BEIRUT — As the Middle East grappled with the fallout from Soleimani’s death, perhaps the most divided reaction came from Syria, where the Iranian commander is seen as a hero by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was backed by Iran, and a villain by Assad’s opponents.
“The martyr Soleimani will be canonized in the souls of the Syrian people who will not forget his standing beside the Syrian Arab army,” Assad said in a telegram to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But in Ariha, a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province, Syrians filled the streets in celebration, waving revolutionary flags. “Soleimani is gone, gone, gone,” a man sang.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the news was a shock. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that has seats in parliament and is one of Iran’s staunchest allies, released a statement praising Soleimani’s record leading militias in Iraq, a country Nasrallah said had been freed “from occupation and terrorism.”
Lebanon’s foreign ministry, headed by Gebran Bassil, a Hezbollah ally, also condemned the U.S. attack and called it a “dangerous escalation against Iran that aims to increase tension in the area.”
There was a muted official response on Friday from the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, including from states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that have prodded the United States to take stronger action against Iran, while at the same time fretting about the consequences of escalating tensions in the region.
A Saudi government statement, noting the threats from “terrorist militias” in Iraq, also called for “self-restraint to prevent everything that might exacerbate the situation.” Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, wrote that “in light of the quickening regional developments, wisdom and balance should prevail,” in a message on Twitter.
There were scattered protests against the United States after Friday prayers in Bahrain, a tiny Persian Gulf state with a Shiite Muslim majority that hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, according to activists there. In Kuwait, the government warned citizens to “avoid discourse that might affect national unity and lead to division and trouble,” according to the Kuwait News Agency.