Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s external terrorism forces eliminated overnight Friday by a U.S. drone strike, oversaw every military decision taken by Iran in Latin America, according to a report by the Argentine news network Infobae last year.
Soleimani ran the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, the “elite” terrorism unit responsible for, along with Hezbollah, the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) headquarters in Buenos Aires. The attack was the deadliest in the Western Hemisphere prior to September 11, 2001, killing 85 people.
Soleimani took over the Quds Force after that attack, in 1998, and focused much of his legacy on Iran’s conquests in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Most recently, the Pentagon revealed they believed him responsible for organizing the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad this weekend.
President Donald Trump designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization last year.
Infobae revealed that Soleimani personally consulted on all military decisions in Latin America in a report in which it alleged that Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had offered to send IRGC terrorists to Venezuela to protect socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro. At the time of the report, in April, the legitimate president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, had announced that he had convinced the nation’s military to follow him and remove Maduro from power. Zarif’s offer, Infobae reported, would add IRGC terrorist units to the army of Cuban communist soldiers that currently keep Maduro in power.
The outlet did not specify if Maduro accepted the offer. Maduro does remain in control of Venezuela, as the nation’s defense minister and key generals surfaced after Guaidó’s attempted takeover saying they had not defected from Maduro and that the higher levels of the armed forces had eradicated “opposition” elements who chose to obey the legal president of the country.
It did note that Quds Force members could be part of the deal, highlighting Soleimani’s power within the organization.
“The military official is a fundamental piece in planning the foreign policy of the Iranian theocractic regime,” Infobae said of Soleimani, “so much so that all military decisions in the rest of the world, including in Latin America, go through him.”
Eliminating Soleimani now leaves those key Latin American military decisions in the hands of Brigadier General Esmayeel Qaani, once described as an “uncharismatic and a less distinguished military commander” than his former boss Soleimani.
Iran has grown its influence in Latin America exponentially through Venezuela and its colonizing power Cuba. Late dictator Hugo Chávez invited greater ties between Venezuela and Iran during his tenure, regularly meeting with then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Maduro’s tenure has seen the rise of Tareck El Aissami, a U.S.-designated “drug kingpin” who currently serves as the manager of the nation’s oil and gold natural resources.
“Tareck El Aissami is one of Hezbollah’s great bagmen, a sort of huge funder, and the money goes through the networks, and then, as you say, that money comes back through investments,” Vanessa Neumann, a leading expert on drug cartels and terrorist groups in Latin America, told Breitbart News in 2018. “[Ground sources] have told me that, based on their perspective, he is a big player on the funding side, rather than the operations side.”
The result of these growing ties has been the rise of Iranian “cultural centers” throughout Latin America to recruit terrorists for Hezbollah.
In 2015, a U.S. military official told Breitbart News’ that Soleimani’s Quds Force controlled over 80 “cultural centers” in the region alongside Hezbollah, used to recruit terrorists and provide support for covert activities such as drug trafficking.
“Iranian cultural centers open possibilities for Iran to introduce members of its Revolutionary Guard-Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) to a pool of potential recruits within the centers population of Lebanese Shi’a Muslims and local converts to Shia Islam,” the official said.
The blossoming of Iranian regime control points in South America followed warnings from the Pentagon that the Quds Force was actively expanding in Latin America in 2010.
A more recent report from the Congressional Research Service, published in October, warned that “Iran has cultivated relations with leaders in Latin America that share Iran’s distrust of the United States, and it has sought to position IRGC-QF [Quds Force] operatives and Hezbollah members in Latin America to potentially carry out terrorist attacks there.”
Soleimani died after being targeted by a U.S. airstrike Friday night. He is believed to have been responsible for at least 500 American deaths, according to the Pentagon, and thousands of casualties. As the architect of Bashar al-Assad’s strategy in Syria and coordinator of attacks throughout the Middle East, his death toll likely spanned the tens of thousands.
“While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter following the attack that eliminated him. “They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe.”