Does Qassem Suleimani’s media exposure benefit Iran?

Iranian Commander Qassem Suleimani of the Quds Force is a fascinating character. Much talked about in political and media circles, Suleimani does not need an introduction. He is said to be a powerful man who is close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is thought to be a master at guerilla warfare.

This year, a photo surfaced on the Internet, seeming to show the commander standing with Iraqi Kurds in Amerli. The authenticity of the photo was speculated upon but the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, of which the Quds Force is an arm, has not denied nor confirmed the authenticity of the photo.

During this transitional phase, the nuclear issue is the main problem for Iran but the country’s military activities in the region are also important

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Then, more photos were published purportedly showing Suleimani praying, surrounded by jubilant Kurds. The shadowy commander was even featured on the cover of News Week magazine in November. What’s next? A line of Qassem Suleimani action figurines?

On Friday December 5, a senior official with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said the country’s enemies have waged a psychological war against Iran by spotlighting IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Suleimani to downgrade this mythic figure.

Transforming

Allowing himself to be photographed and published wildly around the world couldn’t be Suleimani’s private decision. It must be an attempt to change his status to suit the current regional circumstances.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been transformed due to the new generation of politicians pursuing different approaches to the world, especially toward the United States. Once Qassem Suleimani was a wanted figure, now the acceptance of Iran’s fight against ISIS has validated this man.

During this transitional phase, the nuclear issue is the main problem for Iran but the country’s military activities in the region are also important. Using Suleimani’s image to present a new face of Iran is a positive move and has justified Iran’s presence in its neighbors.

The next step is to create a new definition of regional militant groups such as Hezbollah, which has been thought of as Iran’s collaborator. Dismantling Hezbollah or the Quds Force is not an easy task and may not even be possible but absorbing them into the bigger body of the country’s forces is possible.

Long term strategy

Maybe this is a long term strategy but at least this strategy could make such militants seem less threatening and could see them being accepted by international public opinion. Being influential and powerful doesn’t necessarily equate to being frightening, actually this could amount to gaining admiration and respect from the public.

During the recent visit by Lebanon’s defense minister to Tehran, Iran’s head of national security stated that Iran would provide military equipment and assistance to the Lebanese army which highlights a shift in the Republic’s foreign policy.

In my opinion the changing role of Iran’s army has already become apparent, especially with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark that “I think it’s self-evident that if Iran is taking on ISIS in some particular place and it’s confined to taking on ISIS and it has an impact … the net effect is positive.” Secretary of State John Kerry was asked if he was aware of any Iranian airstrikes in Iraq and whether he thought they were helpful in the fight against the militants. Kerry went a step further, saying Iranian airstrikes wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Certainly this is a new phenomenon in the relations between Iran and the Unites States since the revolution, thanks to the new generation of Iranian diplomats who are educated, skilled and have the supreme leader’s trust to improve Iran’s images.

The U.S.’s seeming approval of Iran’s reported actions on the ground seem to show their approval of Suleimani’s role and all this should be made more public once the nuclear deal is sealed.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on December 8, 2014.

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard
 

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