The United States gave Israel the green light to assassinate Iran’s top military officer, Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, according to a widely circulated report in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida published earlier this year. News of the agreement, first published in Arabic in January, is now resurfacing in both Russian and Middle East regional media the day after Syria and Israel engaged in a massive overnight exchange of fire in what constitutes the most sustained Israeli attack on Syria in decades.
In the Arab world Al-Jarida is generally considered to be a platform through which Israel circulates news and its perspective to neighboring countries in the region. The newspaper first published report based on an Israeli government source who was cited as saying, “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region”—which reportedly led to a Washington green-light for the Israelis to assassinate him.
General Soleimani, as leader of Iran’s most elite force, also coordinates military activity between the Islamic Republic and Syria, Iraq, Hezbollah, and Hamas – a position he’s filled since 1998 – and as Quds Force commander reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and oversees Iran‘s covert operations in foreign countries.
Israeli officials initially “leaked” the story after days of internal Iranian anti-government protests gridlocked the country in late December and early January, bringing international media attention and discussions in Tel Aviv and Washington of a potential coup attempt in the works. Whether or not there actually ever was such a green-light given by the American side, Al-Jarida report ultimately served the purpose of a semi-official threat issued through the media by the Israelis.
The threat of assassinating Iran’s most elite military commander has taken on new importance and urgency after Israel laid official blame on Gen. Soleimani on Thursday, alleging that he personally ordered a rocket attack against Israeli bases on the Golan Heights from within Syria, which triggered a massive escalation overnight. “It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-General Jonathan Conricus claimed, as cited by Reuters.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the report, and worth revisiting, is the revelation that Israel was supposedly “on the verge” of killing Soleimani three years ago in an operation near Damascus; however, the Obama administration was said to have warned the Iranians of the impending Israeli plot which according to Israeli sources was thwarted because of US intervention, resulting in “a sharp disagreement between the Israeli and American security and intelligence apparatuses regarding the issue.”
But the Trump administration now appears to be quite at home with a “gloves off” approach as this week more evidence emerged suggesting the White House is now eyeing regime change in Tehran. As we previously reported, the Washington Free Beacon has obtained a three-page white paper now being circulated among National Security Council officials with drafted plans to spark regime change in Iran, following the US exit from the Obama-era nuclear deal and the re-imposition of tough sanctions aimed at toppling the Iranian government.
The plan, authored by , including – who else – National Security Adviser John Bolton, seeks to reshape longstanding American foreign policy toward Iran by emphasizing an explicit policy of regime change.
“The ordinary people of Iran are suffering under economic stagnation, while the regime ships its wealth abroad to fight its expansionist wars and to pad the bank accounts of the Mullahs and the IRGC command,” writes the Security Studies Group, or SSG, a national security think-tank that has close ties to senior White House national security officials. “This has provoked noteworthy protests across the country in recent months” it further claims as an argument to push a “regime change” policy.
No doubt, a targeted strike or clandestine assassination attempt on Soleimani is likely now very high on the Israeli agenda and perhaps even the US agenda, especially after this week’s military escalation and Israeli claim that the Iranians are firing rockets into Israel (something for which there’s currently not a shred of evidence).
A recent history of high level Israeli assassinations abroad also suggests such a plan is on the books, as Israeli intelligence has been known to conduct high-risk secretive assassinations in foreign countries over the past years and decades. One notable headline grabbing operation, reportedly by Mossad agents, occurred in 2010 and resulted in the assassination of a top Hamas commander who had checked into a high end Dubai hotel after flying in from Syria.
An eleven man Israeli hit squad had entered the hotel while dressed in tennis gear and carrying tennis rackets, and were later reported to be traveling on fake Irish and French passports. After conducting surveillance the Mossad agents got Hamas’ Mahmoud al-Mabhouh to open his hotel room door and quickly suffocated him without arousing suspicion from other hotel guests. By the time the body was discovered, the assassins had flown out of Dubai to various locations around the world and were never seen again.
And in 2015 a secret document revealed by The Intercept as part of the Edward Snowden leaked NSA archives confirmed that Israeli agents had assassinated a top Syrian general and personal aide to President Assad in 2008 while the general dined at his family home near Tartus, along the Syrian coast. The daring operation involved Israeli naval commandos and snipers targeting Gen. Muhammad Suleiman’s house from the waters of the Mediterranean and shooting him in the head and neck. Israel considered him responsible for coordinating weapons and supplies between Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as overseeing an alleged nascent nuclear development program at Syria’s Al Kibar facility which had previously been bombed by Israeli jets.
Six months prior to Syrian General Suleiman’s murder, a top Hezbollah officer was killed by a joint CIA-Mossad operation in the heart of Damascus. According to former intelligence officials who confirmed the assassination plot to the Washington Post, a car bomb planted near a Damascus downtown restaurant instantly killed Imad Mughniyah – Hezbollah’s international operations chief who was believed to have masterminded several terror attacks targeting Americans.
Furthermore, Palestinian activists have pointed to a long history of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian, Iranian, and Syrian scientists, engineers, and notable figures living abroad. Most recently a Palestinian engineer was assassinated near his home in Malaysia, which was widely suspected to be the work of a Mossad hit team.
So concerning reports that Iran’s Qassem Soleimani might be in Mossad’s crosshairs, while such a high risk operation against a top Iranian official would be unlikely to succeed, it is certainly not without precedent.