Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' (IRGC) elite Qods Force that conducts foreign terror operations, was seriously wounded in Syria according to reports Tuesday.
AsrarIran, a site in Farsi close to the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealed Soleimani and two of his companions were seriously wounded 12 days ago by a TOW anti-tank rocket during fierce fighting in Aleppo.
Soleimani was transferred back to Tehran where he is currently hospitalized according to the reports, reports which White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Al-Arabiya he is aware of but cannot confirm for now.
However, Amir Mousavi, Director of the Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations in Tehran, confirmed the news according to the paper.
A high-ranking unnamed brigade leaders of the Guards' elite Qods Force took over command of Iran's battle in Syria propping up Bashar al-Assad according to the report.
IRGC leaders in Tehran reportedly confirmed that they were hiding news of Soleimani's wounds so as to avoid harming troop morale in Syria.
Likely as part of that effort, the IRGC was quoted by the semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday as having "strongly rejected rumors spread by the terrorist groups" about Soleimani being wounded.
"Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani is fully healthy and is assisting the Islamic resistance in Syria and Iraq to fight against the Takfiri (apostate – ed.) terrorists spiritedly and fully energetically and powerfully," said IRGC PR Director General Ramezan Sharif.
"The reports on his injury are sheer lies to affect the public opinion and the resistance front."
Sharif was quoted as saying the "rumors are spread by the terrorists and their allied Israeli media in a bid to undermine the spirit of the Syrian troops and their allies," in a surprising yet all too common effort to attack Israel.
Who is Soleimani?
Soleimani has been in Syria for months directing the fight to prop up Assad.
The 58-year-old Soleimani, who is forbidden under international sanctions from leaving Iran, has served since 1998 as commander of its Qods Force. He is listed as a terrorist by the US, and is one of several Iranian officials targeted by a 2007 UN travel ban because of their links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
However, the sanctions against him were lifted in the controversial nuclear deal, which listed him by name as having sanctions removed.
Soleimani was defined by the US as "leading the Iranian support for Syria in the violent suppression of human rights in Syria under Assad." In 2011, America leveled sanctions against him for his senior role in the Revolutionary Guards.
Soleimani has also taken a direct role in fighting the US and killing American soldiers, having trained Shi'ite militias to fight against American forces in Iraq. In just one example from 2007, a unit of his Qods Force together with Hezbollah terrorists abducted and murdered four American soldiers in Iraq.
Former CIA head Gen. David Petraeus warned in March that Iran is a greater danger than Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, recounting how in 2008 a decisive battle took place between Iraqi Security Forces and the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias.
"In the midst of the fight, I received word from a very senior Iraqi official that Qassem Soleimani had given him a message for me. When I met with the senior Iraqi, he conveyed the message: 'General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan,'" he recalled.
"The point was clear: He owned the policy and the region, and I should deal with him. When my Iraqi interlocutor asked what I wanted to convey in return, I told him to tell Soleimani that he could 'pound sand,'" concluded the general.