For the first time since being appointed as the Chief Commander of Quds brigade 20 years ago, General Soleimani has been interviewed by Khamenei.ir. The following is the second part of the interview:
General Soleimani: In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; I am going to link this debate with the previous one. We mentioned and emphasized two points in the previous talk. 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.
The 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.