By Diana Moukalled, Al Arabiya News
Tuesday, 5 January 2016
A video was recently leaked purportedly showing Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, while he visited fighters in the Syrian city of Aleppo - or at least that's what the video's title claimed. Like all his photos during past year, Soleimani appeared happy with himself, smiling at all those surrounding him while promising victory in the "sacred" war which he deludes his Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese fighters in Syria with. But in this recent appearance, the footage of Soleimani does not appear official, nor does he present himself in an official manner. Still, he is seen as a militia leader who is skilled at exhibiting whatever he wants to through leaked scenes, which can either be rejected or accepted as a presentation of the truth.
But is the video new or old? Is Soleimani still alive, carrying out Iran's plans in Syria and Iraq, or has he been killed, as has been rumored by several media outlets in recent months? The man's biography has occupied international media outlets in the past year – particularly with regards to his military roles in Iraq and Syria. So, has he really been killed? If he's alive, why doesn't he make an official appearance to show the world that the rumors are not true?
Little is known for sure – there is no official party that has proven or denied the death rumors. This recent video alleging Soleimani is in Aleppo adds mystery to the man's fate and the reality of his role. Here we are again, questioning the disappearance and reappearance tricks that Iran's most prominently-known man in Syria has previously mastered.
It's all stories and fantasies and no accurate information. This is exactly what Iran is keen to market. The Iranian propaganda machine has become highly skilled at applying these tricks to prompt mysteries and spread rumors as it has always adopted a policy of secrecy as part of its power, expansion and influence maneuvers.
Those who leaked and circulated the video purporting to show Soleimani a few days ago said this was old footage which was recently broadcast to send a message that Soleimani is alive, fighting Iran's battles and touring battlefields. Still, the true source of these images remain unclear.
A character like Qassem Soleimani displays the reality of Iran’s tampering in the affairs of troubled countries from within. The leaked video, with its improvised speeches and military and religious scenes, is merely a public declaration of an occupation. This image targets the Iranian audience as well as people outside Iran. But is spreading this image a sign of progress and power or a sign of weakness and an attempt to galvanize fighters and show that Iran is in control, especially after Russia has taken charge over official Syrian matters?
In my opinion, it seems the circulation of the footage indicates more weakness than power. Their only aim is to show that Iran is in control on the ground in Syria. It's true that Iran has achieved military success in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and got the better end of the nuclear deal, but it has also proved its enmity to its surrounding neighbors and sparked a long-term sectarian snag.
Iran has a sectarian expansionist project in mind, and its claim of confronting extremism and ISIS only attracts more extremism. Fighting wars through mysteriously leaked videos may be part of a media game which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have mastered, however it is still a weapon that ensures that divisions will ensue.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 28, 2015.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.