by Judith Bello, published on Syria Support Movement, January 22, 2024
I traveled to Tehran to meet with the Gathering in Support of the Choice of Resistance the first week in January this year. The Gathering is an international organization based in Lebanon, but our meeting in Tehran at this time was an opportunity to attend memorial events for Qasem Soleimani, and to celebrate his accomplishments. General Soleimani is revered for his work in mentoring grass roots organizations in the Arab countries of West Asia determined to free their countries from imperialist occupation. He used his gifts to advance Iranian initiatives through a judicious combination of military and diplomatic means. Qasem Soleimani was murdered early in the morning of January 3rd, 2020, along with Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs) in Iraq, and several others in their motorcade as they left Baghdad airport. Soleimani was in Iraq that day on a diplomatic mission.
In Tehran, members of the Gathering arrived from Africa, Latin America, Europe, West Asia and myself as representative of North America. It was a pleasant reunion with lots of networking. We did not attend the Procession to the grave of Qasem Soleimani this year, but we attended the memorial speeches for General Soleimani in the evening, following two days of conferences. The situation was not as usual due to a pair of bombings at the ceremony that took the lives of 84 people and injured more than 100 others. I was not aware of what had happened until the end of the day, but our Iranian friends must have been quite disturbed as they looked after their visitors that afternoon and the next day, though they went out of their way to make us comfortable and welcome. The bombings were not mentioned. I don’t think I fully realized what a terrible national tragedy had occurred until I was on my way home.
At the conference we attended that day, many of us gave brief statements honoring Qasem Soleimani, most of the speakers in both conferences praised the work of of Qasem Soleimani, calling for regional cooperation, an end to western intervention and peace. On the day of the Memorial, Sheikh Yusuf of Iraq gave a fiery speech calling for war, which received robust applause. I was not aware, at the time, of what was on his mind, but I imagine the many Farsi speakers at the event were keenly aware of the events he was responding to.
As we shared our reflections on the work of Qasem Soleimani and the ongoing resistance to Israeli aggression, it was clear that the Iranians are very proud of his achievements. Qasem Soleimani was not a typical general but a man for all seasons. He began his career in the IRGC under the tutelage of Ayatollah Khomeini during the Islamic Revolution, and then fought in the Iran/Iraq war.
What we call the Iran/Iraq war was, from the perspective of the Iranians, a vicious attack by their neighbors on the eve of their revolution. Their newborn society was still immature and the leadership faced many difficult internal problems. However, there was no choice to but set aside other issues and defend themselves. This war lasted nearly a decade, during which time every free man did what he could to defend the nation and even teenage boys got on a bus to go the the front and fight for their country. The United States provided Iraq with sophisticated weapons and the necessary ingredients of chemical weapons, which Sadam Hussein used to target, not only Iranian military forces, but cities all along the border and in Iraqi Kurdistan which had, and has, close ties to Iran. Syria did what it could to support Iran during this time, as another regional republic that had frequently come under western attack. They developed an alliance which has led to Iran’s support for Syria during the western backed attack on that country over the last decade.
Even so, Soleimani (and Iran) supported the people of Iraq during the devastating U.S. war on them, and the occupation that followed. While the U.S. controlled the situation with aerial bombing, tanks with depleted uranium ordinance and ruthless destruction of infrastructure, Soleimani assisted the people in the countryside, organizing local forces into what are now the PMUs, and teaching them to resist with light weapons and bombs made of readily available materials.
Starting there, he trained regional youth groups frustrated by western occupation and continual U.S. intervention in local and regional governance on behalf of U.S. interests and the interests of a wealthy bourgeoisie recruited to enforce their will. Rather than set goals for these emerging nationalist movements, Soleimani trained organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iraqi PMUs and Ansarallah, taught them to make their own weapons and provided resources, taught them effective strategies. He encouraged them to form the network of indigenous organizations that now comprise the Axis of Resistance. While the West disparages them as “Iran backed militias” and insinuates that they are proxies of of Iran, in fact they are nationalist organizations in their own countries who make their own decisions, but who understand the power of regional cooperation. Rather than Iranian proxies, they form a regional alliance which includes their original sponsors, Iran and Syria. This is a great achievement on the part of Iran, and through the agency of Qasem Soleimani. It is no wonder that he is revered throughout the region.
