He’s the mysterious spy chief dubbed the “Darth Vader” of the Middle East, who could play a critical role as US tensions with Iran reach breaking point. On Monday, Iran upped the nuclear ante by confirming it had breached the limit of its uranium stockpile set under the 2015 nuclear deal.

The move could strike a body blow for hopes that the escalating situation could be defused, more than one year on after President Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the deal, saying it had a “decaying and rotten structure.”

While what happens next is unclear, there is one mysterious figure that will play a huge role in the fallout that follows. Qasem Soleimani commands Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and is one of the most formidable military figures in the country. The 62-year-old is a feared and shadowy figure and has long played a role in Iran’s strategic movements.

He is considered to be one of the people closest to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and has previously made his disdain for US forces known.

“Qasem Soleimani is a genuine and sincere believer in the ideals of the revolution,” Professor Ali Ansari, from the University of St Andrews, told ABC’s Four Corners.

“I mean, he’s an austere and his loyalty to the supreme leader is uncompromising.”
Soleimani is revered in Iran as a man who came from an impoverished family and managed to rise through the ranks of the country’s military with very little experience.
He joined the Iranian Revolutionary Guards after the Islamic Revolution and fought in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

He was soon recognised for his strategic abilities and named head of the Quds Force in 1998.
Stanley McChrystal, US Special Operations, Iraq 2003 — 2006, told the program that there was always an air of mystery surrounding Soleimani.

“He started to become a commander, also sort of a spy, but he seemed to have more power than any kind of person on our side ever had,” he said.
Former US Ambassador Ryan Crocker described him as the “Darth Vader of contemporary Middle Eastern politics”.

Soleimani has been the driving force behind Iran’s military for decades and recent tensions with the US have shown he isn’t planning on stepping down. A year after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 UN nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, tensions are at an highest.
In the past few weeks these tensions have accelerated even more following more sanctions, unprovoked attacks on oil tankers and a US military drone being shot down.

Donald Trump has called for talks with Iran but the request has been denied time and time again. In April, Soleimani stated that Iran would never be forced into negotiations with the US by being put under economic pressure.

“By putting economic pressure on Iran, America wants to force us to enter talks with this country … any negotiation under the circumstances is surrendering to America and it will never happen,” he was quoted as saying.

This sentiment was echoed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who called on the US to “respect” Iran.

“Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States … America should try to respect Iran … if they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect,” Zarif said in a speech broadcast live on state TV on Monday.

Recent months have seen Iran threaten to leave the nuclear weapon treaty as the US continues to tighten sanctions on the nation. Retired Major General for the British Forces, Jonathan Shaw, warned that these threats will only continue to grow unless a different approach is taken.

“We can play his game, we can fight him, but I think if we want peace in the Middle East and the region, we’ve gotta understand where he’s coming from and what he wants, unless you want to be in a perpetual conflict with Iran,” Mr Shaw said.

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