PHOTO: Iranian media’s claimed picture of General Qassem Soleimani with Iraqi militia inside Syria in mid-November

For more than two weeks, rumors have circulated that General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, was injured or even killed near Aleppo in Syria. The outlet of the Revolutionary Guards, Fars News, had twice been forced into lengthy denials, posting claimed photographs of Soleimani near the frontline between the Syrian military and rebels.

Still the rumors persisted, fed earlier this week by a Facebook entry by an Iranian political analyst that Soleimani had been wounded but was recovering in a Tehran hospital. A leading newspaper in the Gulf States, The National, added from an unnamed “security source” that the General had been “lightly injured”.

How to rebuff the claims again, without a boring repetition that all is well with Soleimani or digging up more pictures of the General?

Fars, working with Russia’s propagandists, came up with an ingenious answer: not only is Soleimani still in command, he is taking on special heroic tasks: “The pilot of the Russian Su-24 jet that was shot down by Turkey over the Syrian airspace on Tuesday was rescued in an operation by Iran’s globally-renowned IRGC Qods Force Commander Major General Soleimani.”

The story was originally crafted by Emad Abshenas, a reporter for Sputnik, the news agency created by the Russian State to put out its PR around the world.

Abshenas said he was told by an “old friend” who happens to be a Syrian military officer that special Turkish units were on the way across the Syrian border to take the navigator captive. It was then that General Soleimani proposed to the Russians that Hezbollah special forces and Iranian-trained Syrian commandos carry out the rescue mission. He
“promised them to return the Russian pilot safe and sound”.

Covered by Russian warplanes and assisted by Moscow’s satellites, the rescue force went 6 km (4 miles) behind enemy lines to save the navigator, “killing the terrorists…and destroying their hi-tech equipment” without suffering a single injury.

The Syrian officer said, according to Sputnik and Fars, that “General Soleimani insisted on supervising the details of the operations at the head of his forces and stayed in the operations room until he was assured of their success”.

Just in case any reader missed the point, Fars explains, “General Soleimani is fully healthy and is actively commanding operations in the frontline of the war against terrorists and responds to rumors about himself with action and not by words and slogans.”