Donald Trump thought that by killing Soleimani, his work would be undone, but in fact the power of regional cooperation was already developed, and the Axis of Resistance emerged as an independent network. These grass roots movements had learned well, had learned to fight, but also to cooperate and to have confidence that the will of the people could overcome the intervention of powerful outside forces as well as the the narrow ruling classes beholden to them. If they are Soleimani’s children, now they are all grown and independent. Iran is rightfully proud of the work of Qasem Soleimani.
Today, their war of independence continues. Following the Al Aqsa Flood uprising led by Hamas on October 7 and Israel’s genocidal response, the region is severely destabilized. This is an opportunity for real change. Israel, with the support of the United States and their western allies, continues to bomb not only Palestine, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and now, Iran. Palestine does not stand alone. While the United States has carrier fleets in both the Mediterranean and Red seas, and numerous bases in Iraq and the region of Syria it occupies, the Axis of Resistance has come to life across the region. They are small, experienced in the art of evasion and accustomed to fighting without high power weapons. They are not looking for a major regional war, but they will defend themselves, their nations and their regional allies where necessary. All are acting with restraint but they are active. Their goal is to drive the colonizers from their lands.
Shortly after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in which the United States supported Iraq, the United States attacked Iraq then placed both Iraq and Iran under Unilateral Economic Coercive Measures, making it difficult for either country to rebuild infrastructure damaged during the war. U.S. threats and sanctions against Iran have not ceased since the Islamic revolution overthrew their puppet government in that country.
Israel occupied not only Palestine but most of Lebanon until Hezbollah drove them out around 2000. They re-invaded the south of Lebanon in 2006 but were once again driven out by Hezbollah. In 2003, the U.S. and its NATO allies launched a major war against Iraq, and then entrenched themselves as an occupying force. U.S. troops remain in Iraq to this day. They then launched a terrorist proxy war against Syria in 2011, again, followed by occupation of Syria’s resource rich area in the East and the most severe Economic Coercive Measures yet. In 2014, the United States backed Saudi Arabia in a war against Yemen characterized by massive aerial bombing campaigns in an attempt to block the formation of an indigenous government by Ansarallah. Yemen too suffers from U.S. Coercive Economic Measures along with a blockade enforced by NATO allies, which as led to widespread starvation and disease in the country.
These countries did not start the war, but they plan to end it.
Ansarallah is the name of the political organization usually referred to in the west as “Houthis” after the tribe from northern Yemen who originally rebelled against Saudi Arabia and the US backed government in Sana’a. But today, the Houthis are only one faction in the National Salvation Government created by Ansarallah. This government controls the largest and most populous region of Yemen while Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Israel occupy smaller areas. The peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by China has led to a recession of active fighting in Yemen. The popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq are now integrated with the Iraqi army.
Hezbollah has become a key player in the Lebanese government. Palestine has a long history of religious and ethnic diversity and tolerance with Jerusalem as a center of culture. Though the secular resistance in Palestine has been exiled and imprisoned, Hamas carries on the struggle for a free sovereign Palestine. Syria continues as a facilitator of the Axis of Resistance despite the various occupations that continue after the end of the hot war while Iran continues in an advisory role.
At an earlier meeting of “The Gathering” in Lebanon, I saw the many memorials to the Lebanese war to drive out the Israeli occupier, and some of the remaining defenses along Lebanon’s southern border. The wounds are still open from this war, won only 24 years ago, and revisited in 2006, following another Israeli attempt to invade Lebanon. I saw the pride of accomplishment and also the pain of a war that seemingly never comes to a full end. Meanwhile, Hezbollah has become a strong political force in Lebanon, though the country remains politically fragmented by an arcane sectarian political system imposed by international intervention, and ongoing western intervention. They too are often framed as religious “fanatics” and “terrorists”, but in fact they are but in fact they are popular representatives who consolidate their power through alliances with other parties (and sects), and Hassan Nasrallah is highly respected by nearly all factions in the region.
Israel terrorizes the indigenous Palestinian population. Al Aqsa Flood is no surprise given the horrific abuses the Palestinian people suffer on a regular basis. Israel has also occupied the Syrian Golan, and most recently it openly supported the terrorist forces that tore Syria apart for a decade. Israel continues to bomb Syria on a weekly basis even as the United States has occupied a large swath of northeastern Syria with Kurdish proxies. Their intention is to make sure that Syria does not have access to it’s national resources. Still, Syria remains a communication hub for regional forces. The Iraqi PMUs have been targeting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria. U.S. retaliation against the PMUs, technically Iraqi military units, has caused the government of Iraq to demand that they leave immediately. Hezbollah has driven Israel across the Litani river, recovering the last occupied region of Lebanon on its southern border with Israel. They have developed some pretty good weapons in cooperation with their Iranian mentors, so the ongoing fighting has forced Israel to depopulate an area on the Israeli side of the border about 25 kilometers deep. The United States has a carrier fleet in the Mediterranean capable of striking Lebanon, and has been sending representatives there to negotiate a ceasefire on Israel’s behalf, but even the sharply divided government of Lebanon has refused to retreat.
