In July 2006 in south Beirut, Qassem Soleimani was facing death. In a rare interview published earlier this month, the shadowy commander of Iran’s Qods Force, the elite paramilitary arm of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, revealed for the first time that he was in Lebanon during the 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah to direct Iran’s support to its decades-long Shia proxy-turned-ally in Lebanon. Soleimani recounted a harrowing (aren’t they all) escape from swarming Israeli drones, targeting him and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. As the Israeli campaign intensified, Soleimani shuttled between Lebanon and Iran to relay battlefield updates to Tehran and rally support to the group. Asked if anyone in Tehran questioned Iran’s commitment to Hezbollah at the risk of a direct war with Israel, particularly if the commander of the vaunted Qods Force was killed, Soleimani said “No one hesitated,” starting with the supreme leader.
Contrast that (at least partly nonfictional) scene in Beirut to today’s in northeast Syria. There, the United States, at the direction of President Donald Trump, has abandoned its local partner, the Syrian Democratic Force, in its time of need. Like Hezbollah did for Iran against Israel, the SDF waged the bulk of America’s ground war against its enemy, the Islamic State. At America’s assurance, they gave up border fortifications that were protecting them against the Turks. And then they lost U.S. protection altogether. Now they face a Turkish onslaught that has killed hundreds so far and displaced tens of thousands more, and given a new opportunity for regional supremacy to U.S. foes, Russia, Iran, the Syrian regime, and the Islamic State.