The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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Graffiti-covered Banksy truck to be auctioned

Bonhams to sell massive artwork at Goodwood Revival sale next month

Art and design

Among the gleaming Bugattis, Aston Martins and Porsches at one of the UKs premier car auctions next month will be a 17-tonne truck with a price tag to match them all.

Bonhams has announced it is selling what can arguably be called Banksys largest art work at its Goodwood Revival sale on 14 September.

The truck was covered with graffiti by Banksy in 2000, when he was still very much under the art worlds radar. While a used Volvo FL6 box truck might cost a buyer somewhere in the low thousands of pounds, this one is estimated at between 1m-1.5m.

Ralph Taylor, Bonhams head of postwar and contemporary art, said he was thrilled to have the work in the sale.

Banksy is arguably the most important artist to have emerged since the millennium and this, his largest commercial work, represents a new high watermark of quality for works of his to appear at auction, Taylor said.

The composition bears all the hallmarks of this peerless agent provocateur.

The artist was at an open-air party in Spain to celebrate the millennium when he was presented with the truck by Mojo, the co-founder of Turbozone International Circus.

He started on the truck during the party and continued to work on it for a fortnight. It was then used, for years, as the companys transport around Europe and South America.

The truck is called Turbo Zone Truck (Laugh Now But One Day Well Be in Charge). It is funny and anarchic and has flying monkeys, soldiers running away from a cannon and a man about to smash a TV screen with a hammer.

Bonhams said the over-riding message of the piece was anarchy its us against them and were going to win..

Taylor said there was no getting away from what the work was. It is an enormous great lorry, he said. Contemporary art can be anything, from a small painting to an installation that takes up an entire room. This is a 17-tonne lorry and it is completely painted. Its an immersive experience it is incredibly impressive when you see it.

Taylor said the work was from a pivotal moment in Banksys career, a time when he was beginning to work in the studio, as well as on the street, producing work that he would show in self-staged exhibitions.

The lorry has motifs seen over and again in Banksys work, particularly monkeys. One image is a riff on Soviet-era posters of industrial work, with Banksy showing a factory worker with a Mohican smashing a television.

There are references to art history and to social history, said Taylor. Banksy is always at his best when there is that kind of vicious black humour. When its funny, thats when its good and thats why he is so successful, that is why he keeps on being voted the nations favourite artist. It feels like hes been coming top of those polls for a decade.

The lorry was done at a time street artists were often considered a menace, the reason why Banksy always pictures himself as a rat and calls his company Pest Control.

For someone to give him free rein to paint an entire lorry that would then travel around would have been such a huge gift and opportunity, to have such a big canvas with no risk of getting arrested.

The market for Banksy is a strong and global one, said Taylor. The auction record is for one of his works is $1.9m a Damien Hirst spot painting on to which Banksy has stencilled a maid doing the cleaning.

Last year the art world was left stunned as a Banksy work, Girl With Balloon, began to shred itself after the hammer went down at Sothebys in London for 1.04m. It was given a new title by Banksy, Love is in the Bin and is the only artwork ever created live during an auction.

Bonhams said it expected strong interest from institutions as well as collectors passionate about collecting unusual vehicles.

The truck will be sold by the auction house on the Goodwood estate in West Sussex, the ancestral home of the Duke of Richmond, founder of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival.

One of the more traditional highlights of the 14 September sale is an ultra-rare 935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Faux Cabriolet, which has an estimate price of 1m-1.5m.

Three years ago Bonhams sold a Banksy Swat van which he created for his break out Barely Legal show in Los Angeles. It fetched 218,500.

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World’s largest frogs can move rocks half their weight

news The Goliath frog belongs to the largest known frog species in the world.(Credit: M. Schäfer/Frogs & Friends e.V.)

The world’s largest frogs may also have the best pollywog daycare on the market. To protect its wee tadpoles, these enormous amphibians build their own “nursery ponds,” sometimes moving rocks more than half their weight to do so, and then guarding the pond to ensure the next generation’s survival, a new study details.

