The late Qasem Soleimani was not just Iran’s leading military figure. He was also a central player in Iranian politics. Indeed, there were persistent rumors that he might stage a military coup.
Such a coup, rumor had it, would have been designed to save the hard line Iranian regime, which has increasingly been under fire for rampant corruption and incompetence. The idea would have been to bring down the civilian government of Hassan Rouhani, which would be blamed for the corruption and incompetence. In this scenario, Soleimani would, in effect, replace Rouhani and become the heir to Ayatollah Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader.
Soleimani would have been the ideal leader of such a coup, and not just because of his military standing. As David Ignatius says, Soleimani “had a public image as a man of humble origins, and his handlers tried in recent months to contrast him with the corrupt ‘authorities’ who are mismanaging Iran.”
If some of these “authorities” feared a Soleimani coup, might one or more them have turned to the Americans for help. Might one or more of them have fed our services the information they needed to carry out the attack that killed the terrorist general?
The idea that Soleimani was contemplating a coup is speculative. The idea that a potential target of such a coup, or someone who feared it on general principles, helped America take out Soleimani is extremely speculative. I rate the former as reasonably possible and the latter as unlikely.
What seems probable is that the regime’s hardest liners have lost not just a military asset (I suspect that Soleimani has already adequately been replaced in that role), but also a major political asset. That asset will be difficult to replace.
According to Ignatius, the current heir apparent to Khamenei “lacks distinction as a religious or spiritual leader.” I think that’s shorthand for calling him a hack. Ignatius describes Soleimani’s military successor as a “shadow warrior.” I think that means he’s not suited for domestic politics.
Soleimani was no hack and he was extremely well suited for domestic politics in Iran. The “sputtering and wheezing” regime (Ignatius’s words) has lost a significant political asset.