotted raising Hezbollah's flag in recent days, calling into question the Obama administration's claim that it has been working to constrain the terror group.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on radical regimes, told the Free Beacon that Iran sees the nuclear deal as a vehicle to advance its regional aspirations.

"For Obama, diplomacy's goal was to affirm his brilliance," Rubin said. "For Iran's leadership, it was an asymmetric warfare tactic meant to distract from a continuous geopolitical goal."

"Red lines matter. Over 25 years, both Republicans and Democrats signaled to Iran about what they were," Rubin explained. "Obama, however, believed himself wiser than Reagan, Clinton, and Bush—at least that's what the man in the mirror told him every morning. Once Iran realized there were no real red lines, it concluded it could bust sanctions with impunity. Soleimani is the personification of that conclusion."

The State Department conceded on Monday that Soleimani's visit to Syria violated United Security Council resolutions government the nuclear deal, but would not lay out steps meant to address the behavior.

"We do intend to consult with our partners on the security council about how to address our concerns with this," State Department Spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing. "We've long said that Iran needs to choose whether it's going to play a positive role in helping peacefully resolve conflicts, such as in Syria, or whether it will choose to prolong them. And you're absolutely right, his travel was a violation."

Update 3:05 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from the State Department.

Published under: Hezbollah , Iran , Syria