The finding marks the first time scientists have described the Goliath frog’s(Conraua goliath) unique nest-building and parenting tactics. However, local frog hunters in Cameroon have known about it for years, and they were the first to tell the researchers about the frogs’ parental dedication.

In fact, the researchers were studying something completely different (they were studying the diet of Goliath tadpoles) when “we heard about the breeding behavior of the Goliaths and decided to investigate if it [were] true or not,” said study senior researcher Mark-Oliver Rödel, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. [15 of the Largest Animals of Their Kind on Earth]

The 7.3-lb. (3.3 kilograms) Goliath frog is native to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. To learn more about its nesting quirks, the scientists spent part of spring 2018 searching a 1,300-foot (400 meters) section of the Mpoula River in western Cameroon. They also interviewed four frog hunters and two villagers who lived near the river to learn more about C. goliath’s habits.

In all, the scientists found 22 breeding sites, 14 of which had almost 3,000 eggs apiece. The team even set up a time-lapse video at one nest, which showed a Goliath guarding the nest at night.

These frogs are creative builders, constructing three different types of nests, the researchers found. One type, the rock-pool nest, was built on larger rocks within the river, meaning that “frogs were using pre-existing structures for breeding,” the researchers wrote in the study.

For the second type, frogs used naturally existing shallow pools near the river as nests. It appeared that the frogs had enlarged these pools, the researchers noticed, in essence turning a cottage into a McMansion. For the third type, the frogs dug small ponds, surrounding them with large stones, some weighing up to 4.4 lbs. (2 kg).

Impressively, none of these nests had debris in them, suggesting that the frogs also acted as housekeepers, keeping the ponds clean for their tadpoles. “We have never observed them directly, but from indirect evidence, it is apparent that they push out material (e.g. leaves, pebbles) from natural ponds or push away larger and smaller stones to create their ‘own’ ponds,” Rödel told Live Science in an email.

It’s likely that the male frogs, which are more than 1.1 feet (34 centimeters) long, use “their huge and very muscular hind legs” to move the stones, he added.

While the researchers never directly witnessed a Goliath frog digging a nest, “the most detailed description we got (from one frog hunter) was that the male would construct the nest while the female waits in proximity,” the scientists wrote in the study. “Once the nest is finished, the male whistles to attract the female, which then is grasped by the male and eggs are deposited. Afterwards, the female would guard the nest and subsequently open the nest towards the river.”

Is daycare worth the cost?

The frogs invest a substantial amount of energy into nest-building, cleaning and guarding. But is it worth it? If their tadpoles survive, it absolutely is, but it appears each nest has benefits and challenges, the researchers found. Nests within a riverbed can flood from heavy rains, allowing predators such as shrimp and fish to get inside and devour the tadpoles, said Rödel, who is also the president of Frogs & Friends, the nongovernmental organization that co-funded the research. [So Tiny! Miniature Frog Species Are Among World’s Smallest (Photos)]

Digging a pond alongside the river would sidestep these predators, but if it doesn’t rain for a spell, the pond could dry up, killing the tadpoles. “Thus, each of the three nest types has advantages and disadvantages, and the frogs need to choose what is best at a certain time,” Rödel said.

Goliath frogs aren’t the only amphibian superparents out there. The gladiator frog (Hypsiboas rosenbergi) in South America builds nests for its young, while the male African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus) guards tadpoles and digs channels up to 40 feet (12 m) long to allow tadpoles to escape from drying pools, the researchers noted. However, Goliath is the only known African frog to build nesting ponds, the researchers said.

Unfortunately, the Goliath frog is endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, largely because of habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, disease and hunting. (The frogs are considered a luxury food and are often served at weddings, Rödel said.)

It would be a shame to lose these creatures without fully understanding them, he said. “The reason why we wanted (and actually did) study the tadpoles, was that we needed to know more about the biology of the species, just to make sure we know what to do in case a captive breeding program might be the last chance for the Goliaths’ survival in the future.”

The study was published online Friday (Aug. 9) in the Journal of Natural History.

Originally published on Live Science.

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