In support of the Palestinian outbreak, Ansarallah has been targeting Israel linked ships as they pass through the narrow straits of Bab Al Mandab, and commandeering them. Though they have not killed or injured anyone, they have caused insurance rates to rise and a severe reduction in traffic through the strait. They say they will not stop until Israel ends its genocidal assault on the civilians in Gaza. This action has hurt Israel’s economy, and threatens to undermine the global economy. Since these are ships that pass through the Suez Canal, Egypt is also taking a blow but they have not complained. The United States, however, has retaliated by bombing cities in Yemen, supposedly targeting military installations but also killing many civilians. These strikes violate a ceasefire that has been in place for only a short period. They are working to form a vigilante operation with their allies to police the narrow channel where Ansarallah is operating. Though this has not been particularly successful, it would seem the only method they know is slaughter and mayhem. Ansarallah stands firm, with millions demonstrating in Yemen to back them up, they are now attacking US flagged ships as well.
Back in Iran, the bombings killed close to a hundred people at the memorial for Qasem Soleimani, and injured many more, were claimed by ISIS. Some question whether this is true, as the U.S. and Israel usually use the Mujehadin-e-Kalq, n Iranian terrorist organization living in Europe under U.S. protection, as their proxy in Iran as they have the capability of penetrating Iranian borders. But ISIS also has reciprocal relations with both the U.S. and Israel. Iran, as usual, stated that they would in investigate, and there would be retribution at the time and place of their choosing. This week Iran retaliated against ISIS in the terrorist enclave in Idlib Syria, and in Balochistan, a region of Pakistan and Iran where terrorists plague both nations, and against Israel in one of their installations in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish government cried the loudest, but it is difficult to imagine that Iran, which also has many investments in Kurdistan, would not know where their sworn enemy is based.
Iran also captured a U.S. flagged oil tanker off the coast of Oman that was abducted by the United States a few months earlier. They brought the ship to a U.S. port, where the oil was confiscated (stolen) under the authority of a U.S. “Justice” Department ruling. Tit of tat piracy is not a substitute for diplomacy, but what are the Iranians to do?
The global south supports the Axis of Resistance. The Gathering in Support of the Choice of Resistance met in Iran to celebrate these fearless warriors defending their land and their homes as well as the life of the man who trained and mentored them for two decades. Across the region, the Axis of Resistance is engaged in a broad grass roots war to protect their homes and free their indigenous lands from brutal white supremacist colonizers led by Israel and the United States. Syria was once a grand state. Syria (including Palestine and Lebanon) is one of the most ancient centers of civilization on earth. Palestine has been a cultural center for millennia. At the time the Europeans divided up the region both Palestine and Lebanon were part of Syria. People traveled freely throughout this region. Syria has been a secular republic since it threw off the colonial yoke nearly one hundred years ago. Iran was an ancient center of numerous empires over several millennia prior to being subdued by British and U.S. imperialism. Twenty five hundred years ago, their Emperor, Cyrus created a center for regional diplomacy at Persepolis. More than one hundred years ago, they had a parliament as well as a king bent on modernization. Yemen was a prosperous land, rich in resources for nearly 2000 years before the rise of Islam.
This region, these countries have a history that is beyond imagination for people raised in the brief civilization currently governing North America, or even Europe. It was an honor to join with people from the region, from Africa, Europe and Latin America, to support the ongoing work of liberation. The members will prevail in their struggle for regional sovereignty, peace and development. The imperial west cannot win their wars against indigenous peoples. The arrogance and hubris that drives them, blinds them to the deep rooted cultures of these lands and to the obvious fact that these people are rooted in their lands. This is their home, and they will fight to the last man to hold it. The imperialists have big weapons, both military and economic, but they lack a sense of history, respect for the roots of civilization and the least understanding of human nature. It is good to see the youth in North American finally opening to the truth of their countries role in Palestine, and hopefully, around the world. Let us hope that this will lead to a real change of consciousness and a new respect for diverse people’s of the world.